Power

To test power, we installed a new, sharp 3/8-inch plowing (or dado) bit on each tool, a pretty big bit for these tools. This enabled us first to look for effective stock removal and–when lowered 1/4-inch into oak–to gauge the tools' grace under pressure. Because you typically operate a laminate trimmer one-handed, smooth operation is vital and it affects accuracy. If the tool is strained, it can wobble, too much of which makes the tool uncomfortable to use and potentially unsafe, and can contribute to sloppy work. To my surprise, each tool performed very well. All the tools cut confidently through hardwood without any trouble.

Features & Feel

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Adjustable speed plus a nice soft-start feature make the Ridgid easy to use.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

How a tool feels in your hand–and how it performs once it's there–is really where the rubber meets the road with trim routers. The tools that are designed more like small routers than laminate-specific units were the ones that felt best to us.

The Bosch is the most nicely equipped. It has a nice soft-start feature that made working near critical cuts more comfortable. Its adjustable speed made cutting in various materials much easier. The variable speed allowed us to slow the tool down, making it easier to control bit burn on the wood and giving me exacting control when cutting a critical line. Plus the body design just felt good to work with.

The Ridgid unit is also nicely appointed. It has a comfortable soft-start feature and adjustable speed, like a larger router, and it felt good in my hand. Its 12-foot-long cord has a light that lets you know when it's hot, which is cool. The tool even has a long three-year warranty (plus parts and service for life) backing it up. Very nice.

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Ridgid's lighted cord end lets you know the tool is good to go.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

The DeWalt, Makita, and Porter-Cable tools all functioned fine either tricked out with all their bases or in simple trim routing applications; however, they are instant-on, have no speed control, and the body designs aren't as plush as the Bosch and Ridgid.

Winners

Choosing the winner partly depends on what your routing/trimming needs are. If you do a lot of laminate work, the Porter-Cable is an ideal system. The basic tool design and base setup were the simplest and cleanest. There are lots of bells and whistles–but few parts to lose. Add to that ease of use and smart design from the box to the bits. The DeWalt kit offers a lot for laminate work, too, but was confusing to use. If they streamline that system, it could challenge the Porter-Cable.

For our needs–odd-job routing and laminate work–the Bosch wins. The base was the best, the tool body was the most ergonomic, and the soft-start feature made everyone confident in this choice. Ridgid comes next. Just about everything is well thought through. The accessories are basic but well made, and although the base isn't the best, the lifetime parts and service warranty is a great feature. Both of these well-designed tools allowed us to rout and dado smoothly near critical work and cut comfortably right to the line.

The Makita is a mixed bag: The work light and plastic base were great, but the the nuts, bolts, and washers required for adjustment, along with the handle design, could use improvement.

–Brent Hull is a historic restoration and millwork contractor. He owns Hull Historical in Fort Worth, Texas.