If you are looking for the best compact routers in 2021 then this guide is just for you. The router is a staple power tool to the workshop of every DIYer or craftsman. Cutting out grooves and joints, engraving surfaces, profiling, and every other fabrication process that involves making hollows or recesses, the router saves the day.
But while full-sized industrial-grade routers are very powerful, they have a rather steep learning curve, are bulky, and are not the best suited to detail work. Enter compact routers – also called palm compact routers or trim routers, these handheld routers scale down the power of a full-sized machine but still perform.
But like with every other tool, compact routers come in all shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one for your woodworking needs will require careful consideration of the different types, designs, and performance specifications of compact routers. We have done the hard work for you and compiled a list of compact routers that are lightweight, powerful, beginner-friendly, durable, and versatile to different applications.
The compact router is easily one of the most versatile tools used by woodworkers. Its cutting profile in which the cutting bit rotates in a plane parallel to the material surface, similar to milling machines, allows the compact router to create detailed profiles and make cuts in ways and at angles other cutting machines can’t.
Earlier on in this guide, we gave you a list of five compact routers that stood out to us with exceptional features and performance. But you may still be in a fix as to which exactly to choose for your DIY needs. Fret not. We’re still here to help.
In the rest of this buying guide, we will take a look at some of the deciding factors we considered and which you should too so that you can zero in on the perfect compact router for your needs. We will also take a look at some must-haves for compact routers before you make a purchase.
What are the Different Types of Compact Routers?
Fixed Base vs. Plunge Base Routers
In your search for a compact router, you will quickly find that compact routers are generally classified as fixed base and plunge base routers. In a way, this convention is wrong. Compact routers are used with bases or housing platforms that may be fixed or plunge, so the base design makes the type of compact router.
A fixed base compact router comes with a base that holds the router at a fixed position once set and is excellent for very accurate and replicative work.
A plunge base compact router comes with a base that can plunge the router into the material, usually within set ranges, even while it’s cutting. However, most compact routers on the market today come with both types of bases for versatility.
Other types of bases used with compact routers include tilt bases and offset bases.
Corded vs. Cordless Compact Routers
Eco-emphasized innovation has caught up with compact routers. Today, compact routers come as either corded units that connect to a mains supply or cordless units that run on a rechargeable battery.
Corded compact routers boast of the most power and run consistently at a constant output.
Cordless compact routers offer the advantage of dependability when there is no electricity supply and are typically more compact. Cordless compact routers also usually come with interchangeable batteries with other machines from the same brand.
However, cordless compact routers still run on battery and will need to be recharged.
What Factors Should I Consider when Buying a Compact Router?
Perhaps the first factor you should consider is the power rating on the compact router you want to buy. The power rating will usually be specified in Horsepower (HP) or Watts, and is a representation of the power capacity on the main motor. The motor provides all the cutting power by spinning the bit at high speed to eat at the work material. The more powerful the compact router, the easier it will cut the material and the quicker it would too.
However, a motor that is overly powerful will usually come as a unit that is too bulky and defeat the point of being ‘compact’. For most compact routers, a power rating between 1.0-1.25 HP is good enough.
Compact routers are handheld and as such need to be as lightweight as possible. The ideal compact router should combine low weight with high power for the most maneuverability. A compact router that is too heavy, will be difficult to move and will quickly cause fatigue. A good weight range for a compact router will be between 3-7 lbs.
Convenience is a watchword when considering compact routers. Any compact router you should come with features that make for the most comfort when working. It should feature large anatomical handles for a solid hold and non-slip coatings made from materials like rubber, PU, or foam for a good grip and won’t slip as the router vibrates. The compact router should also be designed in a way that the power cable doesn’t interfere with your work.
The versatility of a particular compact router is directly determined by the number of accessories it can be used with and more importantly, those included in the pack. The ideal compact router should come with different types of bases to enable different cut profiles, guides for accuracy, wrenches for quick assembly, and if possible, a bag for carrying convenience.
Another area where some compact routers stand out from others is in the inclusion of cutting bits. If the compact router you are buying doesn’t specify any of these included you will be spending extra to bring your machine to life.
For a compact router used at home, noise levels should play an important determinant in your final decision. You want a compact router as quiet as possible. The noise levels of a compact router is mostly determined by whether it comes with a brushed or brushless motor. Brushless motors don’t have any electric contact between the stator and rotor, making them the ideal quiet units. The noise rating on any machine will typically be specified in decibels (dB).
How much do Compact Routers Cost?
There is a compact router for most budgets. However, you should expect to spend between $50-200 for low-end compact routers to higher-end models that will still require extra accessories respectively.
A: Having different routers in your workshop is a great idea if you are willing to spend. For examples, you could have a full-sized router for cutting thick and large wood pieces while another compact router will come in handy for basic light-duty or detail cuts.
Q: What extra accessories should a compact router come with?
A: A compact router should come with or be compatible with different base designs. It should also come with wrenches, guides, and LEDs for maximum visibility. Another extra accessory that is very helpful is a vacuum attachment adapter. This suction tube attaches and provides a path for a vacuum cleaner to suck out the fine dust while the compact router is working.
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