Carrying Case

A good tool case is important for carrying the tool, wrenches, bits, and accessories. Porter-Cable's is the smallest of the bunch; it stores easily, but has little room for bits and accessories. DeWalt's case is the opposite: It's much too big. The Bosch case is a nice, medium size with ample bit storage. Makita's case is the best, with slots and spots for wrenches, bits, and accessories. Also, its lid doesn't fly open if the latches aren't fully secured.

Accessories and Template Guides

Base Plates. Though users' needs vary, there are some accessories we all require: extra base plates, template guides, and router guides and fences. Every router should have an extra base plate with a large hole for beading bits and slot cutters, otherwise you'll have to make your own. Makita and DeWalt include these. The DeWalt also includes a base plate centering device, a dust hose adapter, and a detachable cord. The Bosch and Porter-Cable don't come with extra base plates or accessories.

Template Guides. A template guide, an important accessory, fastens to the base of the router and surrounds the bit like a collar. With a template guide, a router can follow the edge of a template without cutting it. They're great for repetitive chores like mortising for door hardware and dadoing. Since template guides require frequent change-out, easy-to-change guides are a must. Only the Bosch model's guide is tool-less; all of the other tools require wrenches to change the template guides.

Fences. Only Makita ships its unit with a fence. While not top end, it works, especially for fluting and remodeling door jams.

Winners

It's important to point out after conducting this test that we feel you get a medium-grade plunge router and a fine fixed-base tool when you buy one of these kits. However, they're more than enough tool for plenty of jobsites, especially remodeling applications where contractors' needs really change by the job. The fixed-base features combined with plunge-base capability and low price are hard to overlook for a contractor who needs a little less precision and adjustability from a router than the crews on our jobs.

We also learned that picking an entire system is a difficult chore. Some tools really shine in certain configurations while they could use improvements in others. The kit that we think does the most things well is Bosch's 1617EVSPK. Its fixed base has a true micro-fine adjustment, the quick-change template guide adapter fits both bases, and its plunge base feels the most like a true plunge router, not a conversion kit.

Next we like the DeWalt. It's got some features that really stand out: a fixed base with a low center of gravity that really hugs the work, easy and accurate depth adjustment, and one-wrench bit-change. The Makita is a nice, powerful unit with a good motor exchange.

Porter-Cable's router kit follows the other three.

Gary Katz is a finish carpenter and writer from Reseda, Calif., and demonstrates construction techniques at Hanley-Wood's JLCLive! construction shows.

Daniel Parish is a finish carpenter from Simi Valley, Calif.

Tools of the Trade has arranged with the companies in this test to donate their tools to Habitat for Humanity.

Thanks to Freud for supplying the router bits for this test.