Best Compact Router Review and Buying Guide [2019]

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A compact router is an excellent choice for hobbyists and woodworkers. If you want a tool that is lightweight, small, and manageable this one is for you. This is especially true for home use or for their small woodshop.

However, before picking a router, it is advisable to consider its variable speed and speed range to enable it to handle softwoods and hardwoods easily. We have compiled a list of the best compact routers to help you make the right decision when shopping.

Our Top Compact Router Reviews

Brand
Best Overall
Dewalt DW611PK
Best for Precision
Festool 574368 MFK
Best Cheap Pick
Bosch PR20EVS
Product
DEWALT Router Fixed/Plunge Base Kit, Variable...
Festool MFK 700 EQ Modular Trim Router Set
Bosch Colt 1-Horsepower 5.6 Amp Electronic...
Power
1.25 HP
6.0 amp
5.6 amp
Voltage
120 volts
120 volts
120 volts
Rating
-
Best Overall
Brand
Dewalt DW611PK
Product
DEWALT Router Fixed/Plunge Base Kit, Variable...
Power
1.25 HP
Voltage
120 volts
Rating
Best for Precision
Brand
Festool 574368 MFK
Product
Festool MFK 700 EQ Modular Trim Router Set
Power
6.0 amp
Voltage
120 volts
Rating
Best Cheap Pick
Brand
Bosch PR20EVS
Product
Bosch Colt 1-Horsepower 5.6 Amp Electronic...
Power
5.6 amp
Voltage
120 volts
Rating
-

Best Overall Compact Router: Dewalt DW611PK

DEWALT Router Fixed/Plunge Base Kit, Variable...

Dewalt has a good reputation for manufacturing well-built products at reasonable prices. The Dewalt DWP611PK router does not break the mold. The router is an excellent option for beginners and also experienced woodworkers.

It offers the advantage of a plunge and fixed base to enable you to carry out a wide range of applications. The fixed base is meant for accurate measurements. You’ll be able to cut out pieces from thicker boards with the help of the plunge base.

Adjusting the bits and the base of this router is a breeze, making it user-friendly. When using the fixed base the Dewalt router weighs below 5 pounds. However, a few pounds will be added if you opt for the plunge base.

This is nothing to worry about because the router is still lightweight and does not compromise durability or build quality. The plunge base is equipped with rubber handles to provide maximum comfort and a superb grip.

Most compact routers come with low-quality motors. However, the DWP611PK router has a robust 1.25 horsepower motor with variable speed. It delivers enough power for tough applications. 

This is reliable as you will be able to handle a variety of applications. For instance, the 16,000 RPM lower speed will enable you to cut hardwood while the 27,000 RPM is quite impressive.

Another excellent feature of this motor is the soft start mechanism that ensures the router lasts for an extended period. It also offers consistent speeds throughout the cutting process to ensure you end up with precise cuts.

The router has LED lights to enable you to work in low-light areas comfortably. Besides, the transparent base helps with visibility to ensure accuracy isn’t affected. This compact router is equipped with 12 spindle locks and five depth stops.

This means you can make 2 inches of plunge strokes while the regular base will give you 1.5 inches of depth travel. With the plunge base, you’ll get 2 inches. It’s also worth mentioning that the router has a built-in depth scale to offer convenience. 

The adjustment ring will allow you to change the bit depth up to 1/64 inch when it comes to the fixed base. Nevertheless, the plunge base has a rod you can use to make adjustments.

This router from Dewalt comes with a 3-year limited warranty. Therefore, you can buy knowing you are fully covered for any faults that may occur.

What We Like

  • Plunge and fixed base for versatility
  • Soft starter motor
  • Variable speed
  • Adjustment ring
  • LED lights
  • Lightweight

What We Don’t Like

  •  No electrical brake
  •  Motor may overheat
DEWALT Router Fixed/Plunge Base Kit, Variable...
  • Durable 1.25hp motor delivers the power to meet the toughest applications
  • Variable speed control feature enables bit speed to be optimized for changing applications. No Load...
  • Soft-starting motor features full-time electronic feedback that maintains motor speed through the...

Best Compact Router for Heavy-Duty Work: Makita RT0701C

Makita RT0701C 1-1/4 HP Compact Router

The Makita RT0701C router comes with a 1.25 horsepower motor that delivers reasonable power for a unit of its size. The soft-start feature helps the motor to run smoothly. It also minimizes torque on the motor.

The router scores well when it comes to variable speed because you can choose from a lower speed of 10,000 RPM to the upper speed of up to 30,000 RPM. The speed range will enable you to exercise control over your router. You will also achieve superior results regardless of the project you are handling or the material you are using.

Since you can control the speed electronically, it will be possible to maintain constant speeds under load. Apart from preventing burnout, it will also reduce twisting. Like the Dewalt router, you will get both plunge and fixed bases if you choose to buy this product.

The fixed base set up comes with an adjustment ring and a locking lever to help you lower and raise the router. This results in accurate cuts all the time. When it comes to adjustments, you will have to use an oversized lever to change depth settings.

Fine adjustments look awkward because the motor plunges immediately after opening the lock lever. Moreover, lack of friction also makes things fiddly, which means you may end up losing the reference position. 

While this should not affect your buying decision in any way, it is good to be aware. The motor is equipped with a crude scale for adjusting the depth settings. However, it does not have a movable pointer rendering it a vague and general guide.

The Makita router package includes a metal parallel guide with iterations. You can mount it to the rear using a thumbscrew. The screw will enable you to make 3.5 inch cuts from the edge of a board.

The dust collection system of this router is quite impressive. It blows all the dust forcefully from the bottom. However, you will have to buy a shroud to connect your router to the dust collector.

The RT0701C router warms up slightly when it is overworked. Ensure to take some breaks in between your projects to prevent overheating. Overall, this compact router from Makita is lightweight as it weighs 3.9 pounds and ideal for heavy-duty projects.

What We Like

  • Wide range of speeds
  • Accurate depth adjustment
  •  Ease of use
  •  Ergonomic design
  • Soft start mechanism
  • Electronic speed control

What We Don’t Like

  •  No LED lights
  •  Unstable locking levels
Makita RT0701C 1-1/4 HP Compact Router
  • Variable speed control dial (10,000 to 30,000 RPM) enables user to match the speed to the...
  • Smooth rack and pinion fine depth adjustment system for more precise settings
  • Slim and ergonomically designed body for increased comfort and control

Best Budget Compact Router: Bosch PR20EVS

Bosch Colt 1-Horsepower 5.6 Amp Electronic...

Bosch is a famous brand known for producing high-quality products, and the​ Bosch PR20EVS router is not a disappointment. Therefore, it is worth adding to your woodworking arsenal. The router has a single horsepower motor.

However, you will enjoy sufficient power with the right amount of torque for small woodworking jobs, whether at your shop or home. The soft start mechanism helps deliver consistent speed and lessen torque.

This is enhanced further by constant response circuitry to regulate speed under load and also protect you from any overload. When it comes to speed, you can tweak the PR20EVS router from 16,000 RPM to 35,000 RPM.

The lower range on the scale is marked 1 to 3, and the speed limit for this range is from 16,000 RPM to 20,000 RPM. It is perfect for large bits and cutters. At these speeds, you will enjoy less friction and more control.

Moving up the scale from 4 to 6, you can scale up things from 22,500 RPM to a maximum of 35,000 RPM for smaller cutters and bits. This is ideal when dovetailing with softwoods.

It is important to note that you will have to dig deeper into your pocket to get the plunge base since this is a fixed base router. So, do not expect to have both styles with this compact router.

However, you will be able to make small and big tweaks using the depth stop. Like other Bosch products, it is easy to use the router. So, you do not have to worry about being a woodworking expert before using it.

It is also easy to fine-tune your projects using the fixed base router. You first need to lower and align the motor before locking the router in place using the clamping level. But to make some small adjustments, use the wheel located at the back.

The Bosch router comes with a straight edge guide. The package also includes several wrenches. Many routers within this price range are usually purchased as bare tools. When you think about it, it’s a good bonus to get such extras.

Whether you are making decorative overlays, cut-outs in windows, or trimming planks, it is remarkable considering what you can get from this compact router that weighs just 6 pounds.

This product does not offer the plunge base. However, you can buy it at a reasonable price if what you are searching for is a router that can serve as a second router. For such an inexpensive and compact router, you will be amazed by the performance delivered and the design quality. The router comes with a 1-year warranty.

What We Like

  • Constant response circuitry technology
  • Excellent range of speed
  • Easy to use
  • Durable construction
  •  Clamp level system
  • Affordable

What We Don’t Like

  • No side handles
  • No dust cover
Bosch Colt 1-Horsepower 5.6 Amp Electronic...
  • POWER: The Bosch PR20EVS Colt Palm Router features a 1.0 Horsepower 5.6 amp variable speed motor...
  • CONVENIENT: Provides a straight edge guide to lead router along edges of work piece or up to 3 5/8...
  • DURABLE: The rugged aluminum fixed base of the router is durable, solid and precise. The PR20EVS...

Best Compact Router for Precision: Festool 574368 MFK

Festool MFK 700 EQ Modular Trim Router Set

Festool makes robust power tools with a focus on precision, design quality, and dust extraction. The Festool 574368 MFK is an edging router as you won’t enjoy the same range of applications with the other routers we have discussed. 

This is the perfect router for edging work as it carries out projects exceptionally well. If you are planning to perform some edge banding or rout grooves, this is the router to get. It is designed to make working on various projects easy for you.

The single horsepower motor that is equipped with this compact router is more than enough. Despite its heavyweight of 11 pounds, the Festool router offers a winning mixture of power and portability.

Though you can get the router separately, buying the set is the best option. With the set, you will get a pair of bases for precise results, a wrench, and collets. You can integrate this compact router effortlessly with other Festool kits you may have in your woodshop.

This will enable you to get professional results that will keep getting better with every additional attachment you hook up.

Dust is not good for any woodshop, and Festool has placed a premium to deal with this problem. The 574368 MFK router has a dust port you can connect to a vacuum in your shop. You can work in safety while viewing your workpiece clearly.

The depth of control is also excellent. You can make small adjustments up to 1/256 inches making this compact router hard to beat when it comes to making adjustments.

Both the horizontal and vertical bases enable you to control depth when trimming edge banding. The pair of bases also help safeguard the surfaces simultaneously. This is an outstanding feature that cannot be matched by other competing routers.

The superior support provided by the base ensures your projects run smoothly. You will get great stability while the hand knob will enable you to set up the compact router firmly in place.

If your workshop contains other Festool tools, we recommend getting this router. You can sync it with those tools. This router is also a good place to begin if you are planning to start your collection of Festool products.

What We Like

  • Dust port for connecting to your shop vacuum
  • Option to get the router as a set
  • Two bases for added stability
  • Powerful motor
  •  Precise results
  •  Ideal for professional use

What We Don’t Like

  • Expensive
Festool MFK 700 EQ Modular Trim Router Set
  • Powerful 720 watt (6.0 amp) motor can easily tackle most trimming, profiling and routing...
  • Vertical and horizontal extra-wide bases provides ample support area for maximum control especially...
  • Micro-adjustable depth control to 1/256 inch (1/10 mm) with dual locking columns for precise routing...

Compact Router Features and Considerations

When shopping for the best compact router, consider the features that are essential to you and the projects you intend to do. Here is what you should look for:

Type of Base

The first decision you will have to make concerns the kind of base you will choose which includes:

Fixed Base Router

This router is a perfect option for beginners. However, you’ll have to adjust the depth of your blade before you start cutting. Also, you won’t make any changes while the router is running.

These light routers are ideal for molding and making edge cuts. Though you will get less control, you can still attach them to a table effortlessly.

A detailed image of a Dewalt plune router

Plunge Router

The router is similar in design with the above router. With this router, you can still adjust the depth of cut. However, it will lie flat on top of the material you will be working on while plunging the bit into the cut.

This will enable you to cut deeper into the pieces of wood and make adjustments when working. The plunge router also boasts of sturdy build with more power.

The outstanding feature of this router is that it allows you to begin cutting in the middle of your material. This router is ideal for interior woodworking.

To strike a balance, opt for a router that is equipped with both the plunge base and fixed functionality.

Size

Routers come in three different sizes which include:

Palm/Trim Routers

These are small routers with 1 or 1.5 horsepower. It is easy to manipulate this type of router, and you can operate it using one hand. Despite their small size, these routers can work on large pieces of wood.

These routers are not meant for heavy milling. However, they are ideal for fine joinery.

Mid-Sized Routers

With motors that range from 1¾ to 2¼ horsepower, medium-sized models require a two-handed grip as they are equipped with either a plunge base or a fixed base.

Medium-sized routers are great for profile cuts, mortising, and dovetailing. These routers also perform well with heavier milling.

Large Routers

These are the perfect routers for heavy-duty routing as you can step things up with a robust three horsepower or more. These types of routers pack all the benefits of the other routers we’ve mentioned above.

If you have room to accommodate these routers as well as other routing needs such as table mounting, get this router. On the other hand, avoid these bulkier models if you’re a hobbyist or first-timer.

A Bosch compact router sits on a garage workbench

Power

This should be among the first things to check. We recommend choosing devices that come with more than one horsepower. It may be difficult for you to work with low-quality bits or on harder wood when you use less powerful machines.

It is advisable to shop for machines that are more powerful in order to finish your tasks quickly. Weaker routers will leave you frustrated in the middle of your projects because they are not capable of handling heavy jobs.

Some users think it is difficult to control powerful tools, so they opt for the weaker ones. However, you can buy routers that are equipped with a soft start mechanism to solve the issue.

Motor

Apart from thinking about the horsepower of your engine, it is also essential to consider the amperage. For instance, a 15 amperage motor is powerful. However, if you use your router for long periods at the highest output, it might blow up.

Like all other aspects of shopping for a compact router, think about the kind of projects you intend to carry out. After doing that, choose a motor that aligns with those needs.

Variable Speed

Most medium to full-size compact routers have variable speed control. This comes in handy if you are using your router to handle all your bit sizes. It is important to note that large bits require slower speeds while small bits cut precisely at medium to high speeds.

That said, the compact routers we have reviewed come with variable speeds. The ability to reduce or increase the speed based on the material you are working on gives superior results and makes operation easier.

It will also be easy to deal with knobs and knots on the pieces of wood more effectively. If you want to exercise more control, look for routers with wide variable speeds.

A cheap Bosch compact router for woodworking

Router Table

This will enable you to secure your router bit firmly so that the workpieces slide across the table and onto the blade or bit neatly. Buying yourself one isn’t a bad idea.

Consider getting a table that can sit on your workbench or a freestanding one. These tables help convert your compact router into a spindle molder and shaper. Investing in such tables makes sense if you are thinking about tackling projects like this.

Cutting Depth

It is also crucial to consider how easy it is to make adjustments of the router you plan to buy as well as its cutting depth. Look for devices that are equipped with clamps or levers to help you simplify what can turn out to be a difficult procedure.

Precision

This is another important factor worth considering. Before buying your preferred router, check the capacity of adjusting bits. You will realize that high-quality compact routers come with bigger scale bit adjustments and have little sensitivity to adjustments. 

For example, cheaper routers only provide 1/16 inch sensitivity, while quality models offer a 1/64 inch sensitivity. Alternatively, you can check for a plunge base to increase the bit’s depth of scale.

Router Bits

Bits come in different sizes and shapes to cater to multiple applications such as rabbeting, beading, coving, and chamfering. For this reason, consider the kind of projects you intend to perform. This will help you get the correct bits for your projects.

Spindle Lock

It is worth shopping for routers that have this feature because most routers require two wrenches to change bits. One wrench is for tightening or loosening the collet while the other is for holding the motor shaft. However, with spindle lock, you will be able to change the bits, adjust the settings, and also swap out the blades.

This is a crucial feature, especially for plunge routers, where the motor cannot be removed to access the bits.

Electronic Feedback Circuitry

This is another great feature that ensures the router’s circuitry keeps monitoring the loads placed on the motor. It’s also responsible for adjusting the torque output to prevent the motor from stalling or laboring during a heavy cut.

Soft Start Mechanism

Without this mechanism, a compact router can blast to full speed immediately after switching it on. The surge of power can make your device jerk in your hands while the sound produced can be startling. This is not a good way to get over challenges associated with routing or making a tricky cut.

However, with a soft start mechanism, there will be a moment of pause after turning on your router. The router will then accelerate to the preset speed slowly. Most new routers with electronic feedback circuitry are equipped with this feature. Ensure your handheld router has a soft start mechanism to prevent accidents.

Design

It is important to note that not all compact routers are built equally. The best thing to do is to get a router that fits into your hand easily, is well-balanced, and has comfortable grips.

Some routers are built to be used by left or right-handed woodworkers. However, if you buy a router that is comfortable to use and well-built, you will be more productive.

Another design feature you should check is whether your router has a fixed or plunge base. A fixed base router is more stable and ideal for first-timers who desire more stability and precision as they perform their tasks.

On the other hand, plunge bases are perfect for custom designs and will enable you to cut into the material’s interior. Some compact routers are equipped with one base. Others will enable you to interchange the types of bases and increase your woodworking options.

A powerful and small compact router sits upright

Accessories

Compact routers usually include accessories like wrenches, spare bits, carrying cases, and chargers for routers that are battery-powered. Some cordless handheld routers don’t include a charger. Remember to check when shopping because you’ll be required to buy the charger separately. 

Another important thing to check is the replacement bits. Due to the compact size of handheld routers, they might or might not have the option of using bits meant for a bigger diameter. You should also check the maximum size your chosen router can allow if you intend to use bigger bits.

Durability

Go for routers that have motors with the highest amperage, horsepower, and fast RPMs. Also, check to see if your router is constructed with quality plastics and metals. 

The best handheld routers can last for a long time if proper care is taken. Another factor you should pay attention to is the overall weight of your compact router. These devices are designed to be portable.

However, a router that weighs much more than what your level of strength can handle will make you feel fatigued quickly. As a result, you may take longer to finish your tasks or not be able to complete them.

Warranty

Many compact routers are backed with a 1-year warranty. Others come with a 2-year warranty. Some offer a 30-day guarantee for replacing your malfunctioning router free of charge.

These warranties are for covering the malfunctioning model because of wear and tear or factory defects. A router that has a replacement option or solid warranty is perfect for you, especially if you tend to be hard on your devices.

The good thing is that you have a variety of options to compare when shopping for a router. Generally, compact routers do not vary much when it comes to price or features.

Buy a router that gives you the speed and power you need. It should also fit within your price range and in your hand, since it is a tool you are going to use for an extended period.

Wrap Up

The compact routers we have reviewed above are capable of handling most of your woodworking projects efficiently. It is advisable to pick one that perfectly meets your woodworking needs. Also, remember to check our buying guide to help you determine the features you need to look for in a router.