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Testing the Limits

 

Launch Slideshow

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Compact Routers

Key features of 7 pro-grade models

Compact Routers

Key features of 7 pro-grade models

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    Tim Uhler

    The author likes compact routers for light-duty, one-handed operations: mortising door hardware, milling small roundovers and chamfers, inlaying finish work, and the like. He recently evaluated seven compacts rated by their manufacturers at 1 or 1-1/4 horsepower, comparing features and performance.
  • Among other tests, the author used each router to plow a series of 14-inch-deep dadoes in a single pass in MDF and hardwood plywood. The 1 14-horse models were clearly more powerful than the one-horse ones.

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    Among other tests, the author used each router to plow a series of 14-inch-deep dadoes in a single pass in MDF and hardwood plywood. The 1 14-horse models were clearly more powerful than the one-horse ones.

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    Bruce Greenlaw

    Among other tests, the author used each router to plow a series of 1/4-inch-deep dadoes in a single pass in MDF and hardwood plywood. The 1-1/4-horse models were clearly more powerful than the one-horse ones.
  • All of the routers use 14-inch-shank bits (left), but the Makita also accepts much stronger 38-inch-shank bits (right).

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    All of the routers use 14-inch-shank bits (left), but the Makita also accepts much stronger 38-inch-shank bits (right).

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    Bruce Greenlaw

    All of the routers tested use 1/4-inch-shank bits (left), but the Makita also accepts much stronger 3/8-inch-shank bits (right).
  • Cases. The most basic router kits dont include a case. At the other extreme, the soft but rigid case for Makitas extreme RT0700CX3 kit is as big as an ice chest and includes a removable pouch for router bits.

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    Cases. The most basic router kits dont include a case. At the other extreme, the soft but rigid case for Makitas extreme RT0700CX3 kit is as big as an ice chest and includes a removable pouch for router bits.

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    Bruce Greenlaw

    Most basic router kits don’t include a case, but Makita’s  RT0700CX3 kit offers a soft but rigid case as big as an ice chest, which includes a removable pouch for router bits.

Before I powered up, I subjected the routers to a dry run by working the switches and dials, installing and removing router bits, setting cutting depths, swapping bases on the routers that have optional ones, and mounting all other attachments included in the kits.

I used new Freud bits for all of my routing trials, keeping them clean with Blade & Bit pitch remover. First, I used each router with its fixed base to mortise pine jambs for hinges, ease the ends of composite decking, round over pine and red oak with the largest bit that would fit through the base, and mill a Roman-ogee profile on red oak. Ramping up while respecting Freud’s recommended top speeds, I used each variable-speed router to cut a bunch of 3/4-inch-wide by 1/4-inch-deep by 2-foot-long dadoes in one pass in MDF and hardwood plywood, guiding the tools with a straightedge. I then plowed 11/4-inch by 1/4-inch dadoes in the same materials with each variable-speed router except for the Ridgid, which is a little too fast and has only a 13/16-inch-diameter center hole.

Finally, some carpenters use a router to cut rough window and door openings in sheathed walls before raising the walls. To mimic that, I used each router with a 1/4-inch-diameter, 1-flute panel pilot bit and a 3/8-inch-diameter, 2-flute panel pilot bit to cut a series of 4-foot-long strips off a panel of 7/16-inch OSB sheathing, guiding the bits along a 2x4 attached underneath. Then I installed the 3/8-inch collet in the Makita and repeated the test with a 3/8-inch-shank, 3/8-inch-diameter, 1-flute panel pilot bit.

All of these tools completed each exercise I tried with them. But even though each model has constant response circuitry to help keep the rpm steady, I was able to slow down the one-horse Bosch and Ridgid fairly easily in the most demanding tests by pushing them fast. The 1-1/4-horse models were clearly more powerful.

As for cutting window openings, you’re probably better off using larger routers for this purpose if you do it regularly. The DeWalt and Makita demonstrated that they can at least handle the job in a pinch, cutting at the rate of about 4 to 5 seconds per foot with the 1-flute bits. Strictly in terms of raw power, I’d rate the DeWalt and Porter-Cable at the top, followed by the Makita, the Craftsman, the Bosch, and the Ridgid.

Bosch PR10E

The no-frills single-speed, one-horse PR10E ships in a small carton with a fixed base, two wrenches, and no case. Bosch makes plenty of attachments for it, though, including edge guides, laminate-trimming bases, a sub-base with a built-in vacuum port for edge forming, and sub-bases that accept various template guides.

This is one of the four models I tested that allow you to use two opposing wrenches, or a spindle lock and one wrench, to install or remove bits. To adjust the cutting depth, you flip open the clamping lever, rotate the motor about 1/4 inch counterclockwise so the single triangle on the base points to the “unlocked” symbol on the motor, lower the motor to the desired position, and then rotate it back so the triangle points to the “locked” symbol on the motor. In this position, you can use a wheel in the back to fine-tune the cutting depth before closing the clamping lever.

Removing the base requires an extra pull and twist, and you have to align two double triangles to install it. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not exactly intuitive, either. Also, closing the clamping lever often changes the cutting depth slightly (a problem Bosch acknowledges in the owner’s manual), which can add some trial and error when routing to a critical depth.

On the plus side, the router is one of the lightest models I tested and fits beautifully in my hand. It has a square sub-base for following a straightedge, a 10-foot cord, and a seven-year track record. However, if I wanted to buy a Bosch Colt, I’d pick the more versatile variable-speed version.