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Best Compact Routers

Updated December 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 98 Models Considered
  • 35 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 231 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best compact routers

    Last Updated December 2018

    A compact wood router is an excellent option for woodworkers, hobbyists, and craftspeople who want something small, light, and easy to manage – especially in smaller spaces. Don’t be fooled by the smaller size, though; many woodworkers find the compact router to be the perfect tool for certain jobs around the home.

    By its very nature, a compact router is lighter in weight than a large router. The ergonomics and portability of a quality compact router are quite desirable in the eyes of novices and hobbyists as well as veteran woodworkers. But how do you determine which compact routers are the best?

    At BestReviews, we dove into the compact router space to learn all about the product, its features, and your choices as a consumer. Above, you will find a chart that lists our favorite compact routers on the market today. Below, we drill down all the considerations you must keep in mind when choosing a compact router.

    Do you want a compact router that can help you with a number of different tasks? Whether you’re shearing, creating intricate decorative patterns, cutting moldings, or making custom cabinetry, a good range of power and speed is required.

    Compact router power and speed

    You undoubtedly want a compact router with decent horsepower, because that's what gives you the torque necessary to run a variety of cutters.

    • Look for a compact router with a range of speeds.

    • The ability to use variable speed is key. Materials vary in hardness; a router with a variable speed function can easily cope with different softwoods and hardwoods.

    Great Adaptability

    In terms of power, the DeWalt DWP611PK Compact Router, with its 1.25-hp motor, is pitched in the mid-range. However, when you add a speed control that ranges between 16,000 and 27,000 rpm, you end up with a tool that offers great adaptability.

    Compact router performance and handling

    Many consumers want a compact router that’s versatile enough to handle a wide range of tasks. Consider the size and ergonomics of the unit, as well as weight and build quality, to determine a wood router’s suitability for your needs.

    Here are some things to consider.

    • Depth Adjustment: Changing the height of the cutter or bit controls how deep it cuts into materials. Ease of cutter replacement makes handling a lot easier.

    • Weight: Smaller routers are generally lighter and easier to handle. However, the product you choose should have substantial weight to ensure stability and control in operation situations. Between 3.5 and 4.6 pounds is a reasonable weight for routers of this size.

    • Handling: How well the machine handles is an important consideration for these smaller, lighter routers. Getting a good grip improves accuracy and precision; a poor or awkward grip can lead to discomfort and fatigue.

    • Power Cord Length and Material: Power cord length and material are important considerations, especially if your workspace is small and/or crowded.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Compact routers featuring brushless motors tend to deliver faster, more accurate cuts in a variety of materials than brushed motors because they have fewer moving parts.

    Compact router accessories

    While some compact routers are sold as standalone items, others could be packaged as bundled kits that are ideal as starter sets.

    Look at included bases, edge guides, cases, and bits that may be included with the compact router to see if they meet your specific woodworking needs.

    • Bases: There are several types of bases. Offset bases are for hard-to-reach areas; plunge bases allow you to penetrate deeply into the wood; tilt bases are ideal for angled routing. Inclusion of multiple bases for a variety of tasks is ideal.

    • Edge Guides: Edge guides should be made of steel to allow for precise positioning of inlays and dadoes. They should attach quickly to fixed-base compact routers.

    • Dust Collection: A dust-collection adapter is a useful add-on. These adapters screw into the router and help collect and contain dust.

    • Bits: Router bits are the most important component. They come in a variety of shapes and determine the types of cuts you can make in the wood.

    EXPERT TIP

    A soft-start motor gives you more initial control and a less-violent start. This is desirable, because a jolt at the start of your work could lead to errors in your woodworking.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Other compact router features

    Compact router kits come with a variety of features that expand functionality and range of use. Some features matter more than others, depending on the type of work you need to do. Here are some features worth looking at.

    • Ergonomics and Hand Feel: How does the router feel when you use it? Does it allow for comfortable and secure single-handed operation and control?

    • Balance and Right- vs. Left-Handed Feel: The compact router should feel like an extension of your body whether you are right-handed or left-handed.

    • Electronic Speed Control: This feature should be easily accessible. It enables accuracy by allowing the user to assign a speed based on the task at hand and the surface being worked on.

    • LED Lights: LED lights serve to guide and improve visibility during routing tasks. Sometimes, they are included in the kit. Other times, you must purchase LED lighting separately.

    • Soft-Start Feature: A soft start is a necessity for less jarring start-ups and incremental speed increases. It allows woodworkers to ease into routing tasks.

    • Removable Dust Shields: A removable dust shield is important for protection from airborne sawdust and debris.

    • Easy Base Removal and Replacement: A shaft lock that is designed for fast and easy bit changes is nice to have.

    • Cam Lock System With a Quick Release: This is a useful feature to have if you want smoother depth adjustments and easy base removal or installation.

    Handles Heavy Loads

    The main feature worthy of note on the Bosch PR20EVSK Colt Palm Grip Router is its "Constant Response" motor circuitry. This feature is designed to increase power to the motor in response to heavy load.

    Compact router prices

    You might not expect to pay the same amount for a compact router as you would for a full-size router. However, you’ll still encounter a wide price range as you peruse the market.

    Brand reputation, warranty length, and replacement options impact the router’s price and are prime considerations prior to investing in a new compact router.

    Inexpensive compact routers

    Inexpensive compact routers run between $120 and $220. These products generally feature a dual-position on/off switch and a quick-release button for easy motor adjustments and removal.

    Mid-range compact routers

    Mid-range compact routers costing between $220 and $350 offer surprising versatility and quality. You’ll find many products with soft-start motors and variable speed control as well as dual LEDs for maximum visibility while routing.

    Expensive compact routers

    Expensive compact routers will feature a powerful motor that can deliver between 10,000 and 30,000 rpm for the toughest applications. In the range of $350 to $500, expect soft-start motors with full electronic feedback, dual LED lights, and clear sub-base for improved visibility.

    Dust shields are often overlooked, but they play an important part in controlling where dust and debris end up. Most compact router packages include a dust shield.

    FAQ

    Q. What is the most effective way to use a compact router?

    A. When working with a compact router, feed your the wood into the router from left to right. This ensures the cutter blade makes the proper contact with the wood surface you are machining. Blades turn clockwise, so follow that action.

    Q. Can compact routers be used with router tables?

    A. Some manufacturers offer router tables that could work with similarly branded compact routers. However, router tables are better suited for larger routers and bigger jobs. Compact routers excel at small projects that don’t require the use of a router table.

    Q. What are the key factors to consider when selecting a compact router?

    A. Durability, reliability, and power output are all key factors. So are weight, handling, speed, depth of cut, and mobility. The products in our product list are a great place to begin your search for a quality compact router.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Gadjo
      Gadjo
      Writer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor

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