If you'll be using your trim router with plastic laminate, you may need two additional bases. Offset and tilting bases are only available for a few routers. Generally, they come in a laminate-trimming kit that also includes a standard base.
An offset base is handy for scribing and other jobs with little clearance (see photo, below left).The bit goes into a collet mounted inside this base.The bit is driven by a belt that's connected to a drive pulley mounted on the end of the motor's shaft.
A tilting base is used with a flush-trim bit to get into corners or trim angles greater than 90 degrees (see photo, below right). For more information about how to use these bases, go to www.americanwoodworker.com/trimbases.
A Clear View
Sometimes you want to clearly see the bit as it's cutting. If you've drawn start and stop marks for a molding, for example, you'll want to see them through the router's base and inside the opening around the bit. Visibility is much better on routers with clear plastic bases; others have black phenolic bases you can't see through.
One router, the Makita 3707FC, has a clear base and two LED lights to illuminate the bit and workpiece. This handy feature could prevent a costly mistake.
Variable Speed and Soft Start
We really like variable speed and soft start on large, powerful routers, but they're really not necessary features on trim routers.
Variable speed is most useful with large-diameter bits, which you must slow down for safety.Trim routers, of course, aren't designed to handle large bits. Variable speed is useful in cutting plastic with a trim router, however. Slowing the bit's speed reduces the chance of melting the plastic as you cut it.
With soft start, the bit ramps up to speed when you turn on the machine.That's fine with a big router with a large startup torque, but this feature's benefit is barely noticeable with the much smaller startup torque of a trim router.
An edge guide is useful when cutting any type of groove, especially for inlay. We prefer models that either come with an edge guide or have one available as an accessory.
Unfortunately, none of the guides are as precise as the best guides on larger routers. When cutting a groove for inlay, for example, we'd prefer to use a guide with a micro-adjust knob for widening the groove or for fine-tuning the distance between the wood's edge and the groove.Trim router edge guides aren't that sophisticated.
Routing can create a cloud of fine dust that's unhealthy to breathe. You can capture that dust right at the source with a vacuum hose that attaches to a dust port.The Bosch trim routers are the only models with this accessory.
This is our favorite trim router, hands down. It's the only model capable of making both fine and coarse depth-of-cut adjustments and the only one with a self-releasing collet. The PR20EVSK is a variable-speed version of the PRIOE. The standard base for both models doesn't accept template guides, however. Two additional bases, one for Porter-Cable guides ($7.50) and one for Bosch guides ($7.50) are available. An edge guide is included with the PR20EVSK and is available as an accessor)' for the PR10E. Source (877) 267-2499, www.boschtools.com
These basic trim routers are very similar machines. Their small diameters make them very easy to hold. Visibility around the bit is good. Both come with a useful accessory: a large baseplate with two handles. It's handy for bridging a large opening in a template for inlay. You don't get any extra features, however, such as a screw adjust, edge guide or provision for template guides. These are the only models without loose collets. Their collets are integral to the shaft; when they wear out and no longer hold a bit, the whole machine must be replaced.
These two are very similar machines. Both have a screw adjust for setting the bit's height. Tightening the cantilever-style base slightly alters the setting, however, because the base tilts a small amount as it's tightened. Beyond that quibble, we found these to be fine machines with most of the features we want. Edge guides aren't available, though. The DeWalt D26670 is a new model (the DeWalt DW673 has been discontinued).
Sometimes a small, inexpensive router is handy to have around. You dedicate it to one job that you'll do repeatedly on a long project. Both of these Grizzly routers fit that bill. The H7790 requires two hands to tighten the base. It has a metal motor housing and slightly more power than the H7791. The H7791 requires only one hand to tighten. It has a plastic housing and a small roller gear. Both models come with an edge guide. They only accept the 3/8-in. template guide that's included with the machines.
Source (800) 523-4777, www.grizzly.com
Harbor Freight 44914 • $38
Like the Grizzly H7790 and H7791, this would be a good auxiliary router, suitable for dedicating to a single purpose. The base has a roller gear to assist in setting a bit's depth of cut. The router includes an edge guide and a special 3/8-in. template guide. Other template guides won't fit this machine.
Source (800) 444-3353, www.harborfreight.com
If you work in situations in which seeing the bit as it cuts is crucial to success, take a close look at this trim router. It's the only model with LED lights built into the base to illuminate the bit. Precisely adjusting the bit's height is not as easy with this router as with models that have a screw adjust. The 3707FC has a solid rubber roller to assist in sliding the base up and down, but it's not as effective as a roller gear. This machine has soft start.
Source (800) 462-5482, www.makita.com
This is the only trim router we tested that comes with a 1/8-in. collet in addition to a standard 1/4-in. collct, so you can use the wide range of bits available for rotary cutout tools. The price includes a variety of accessories, including a metal base and large handle for drywall cutout (using the 1/8-in. collet), a two-handled tilting plunge base, a circle-cutting guide and an edge guide. The bases do not accept template guides. Source (800) 533-9298, www.mlcswoodworking.com
This classic router is the first choice of many professional laminate workers because its robust design can stand years of use. Adjusting the bit's height is simple and precise. Here's how it works: The motor housing is threaded all the way around. A large ring around the base engages this thread; rotating the ring raises and lowers the base. This style of screw adjustment is easier to use than that on any other trim router. On the downside, the motor's diameter is relatively large and awkward to hold if you have small hands. Source (800) 487-8665, www.portercable.com
This slim machine is very easy to grip, whether your hands are large or small. It has a large roller gear to assist you in setting the bit's height. It's awkward to remove the base to change bits, however. You must rotate the clamping screw 10 full turns to loosen the base enough to remove it. This router comes with an edge guide. It has variable speed, soft start and an extra-long 12-ft. cord (most cords are 8 to 10 ft. long). Source (800) 474-3443. www.ridgid.com
This is the only trim router that runs on an 18-volt battery. It's handy for an occasional small job or one where an outlet is far away. With the battery fully charged, this router feels as though it has about half the power of Ryobi's corded model, the TR45K. That's plenty for small bits, however. The battery also makes the router a bit top-heavy. The battery and charger aren't included, but if you have other Ryobi 18-volt tools, you're all set.
Source (800) 525-2579, www.ryobitools.com
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