Configuration & Bases
Makita's clear plastic base provides great sight lines and the work light is very helpful.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
Offset Guides. All the tools come with an edge guide that's used to bear against the edge of the material to cut a straight line–very handy for cutting a small groove or dado. The DeWalt and Ridgid employ a sealed bearing guide that worked best, while the Bosch, Makita, and Porter-Cable guides are just open rollers that can get clogged.
Visibility vs. Durability. Because of all the freehand work we do with trim routers, it's vital to be able to see the bit contact the work. The Makita has a clear base, which made seeing the work incredibly easy. The tool was great for cutting hinge mortises freehand; I could easily cut right to the pencil line of my pattern. This tool even has a work light, something all these tools should have. These features really made getting accurate cuts easy; however, there's trade-off: The clear plastic base doesn't seem as durable as combination metal-plastic bases.
It was somewhat harder to see the work through the aluminum/plastic base configurations of the Bosch, DeWalt, Porter-Cable, and Ridgid models, but what you give up in visibility is made up for in strength–very important for a tool that lives its life in a truck or gang box. Of these bases, the Porter-Cable's angled opening gave us the best view. Bosch and DeWalt also provided nice sight lines. Ridgid's was a little more constricted, but still OK.
Bases and Micro Adjustment. While you can buy trim routers by themselves, they usually come packaged as kits that include various bases for multiple applications. There's great variety among the tools we tested and we found both function and frustration. Porter-Cable has the best base and accessories system, which makes it perfect for dedicated work in laminates. There's one screw that attaches each base to the router. Porter-Cable's micro-adjustment system also worked nicely: It's a simple screw that allows for slight up and down movements in the base, and it worked great setting depth for a mortise or a custom groove.
The DeWalt system, though offering the same base configurations as the Porter-Cable, was confusing and the least intuitive to set up. While the tool instructions spell it out, it took us the most time to get comfortable with how and where each different piece went and its intended use. The lever nut used to tighten and loosen the base for adjustment or replacement worked well, and I also liked DeWalt's micro-adjustment system for dialing-in a depth setting.
Bosch's locking lever and twist-and-lock adjustment feature really work well.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
Makita's system also left us scratching our heads. The main base design is confusing and not intuitive, and what really got us was the collection of small nuts, bolts, and flat and split washers that hold it together. And there's no micro adjustment.
The Bosch ships with a standard base; a tilting base is available as an accessory for use with laminates. The standard base is excellent–nicely designed for how we use these tools. And the cool twist-and-lock system allows the tool motor to slide up and down in the housing for adjustment or base replacement. This felt and worked great. The angled base worked the same way and the tilting is indexed so you know the exact tilt angle. The micro adjustment worked well, too, like a small router.
The Ridgid adjustment system was good. Though it worked well, there was an element of precision missing in the plastic lock nut and geared roller. The tool lacks micro adjustment.