Detailed Tool Features

Handle Grip

For control and comfort, router handles should be canted forward to match the angle of a relaxed hand. Elongated handles like those on the Bosch fit the hand more naturally than the round knobs on the Triton or the vertical ones on the DeWalt (all three tools are shown). Rubber surfaces improve the grip and can reduce strain and fatigue, especially when there's a lot of fine, slippery sawdust around. The Bosch, Freud FT3000, Hitachi, Rockwell, and Triton handles all have rubber grips.

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Handle Grip

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Switch Types

You should be able to keep both hands on the router when you operate power switches, and they should be easy to reach fast. Trigger switches on handles, like on the Freud FT3000 are better than most body-mounted switches–though Makita's body switch has good access.

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Credit: Photos by dotfordot.com


Depth-Setting Locks

Plunge-locking levers should be easy to reach without lifting your hands from the handles, like on the Freud FT3000 (top left photo). That way you can maintain maximum control of the spinning router bit while locking the cutting depth. Makita (bottom left) has the shortest lever and you have to let go of the left handle to lock it. Festool (top right) has a twist lock built into the grip that is literally right at your fingertips. The Bosch (bottom right) and Porter-Cable levers are spring-loaded and have to be released to plunge the router. Even though they're self-locking, you must tighten them further to fully secure the depth setting, which adds a step to the process.

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Depth-Setting Locks

Credit: Photos by dotfordot.com


Fine Adjustment

To fine-tune bit depth in a controlled way, you twist a knob down some form of a threaded rod that connects the tool's base and head units, thereby screwing the sections together or apart. A typical knob is found on the Freud FT2200 (top right). Other than the Porter-Cable–which has no included knob for fine-tuning its bit depth–all of the routers can be fine-adjusted successfully. The Freuds, the Makita, the Rockwell, and the Triton are the easiest to adjust. The Bosch, the Festool, and the Hitachi are a little fussier. The DeWalt is the trickiest. The Bosch, Hitachi, and Freud FT3000 routers have extension knobs that snap in to the top of their adjusters. Bosch's is mainly for added reach when the tool is mounted under a router table, but adjusting the Hitachi is difficult without using this knob. The knob for the Freud FT3000 (bottom right) is also used to adjust depth and to operate its spindle lock through sockets in the base, making it easier to adjust the router when it's in a router table.

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Fine Adjustment

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com


Bit Changes

The Porter-Cable is the only tool without a spindle lock. The Festool has a ratcheting spindle lock so you never have to reposition the wrench when tightening or loosening the collet. The Freud FT3000 and Triton models have latching spindle locks that make it easier to change the bit. And their collets protrude through the base, making it easier to access the bit, especially when using a router table.

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Bit Changes

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Turret Stops

Stop rods index against different levels set on a rotating turret to make it easier to cut in small incremental bites. If the stops are adjustable, as on the Porter-Cable (left), you can also use them to quickly reference more than one set depth of cut. Only the Bosch and Rockwell stops are fixed and therefore cannot be set for more than one exact cut depth.

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Turret Stops

Credit: Photos by dotfordot.com


Speed Control

The speed-control dial should be accessible while you're holding the tool securely, but not so close you move it accidentally. Tools with good access include the Porter-Cable, Festool, and Rockwell. Hitachi's dial is on the grip itself and is prone to unintentional adjustments.

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Speed Control

Credit: Photos by dotfordot.com


Stop Rods

It's important for a stop rod to securely lock in place so that it maintains the exact cutting depth you set. Repeated plunges can defeat undersized set screws, and the constant vibration and handling of a tool could rotate a stop rod that's merely threaded–as on the Freud FT2200–versus a sturdy set-screw lock like the one on the Hitachi (bottom right). Most stop rods have to be locked in a raised position when they're not being used so they don't interfere with deeper cutting, but the Triton has a spring-loaded rod that won't fall out when left unlocked.

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Stop Rods

Credit: Photos by dotfordot.com


Dust Collection

Vacuum attachments come standard with all the routers tested except the Makita and the Porter-Cable. Festool's integrated dust collection flows through the base and up a riser tube at the rear of the tool (above right). The other tools have plastic rings that fit around the bit at base level and receive the hose. Although this arrangement keeps the center of gravity low, it sometimes interferes with guides and fences. Using a vacuum with the routers helps gather much of the finer dust, but in some situations you may prefer not to deal with the added tether of a hose. If you are using a vac, plastic shields can help contain the dust; but if you're not, they can funnel the dust up your sleeves or–even worse–up into your face and underneath your safety glasses. The Freud FT2200 and the Triton were the worst in this regard, causing us to remove the shields.

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Dust Collection

Credit: Photos by dotfordot.com