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If I could have only one router, it would be a 3-1/4-horsepower plunge router. Over the years, I’ve used my versatile 13-pounder for everything from shiplapping custom cedar siding to building commercial exterior doors. Nevertheless, when I bought a Makita model 3700B laminate trimmer in 1985, I started using the 3.7-pounder all the time for mortising door hardware, milling small roundovers and chamfers, and inlaying finish work. I’ve even routed overhead with it while standing on ladders. But the tool delivers only around 1/2 horsepower, so those undemanding applications are pretty much the limit.

Recognizing the untapped potential of one-handed routing, Bosch introduced the one-horsepower Colt palm router in 2005 to bridge the gap between traditional laminate trimmers and more powerful two-handed routers. Several manufacturers have followed suit. For this article, I evaluated seven compacts that are rated by their manufacturers at 1 or 1-1/4 horsepower: the Bosch PR10E, the Bosch PR20EVS, the Craftsman 28212, the DeWalt DWP611, the Makita RT0700C, the Porter-Cable 450, and the Ridgid R2401. Some of these tools come in multiple kits including various bases and other attachments, so I also gave those attachments a quick workout to see if they’re convenient.

After running a battery of tests using different router bits and materials, I have some strong opinions about each tool. Overall, I’m impressed. This is a useful and rapidly evolving category for the building trades.

Key Specs

Each soft-start router motor has electronic speed control that’s supposed to maintain constant speed under load, and a flat top so you can set the tool upside-down to adjust the cutting depth. But as the spec chart below points out, there are some important distinctions.

Weight and power. I weighed each tool, including the cord and the fixed base, on a postal scale. Without exception, the higher the amperage rating of the tool, the more it weighed and the more power­ful it proved to be in my routing trials. The lightest model, the Ridgid, weighs 3.5 pounds and draws 5.5 amps, which is .2 pound less and 2.2 amps more than my old Makita laminate trimmer. Cord length has no influence on the weight rankings; the 10-footers weigh only about .1 pound more than the 8-footers.

Rpm. Like traditional laminate trimmers, the Bosch PR10E and Porter-Cable 450 are single-speed models. The other five models are variable-speed. I’ve read that variable speed is mostly marketing hype, but it isn’t. In general, the larger the router bit, the slower the optimal rpm. Spin a router bit too fast, and the router can become difficult to control and can cause scorching, especially in tough materials like hard or figured woods. Also, I’m told that excessively high speeds can melt PVC trim. Some of the Freud router bits I used for my testing list the maximum rpm on the package. For instance, the maximum speeds for the 3/4-inch and 1-1/4-inch mortising bits I used are 24,000 and 18,000 rpm, respectively. Both single-speed routers exceed those speed limits.

Collet capacity. Each router comes with a 1/4-inch collet that accepts router bits with 1/4-inch-diameter shanks. But Makita also includes a 3/8-inch collet so you can use beefier bits for the most demanding applications. With more than double the mass of a 1/4-inch shank, a 3/8-inch shank is less likely to break when pushed hard and typically requires less tightening torque to prevent slippage.

Available kits. All seven routers are sold in a basic kit with a fixed base and one or two collet wrenches. Some include a case and other amenities, others don’t. The variable-speed Bosch PR20EVS and the routers from DeWalt, Makita, and Porter-Cable are also sold in expanded kits geared for various applications (and those four manufacturers also sell attachments that aren’t included in any kit).

Warranty. Besides standard warranties, every manufacturer except Craftsman offers a satisfaction guarantee that typically refunds your money if you don’t like the tool (Makita might replace the tool instead).