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Which Compact Router to Buy: Unsponsored Tool Review of 7 Brands

April 29, 2022 8 min read

Palm routers, trim routers, laminate routers — compact routers go by a lot of names.

And like the names, there’s a lot of buying options out there.

So how do you choose?

Well, I’m here to give you my candid, unsponsored, and unsolicited advice.

I tested palm routers from seven different brands to find out which are the best, and which are best left to stirring your coffee.

To reiterate, this tool review is NOT sponsored.

I bought these routers with my own money to help develop a jig we’ll soon be releasing with Tamar Hannah from 3x3 Custom.

(This jig is EPIC. You can see how the prototype works here, and make sure to sign up for our email list to get your hands on one as soon as it’s released).

So if you’re looking to buy a compact router, here’s what you need to know.

WHAT ARE COMPACT ROUTERS?

Flush trimming with a compact router

Compact routers hover around 1 horsepower — making them a lot less powerful than full-size routers. They come with ¼ inch collets, and only take bits with ¼ inch shanks.

But less power doesn't mean they’re not useful.

Their small size and light weight make them great for knocking out detail work quickly with lots of control.

You wouldn’t use a compact router to flatten a slab — but they’re ideal for sign making, light chamfers or roundovers, and clearing waste for dovetail keys and inlays.

A full-size router can do pretty much everything a compact router can. But compact routers are a great luxury to have as part of your workflow.

Just make sure to take small bites, and they’ll give you great results. Read my top 8 router tips here.

A BIT ABOUT BITS

Spiral router bits

Choosing a good quality compact router is important — but so is using high quality bits.

Spiral router bits are the best of the best when it comes to good results and longevity. Their design helps reduce tearout, burning, and they stay sharp longer than traditional straight bits.

You can read more about spiral bits here, and check out our collection of Katz-Moses Signature router bits (in partnership with Bits&Bits).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A COMPACT ROUTER

The first thing to consider is what you’ll be using your compact router for.

If it’s going to be your first router, it might be worth getting a corded option so you don’t have to worry about battery life.

And you’ll definitely want a more powerful model that comes with lots of accessories.

If you plan to use it in addition to your main router, cordless might be the way to go so you have the freedom of a battery.

But the two most important factors are power and accuracy.

The more power your trim router has, the better it can handle an array of cuts.

Side note: I was surprised to find there isn’t a big difference in power between corded and battery powered palm routers — at least on higher end models.

By accuracy, I mean that once it’s locked down, the bit stays in the same position even after extensive use.

On cheaper routers, the bit can shift… which is muy malo. I’ll tell you which routers this happened with below.

Here’s a few other things to look for.

ACCESSORIES

Palm router with accessories

Does the router have a plunge base available? Does it take bushings? Edge guides? Tool-mounted lights? Free Wi-fi?

The more accessory options available, the more use you’ll get out of the tool.

COLLET TYPE

ER collets

The collet is what holds the bits — and it’s super indicative of quality.

ER collets are the best — and standard on any quality compact router. You can recognize them because they look like they’re split into four parts.

They lock down super tight, making sure your bits won’t adjust while in use.

Bad collets

Collets that look like a circle with a piece missing are garbage — and it’s not worth buying any compact router with that design.

POWER SWITCH POSITION

Compact router

This one sounds trivial, but annoys the heck out of me.

I’d stay away from any router that has the power switch on the top.

When doing edge work, I like to put a hand on top of the router to stabilize it. And if the power switch is on top, I’ll constantly shut off the tool without meaning to.

Super lame.

A NOTE ON VARIABLE SPEED
Almost all the routers I tested are variable speed, meaning you can adjust the RPM the bit spins at.

But I never really use the variable speed on compact routers.

It’s there so you can lower the RPM when using bigger bits. But for any bit over a ½ inch in diameter, I’d just use a more powerful router instead.

Compact routers don’t really have enough power for bigger bits.

THE TESTS

Grooves in plywood

I ran two separate tests with each compact router.

The first was to test repeatability and accuracy.

I cut a ⅛ inch groove with each router twice. One time just holding the base, then a second time holding the base and putting pressure on the top.

I measured the grooves with a pair of calipers to see if the bits shifted position at all, and ran the test twice just to be sure.

After that, I did the “Use it and Abuse it” test.

I used each router continuously for 15 minutes doing a range of heavy cuts. Flush trimming with the bit fully buried, ⅜ inch grooves, dovetail keys at full depth, edge profiling — you get the idea.

These were the results.

COMPACT ROUTER RANKINGS

Using a trim router

Some of my opinions come down to personal preference. Don’t get your bloomers in a bunch if I talk trash about your favorite router.

And while this list doesn’t cover every compact router available, I chose some of the most popular and readily available.

The Ryobi and Milwaukee only had cordless options available, so I had to go with those.

They’re ordered by approximate price (which, as all things in life, is subject to change).

For the speedy who don’t read, I ranked each compact router from 1-5 stars.

RYOBI P601 (CORDLESS): ~$69

Ryobi compact router

POWER
18v 4.5a 29,000 RPM

ADJUSTABILITY
Too many buttons and switches. Removing the base involves three separate mechanisms which is a total pain.

ACCURACY
Absolute no-go. The collet couldn’t even hold the bit shank securely after one pass — and the bit dropped by ⅛ inch.

I didn’t want a bit flying out at me, so it was out of the running after the first test.

VERDICT: ⭐
The cheapest option — but in no way worth it. I’d never use this compact router again.

AVAILABLE HERE

PORTER CABLE PCE6430: ~$100

Porter Cable compact router

POWER
120v 4.5a 31,000 RPM

ADJUSTABILITY
Good depth adjustment, but…

ACCURACY
This compact router failed the accuracy test. The bit shifted slightly — and even though it was just a little, that makes it a non-starter. Probably because of the cheap collet.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐
It looks like it wants to be a good compact router — but it just isn’t. The bit shifted during a cut which should never be the case.

Overall, it feels cheap. And also has that top button (no!).

AVAILABLE HERE

BOSCH GFK125CE: ~$119

Bosch compact router

POWER
1.25 hp

ADJUSTABILITY
The adjustment dial’s a little stiff, but works great. It also has a knob you turn to lock it down, adjust, and remove the base — making it pretty simple to do macro and micro adjustments.

My only complaint is the small size of the depth adjustment dial.

ACCURACY
Makes perfectly accurate and repeatable cuts.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is a hefty little router and felt noticeably more powerful than everything (except the Dewalt).

The collet is rock solid and it’s super easy to change bits. The lights always stay on when plugged in, which is great for setting up your depth of cut.

AVAILABLE HERE

RIDGID R2401: ~$129

Ridgid compact router

POWER
1.5 hp

ADJUSTABILITY
Not the best. The macro-adjust feels cheap and is hard to mess around with too much. And the locking lever rotates when open, which gets annoying really quick.

ACCURACY
Passed the accuracy test, but the adjustment is a pain.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐
To me, this feels like Playskool’s “My First Router.”

It does the job, but the parts feel chintzy and the design just isn’t that smart overall. Plus, it has the power switch on top (which I hate).

AVAILABLE HERE

MAKITA RT0701C (CORDED) AND XTR01Z (CORDLESS): ~$129 / $142

Makita compact router

POWER
1.25 hp / 18v 5a 30,000 RPM

ADJUSTABILITY
I’m a Makita fanboy — but the depth adjustment on these compact routers is a non-starter for me. I didn’t know how bad it was until I got to compare it to other mechanisms.

The way it just slides up and down (stop it) makes it hard to dial in a perfect depth of cut.

I’d probably just throw an ⅛ inch roundover bit in this, set it once, and never adjust again.

ACCURACY
Rock solid. The bit didn’t shift at all.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
It has great power and accuracy, but the adjustment mechanism is a non-starter for me.

However, if you already have a main router, are on the Makita platform, and just need something for edge work — this is a great option.

AVAILABLE HERE (CORDED)
(CORDLESS)

MILWAUKEE 2723-20 (CORDLESS): ~$138

Makita compact router

POWER
18v 5a 31,000 RPM

ADJUSTABILITY
Not bad, but it can still be adjusted when locked down — which a router should never be able to do.

ACCURACY
I had big problems with this one at first. Even when locked down, the base had .04 inches of play.

I was able to fix this by locking it down a bit more with an allen key, but I would never be able to fully trust it down the line. It also got a lot harder to adjust.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
A lot of people swear by this router — and if you’re already on the Milwaukee platform, it’s a great option.

My experience with the base shifting might not be typical, but it would leave me worried about using it again. There also aren’t as many accessories available as I’d like.

AVAILABLE HERE

DEWALT DWP611: ~$150

Dewalt compact router

POWER
1.25 HP

ADJUSTABILITY
The absolute winner in this category. There’s just a single large knob that’s super easy to grab onto. Turn it quickly for large adjustments, and just barely turn it for micro adjustments.

It’s a great design that makes it dead simple to use. I love having the macro and micro adjust in the same mechanism without needing to use any other levers or buttons.

ACCURACY
Perfectly accurate. Easy to change out bits and lock them down securely.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is everything a compact router should be. Powerful, accurate, solid, and easy to adjust.

I also love the baseplate that extend out a bit more, giving you a place to put your fingers when you’re really trying to dial in detailed work.

As an added plus, this is the only compact router I tested where you can flip the base 180° — which is great for if you need to switch which side of a board you’re working on.

AVAILABLE HERE

THE WINNERS

Knowing what I know now, these are the two compact routers I’d buy out of the bunch.

Both have a ton of accessories they can be used with.

BEST VALUE: BOSCH GFK125CE

Bosch compact router

This is a really close second to the Dewalt — but significantly cheaper. The adjustment mechanism is the biggest reason I’m putting it at #2.

If you want a great compact router but are trying to save money, this is the model I’d choose.

AVAILABLE HERE

BEST OVERALL: DEWALT DWP611

Dewalt compact router

This is my favorite hands down (and also the most expensive, but not by a lot).

It’s a top-performer in every category — and I absolutely love the adjustment mechanism.

If you’re after the best of the best, here’s your answer.

AVAILABLE HERE

GET ROUTING

Trim routers

Their smaller size and ease-of-use make compact routers a super helpful tool to have around the shop.

And hopefully, my little experiment helps guide you to the perfect one for your needs.

If you have or plan on getting a compact router, you’ll definitely want to check out the jig we’re about to release with Tamar from 3x3 Custom.

It takes the applications of your palm router to the next level — and fits every model listed in this blog. Watch this video to see how it works.

Sign up for our newsletter so you can get first dibs (because I’m pretty sure these are going to go quick).

Already own a compact router? Give us your honest review in the comments below!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram @katzmosestools and check out my YouTube channel.

And as always, STAY SAFE IN THE SHOP!

Jonathan Katz-Moses
Jonathan Katz-Moses


28 Responses

Jeff G.
Jeff G.

May 03, 2022

I first purchased a Rigid cordless palm router when cordless routers were first available. Used it twice and was sorry I had purchased it just because it was cordless. I now have purchased a Milwaukee cordless which I have used a number of times for various projects and love it. The Milwaukee router’s workmanship, fit and finish I found to be better all around, however, the depth adjustment is it’s Achilles heel. It would change as the machine was used until I found the hex key adjustment to tighten the depth. Yes it makes depth of cut setting a little more difficult but the quality of the tool makes it bearable. An added bonus is the dust collecting port supplied with the tool. I also am now keeping all my cordless tools to one brand (Milwaukee) to eliminate the multiple battery brands and charger issues of the past. Hopefully, tool manufacturers will wake up at some point to the necessity of a universal battery!

Mark
Mark

May 02, 2022

I have been using a Ryobi trim router for a long time. Never had any of the problems you mentioned. Works like a champ. If the bit is loose, it is probably the bit, not the router. Haven’t found adjusting the depth difficult at all. Perhaps you just got the one faulty unit.

Bill
Bill

May 02, 2022

I noticed you did not include the Metabo cordless in your test Or maybe it wasnt out yet how about checking on it and let me know Bill

Joe P
Joe P

May 02, 2022

I have to agree with a few others here. My Ryobi palm router has been good for me. Yes, it is not the top of the line. But it is cheap and I already had a bunch of batteries. I use it fairly frequently to add a quick round over to take the edge off of a project. I bought it even though I already owned the Bosch Colt because it was cheap and cordless. Because the Ryobi is so convenient, I find I rarely use my Bosch Colt. If I need something small and quick, I grab the Ryobi. Otherwise I either use my router table (with a 2.25HP Bosch) or my 2.25 HP Dewalt.

JKM. You mention you thought most of the corded brands you reviewed had a battery option. Do you know for sure if this is true for the Bosch Colt? If so, I might buy one of those and use it instead of my Ryobi. But I couldn’t find one.

Thanks for the great info.

Jim B
Jim B

May 02, 2022

My understanding is that Porter Cable will no longer make routers. The older Porter Cable Palm Routers are identical to the Dewalt palm router tested (both companies owned by Black & Decker). To prove this I ordered the Dewalt plunge base and use my Porter Cable router in it. The Porter Cable tested here looks to be a cheaper laminate trimmer.

Martin Cox
Martin Cox

May 02, 2022

I would have to go into the shop to see how many routers I’ve got. I know I have the Festool 1420, Trend T10 and T11 plus a Bosch trim router plus…. All are corded and recently I bought, having read many recommendations, the Katsu product. I now agree with those recommendations. If you took the badge off and handed it to someone, I don’t think they could tell you that it’s by far the cheapest trim router available in the UK. I bought the full Monty with all the accessories but I understand that it’s compatible with most, if not all, Makita products. I’ve read that people find it slightly noisier, perhaps less refined than its expensive rivals. Maybe, I got a good one but I see, hear and feel no difference. You couldn’t fairly compare it to the Festool but that’s not apples for apples.

Doug Evans
Doug Evans

May 01, 2022

I’ve actually had good luck with the Ryobi as a single used tool. At $69 apiece I bought a couple and I put a single round over bit or flush trim bit in it and never change it. I use a Bosch for everything else.

Jim G
Jim G

May 01, 2022

I have the Makita. After using it I wish I had purchased a cordless rather than a corded for a trim router. I found that it’s light enough that the cord can actually pull it off track, which is not a problem with full size routers.

Ben
Ben

May 01, 2022

I have the ryobi because I have the batteries. I’ve never had it slip, and it’s so handy that I keep a round over bit in it and got another one for general use. I’ve seen it get bad reviews in the past, but it keeps me happy.

David H
David H

May 01, 2022

Great review, great service to the community, thank you. Only thing I would add is not to dismiss the value of the speed control feature on the Bosch (or any other brand that has it). If you have issues with your round-overs burning, dial the speed all the way down and problem solved. I went through a few brand new 1/8" radius bits early on before realizing that the bit wasn’t the problem, the rpm was.

Tom K
Tom K

May 01, 2022

I’m happy with the Bosch Colt with fixed and plunge bases that I’ve owned for several years. I also have four Harbor Freight Drillmaster routers that I bought for $20 each on sale. I added a flat washer to each side of the locking screw and that makes them solid. These each have a Whiteside round over or other small profile bit installed and do an excellent job. I cleaned the collets and associated parts thoroughly before installing the bits. I’m also not constantly swapping out the bits.
They are part of my tool arsenal while building the cabinets and trimwork for my new home.

Matt J
Matt J

May 01, 2022

Possibly a quality control issue on the Ryobi. While I would never rank it at the top, mine has worked flawlessly for years.

Anthony B
Anthony B

May 01, 2022

Purchased the Dewalt a while back – mostly because that was one I learned on in woodworking program, except I’ve got the battery powered one. Plenty of power, love the adjustment you mentioned but also love the braking system – from go to stop instantly. Also almost no vibration.

Michael S
Michael S

May 01, 2022

I’ve been using the Bosch colt (corded) for many years and Rigid bushless cordless since it came out. They are both great routers but the adjustment leave a lot of room for improvement. What is really missing though is a small plunge base to go with them. They are available as very expensive aftermarket options but cost way more than the routers themselves. With a good plunge base, the depth adjustment doesn’t matter so much. For the corded routers, I almost always plug them into a foot switch so it doesn’t matter where the switch is on the router, my power switch is on the floor.

Bill Killian
Bill Killian

May 01, 2022

I have the Bosch 1.25 hp Colt. I have the full size Bosch router and wanted to stick with them. They work well for me.

Jack C
Jack C

May 01, 2022

The results are confirming for me. I switched to the Dewalt platform and have found it to be very good. It is especially helpful since I have switched most of my power tools to cordless. Since I have two large batteries and charger it keeps prices low as I do not have to keep buying batteries

Greg
Greg

May 01, 2022

I’m a Makita guy and have two of the cordless versions. I love them. I actually like the adjustment mechanism. Very powerful and smooth on both.

Blake
Blake

May 01, 2022

Are you going to sell the 3X3 Custom jig from the video with Tamar? If so, when are you expecting it to be available? Or do I need to find the plans and acrylic?

 Nathan
Nathan

May 01, 2022

I have a few of the makita 701 corded
Some are used in CNC machines where they work perfectly because just the head is used

However * when I use them for milling out gun lowers I had one slip (the lower adjustment) and destroy a 100 dollar solid carbide – coated milling bit.

I will be switching to Dewalt for the future on hand held; but the Makita mills on my machine with a high-precision (aftermarket-custom) collet set so makita will become just machine duty.

Mike Curtin
Mike Curtin

May 01, 2022

Joe Orluck,

I agree 100% with your last sentence. I imagine you already know this, but eventually you forget the purchase price. Every time you use a cheap tool you’re reminded all over again of its inadequacies. Also, having a cheap tool makes it harder to justify spending money on a good one, because you already have something that sort of works. In future I will save up a few more shekels and avoid never-ending frustration.

Jeff B
Jeff B

May 01, 2022

I bought the Ryobi that he gives such a terrible review of. I have other Ryobi battery powered tools and wanted a battery powered router. I thought I’d give it a try since I did not need to buy a battery. It is inexpensive which made me suspect, but I have not had any issues with it.

Justin
Justin

May 01, 2022

How can you have this shootout without the $29.99 Drillmaster 1/4” Trim Router from Harbor Freight?!

Jay M
Jay M

May 01, 2022

I have two of the Bosch palm routers. They do a great job for my needs

Rob C
Rob C

May 01, 2022

Bummed that you didn’t have the Metabo HPT. I’m new to palm routers but have the Metabo/Hitachi platform. In my limited use, it’s a good tool.

Gary R
Gary R

May 01, 2022

@DUTCHMANN – the DeWalt router reviewed here is a corded model. I haven’t done the sort of head-to-head comparison that Jonathan did for this review, but I bought the DeWalt 611 a couple of years ago and have been very happy with it (and I got it on sale from HD for $119).

Dutchmann
Dutchmann

May 01, 2022

Great review, couldn’t agree with you more, I have the Bosch and love it a lot. I’m on the DeWalt battery platform but for some reason I’ve never splurged for the router, now I might, cordless is handy. Anyway one suggestion for your shop tools store is to develop some square, clear bases. Most of the compacts only have round or one side strait clear bases and it’s very handy to have another base you can swap out and have 4 strait sides for all kinds of applications.

Joe Orluck
Joe Orluck

May 01, 2022

I had the Rigid Router that I hated shortly after I bought. Very difficult to adjust. I recently purchased the DeWalt and I agree with you 100%. I feel cost is of somewhat concerning, but having a tool that works well for you is a cost you can’t put a price on.

Mike H
Mike H

May 01, 2022

The Dewalt at the link provided offers many accessories, from an edge guide and dust collection to a centering cone (and some other things). Any thoughts to share on bundled accessories?

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