Sign Up Today and Get a Special 10% Off Coupon

Tool Feature Issue 26 Trim Routers

Print  |  Back

From: Woodcraft

Page 1 of 1

With some routing chores, bigger isn’t always better; sometimes it’s a bother. For small-cut jobs, a larger machine is the workshop equivalent of swatting a fl y with an elephant gun. Enter the trim router. This prized tool - sometimes called a laminate trimmer - started out in the world of cabinets and countertops, but its uses quickly outgrew its initial intent. Before long, the trim router took up residence in woodworking shops, proving to be the little tool that could.

Palm a trim router, and right away you’ll see the reason for its success, namely, comfort and control that you can’t get from a larger model. As the chart on the opposite page shows, full-sized routers might be more versatile, but for small cuts
and trimming jobs, the one-handed tool does more than holds its own. And at a price that’s half to onethird that of the big boys, you can afford the convenience of keeping one or more trim routers pre-loaded with your most-used bits.

Once you’ve seen what a trim router can do, the real question isn’t “Do I need a trim router,” but “Which one do I need?” To help you pick the best one for your shop, and then put it to work, here’s a rundown of what trim routers do well, a quick review of key features, and a must-have bit list.

Trim router specialties
A trim router isn’t designed to make heavy cuts or serve in a router table like beefi er models, but there are other
tasks where it excels. Because of its light weight and one-handed convenience, you’ll fi nd yourself choosing this tool over bigger routers for more moderate routing chores such as the following: Rready-to-go edger. While most trim routers have less-powerful motors (1 hp or less), but they’re more than capable of handling the standard arsenal of roundover, cove, and chamfer bits (Photo A). In fact, trimmers will work with almost any 1/4"-diameter shanked bit that will fi t though the opening in the base. And perhaps because of this built-in bitsize restriction, most trim routers are geared to run faster than larger, general purpose routers. More cuts per inch translate into cleaner cuts.

The smaller base of a trim router also allows it to go into tighter corners where a larger router can’t fit. The smaller base and lighter weight make it
easier to rout along the edges of boards, making it ideal for profi ling face-frame edges or fl ushing up solid-wood edging with a fl ush-trim bit. Mighty mini mortiser. For freehand cuts, the lightweight motor and small base provide a handy combination for routing shallow dadoes and grooves on horizontal and vertical surfaces. In addition, most trim routers come equipped with square bases, making them perfect for running along a straightedge.

When equipped with a straight or down-cut spiral bit, a trim router makes mortises more quickly than a
chisel ever could. For small jobs, the small router is easy and comfortable enough to use freehand, but you’ll defi nitely need to switch over to a chisel to fi nish paring up to your line. For multiple mortises, you reduce chiseling time by outfi tting your router with a bearing-guided bit or bushing and making a simple jig like the ones shown on the following pages. Countertop king. Because a trim router serves in so many ways, it’s easy to forget its original use as a plastic laminate trimmer. You’ll be pleasantly reminded of this tool’s original use the fi rst time you can’t maneuver some

workpiece to your workbench. Thanks to their design, trim routers take much of the risk out of the balancing act inherent in trimming the laminate edge of a countertop (Photo B) or flush-trimming solid wood edging on plywood shelves.

Deluxe kits are sold with multiple bases for greater versatility, but some single base kits still come with a trim guide (Photo C), an adjustable bearingtipped arm that hangs off the base. This can be used not only to turn regular straight bits into bottom-bearing flush trim bits, but also can be moved in or out for additional profile options.

Features make the difference

Trim routers start at around $70, but extra accessories or adjustability can add to the price. Check out this list of features and decide for yourself why and where they matter most for your woodworking needs.
Bit Visibility. Since most laminate jobs are bearing-guided, fabricators don’t spend as much time focused on the tip of the bit. It’s a completely different story when you want to rout a freehand mortise. The friendliest bases for woodworkers have large viewing openings or windows; a few even have clear acrylic bases (PHOTO D).

Bit Height Adjustment. The bit height adjustments on the earliest trim routers were basic threaded housings, similar to those found on certain fixed-based routers. While this design works for quick, rough adjustments, it falls short when making a fine depth cut. If you plan on using a trimmer primarily for edge work, you might buy a basic base, set it once, and forget it. However, if you plan to rout delicate inlays, or need to sneak up on the leaf-thickness of a brass hinge, look for a model with a threaded depth adjustment (Photo E). Speed control. Greater rpms usually translates to cleaner cuts, but at times, too much speed can be a disadvantage. Depending on your feed rate, a superfast spinning bit can burn
dense hardwoods such a maple and cherry. Fixed-speed routers are fine for edging and laminates but you might want to spend a little more on a variable-speed motor if you anticipate careful crawl-cuts, such as up to hinge lines or scribed corners.
Bit Changing. Trim routers fall into one of two categories— those with a single wrench and spindle lock, and those with a two wrench-collet. Because it’s easy to pinch your palm between the two tiny opposing

wrenches, consider a single wrench collet. (Plus, there’s also one less wrench to lose in the shop.) On the other hand, the two-wrench system is a little easier to tighten and loosen. More than likely, your experience with your other routers will help you determine your option here. Extra bases. Trim routers are sold as single-base units, or in deluxe multibase kits. You’re likely to fi nd some uses for these bonus bases in your workshop, but they tend to be more suited for laminate and countertop fabrication. The tilting base is designed to trim laminate flush into corners, but by changing the orientation of the bit to the workpiece, it can also serve to create new profi les from old bits. The offset trimmer base relies on a beltdriven chuck that allows the router to cut within 3/4" of a wall or corner. This comes in handy when scribing the back edge of a workpiece for a snug fi t or when trimming laminate where countertops meet the wall.

Want our advice? Don’t deny yourself a trimmer just because you can’t afford the multi-base kit; you’ll probably use the standard base most of the time.