Sometimes combination tools have to make too many compromises to perform their numerous functions. Fortunately, that's not the case with Hitachi's new KM 12VC router combination kit. This smartly designed, solidly constructed, and well-outfitted tool fulfills its promises as a fixed-base and plunge-base router. And, at $180 you've got a tool that pulls its weight without asking much in return.
Power. The 2-1/4-hp rating with electronic motor control keeps the rpm constant under varying loads. Variable speed combined with a nice soft-start feature enabled me to work effectively with small or large bits and on numerous materials. I easily plowed 3/4-inch dadoes and made massive 3/4-inch radius round-over cuts in hard maple.
Standard Accessories. The kit includes the bases, 1/4- and 1/2-inch collets (with wrenches), a large hole sub-base for oversized bits, a template guide adapter with centering gauge, and seven template guides that mount without tools. (Note: I had problems with my very early production 1/4-inch collet. Hitachi says the collet is now manufactured to improved specs. I advise simply getting a warranted replacement if any of the old versions inadvertently made it to market.)
Touching the Bases
Fixed Base. There is no combination-tool sacrifice in the fixed-base configuration. The base threads onto the motor, and depth is adjusted by twisting the motor to the desired setting and measured by the rotating scale ring, which works, but depth setting should always be tested for accuracy on a test piece. The two-stage locking lever used to secure the motor housing during depth adjustment was tricky to adjust, but once I got it set, I liked it.
Plunge Base. Switching to the plunge base took seconds and requires no tools. A lever locks the motor housing in place. The motor must line up with a mark on the base to fit without interference. Three turret stops enable setting multiple depths and two of them are height-adjustable by way of a protruding machine screw and jam nut. I replaced the Phillips-head screws with 5-mm hex socket screws, which made adjustment much easier and more accurate. The kit lacks an 8-mm wrench needed for setting the jam nuts; it should have been included.
Plunge Operation. I used the router in my shop and on site for three months and found a lot to like. While there's no true fine depth adjustment on this tool like a dedicated plunge router, if settings are adjusted carefully–and tested–very accurate results are possible.
The plunge travel was smooth, but stiff springs required me to push hard to actually plunge the router into the work. The spring-loaded locking lever was easy to reach with my thumb to release or lock the plunge mechanism without taking my hand off the knob, which felt extra safe. Make sure to push the lever firmly to the locking position to prevent the bit from rising out of the cut.
Switch. The power switch is on top of the motor, so it's visible in any position, but it has the international symbols for on and off. Since I can never remember which is which, a spot of red paint or tape to mark the on position solves the problem and increases safety.
Case. The well-organized case seemed too large; however, you can stow the unit in either configuration. A small latching compartment inside is handy for parts or safety glasses, but the slots for exposed bit storage leave sharp bit edges up, endangering both fingers and the power cord, so I didn't use them.
Most combination tools are plagued by their weakest features and performance. I think the Hitachi router kit avoids this with a smartly designed, solidly constructed, and well-accessorized tool ensemble that fulfills both its duties competently.
Hitachi KM 12VC: $180. 800-829-4752. www.hitachipowertools.com.
–Michael Springer is owner of Ulterior Designs in Boulder, Colo., and is a frequent contributor to Tools of the Trade.