What is the best hand router tool?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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A hand router, also known as a trim router, is a versatile power tool used for a variety of woodworking applications. As the name suggests, it is a compact, handheld version of the larger stationary woodworking router. Hand routers are designed for precision work, making them ideal for routing edges and small profiles, hinge mortises, inlays, and other detail work.

When selecting the best hand router, there are several factors to consider: power, speed control, base design, bit-changing system, comfort, and precision. Hand routers range from compact, low-powered units designed for truly light-duty work-up to more powerful models capable of tackling tougher routine tasks. High-end trim routers rival the power and precision of full-size routers.

In this article, we will provide an overview of the benefits of hand routers, the key features to look for when choosing a model and provide recommendations on some of the best hand router tools currently available. We will also provide tips on how to safely use and maintain a hand router for top performance. Let’s get started!

Hand Router

Compact and portable – The small size and light weight of a hand router make it very easy to transport and allow you to bring the tool directly to the workpiece. This helps for routing in tight spaces or when working on areas of a large workpiece.

Excellent for detail work – The focused power and precision of a hand router are ideal for detailed jobs like decorative edges, small joinery work, inlays, engraving, and other intricate tasks. The range of available bits allows limitless options.

Variable speed – Quality hand routers provide variable speed control from around 10,000 to 30,000 RPM. Slower speeds help avoid burning when working on intricate profiles, while higher speeds efficiently remove more stock.

Excellent bit visibility – The compact size and elongated bases of hand routers allow you to see the bit as you work, an important advantage for detailed and precision work. Some bases also offer circle-cutting guides.

Depth adjustment – Precision depth adjustment mechanisms let you set exact routing depths for consistent results across multiple passes or workpieces. This helps prevent accidentally routing too deep.

Less intimidating – The smaller size and quieter operation of a hand router is less intimidating for some woodworkers. They are a good choice for those newer to routing.

Lower cost – Hand routers are priced lower than full-size fixed or plunge routers, making them a budget-friendly option. You can add a router to your toolkit without a major investment.

With these benefits in mind, a quality hand router can be a valuable addition to any woodworking toolkit for detail work and light routing applications. They complement larger routers when more power is needed.

Key Features to Look For

Best hand router


Look for a hand router with a motor in the 1 to 2+ horsepower range. This provides adequate power for general routing tasks. Lower-powered motors around 1 HP work for very light-duty use, while 2+ HP maximizes capability for tougher jobs.

Variable speed

As mentioned earlier, variable speed control (typically from 10,000 to 30,000 RPM) allows selecting the right speed for optimal cutting and avoiding burnout. Look for a hand router with speed control right on the motor housing for convenience.

Precision depth adjustment

The ability to precisely set bit depths is crucial for accurate, repeatable passes. Look for tools with fine depth adjustment in 1/64” increments. The adjustment mechanism should stay locked during use.

Base design

The base guides the router during use. Look for solid bases that offer smooth, controlled operation. A fixed base with at least three-point contact is ideal for general use. Some bases have additional features like circles, guides, or accessories for added functionality.

Bit changing system

Easy bit changing enables switching router bits quickly for different operations. Quality hand routers accept both 1/4” and 1/2″ shank bits. Toolless bit-changing systems are convenient, but make sure the mechanism holds bits securely during use.

Comfort and Control

Look for a hand router with a comfortable grip and well-designed triggers or power switches that allow for keeping a firm hold during use. Additional handles add control for more secure guidance. Conveniently located controls also contribute to ease of use.

Collet lock

A collet lock keeps router bits firmly in place and prevents accidental release during use. This is an important safety feature.


Some hand routers include edge guides, circle-cutting guides, dust collection adapters, cases or bags, and other helpful accessories. Consider models with accessories that match your planned tasks.

With these features and criteria in mind, let’s move on to our hand router recommendations!

Top Hand Router Recommendations

Based on performance, features, reliability, and overall value, here are our picks for the best hand routers available today:

DeWalt DWP611 – Best Overall

The DeWalt DWP611 tops many experts’ “best hand router” lists and for good reason. This versatile, well-designed tool delivers ample 1.25 HP power in a compact, ergonomic package. The motor provides variable speeds from 16,000 to 27,000 RPM. It’s equipped with a fixed base, fine depth adjustment, tool-free bit changes, and an integrated cord clip. Overall, the DWP611 combines power, precision, comfort, and reliability. While a bit pricier than some models, it’s worth the investment for a tool you’ll keep reaching for.

Bosch Colt Variable-Speed Palm Router – Runner Up

The Bosch Colt lives up to the company’s reputation for precision engineering. Excellent vibration control makes this compact router comfortable and easy to handle for extended use. Convenient features include tool-free bit changes, onboard wrench storage, precision depth adjustment, and a transparent sub-base for maximum workpiece visibility. Despite the small size, it packs ample 1 HP power. Overall, the Bosch Colt is ideal for delicate detail work.

Makita RT0701C Compact Router – Best Value

For woodworkers on a budget, the Makita RT0701C delivers outstanding performance and capabilities at a very wallet-friendly price point. It squeezes 1-1/4 peak HP into an ultra-compact, ergonomic body. The variable speed control dial makes it easy to match the speed to the task. It also accepts 1/4” and 1/2″ bits. While lacking some of the refinements of pricier models, the RT0701C gives you excellent routing capabilities without breaking the bank.

Triton TRA001 3-1/4 HP Dual Mode Precision Plunge Router – Most Powerful

The Triton TRA001 offers a unique Dual Mode design – use it as a conventional hand router, or pop it into the plunge base for exceptional precision. The micro winder allows exact depth adjustments in 1/128” increments – a level of precision unmatched by other hand routers. And with 3-1/4 peak HP, the TRA001 packs serious power for aggressive material removal when needed. If you need supreme power and micro-precision in a portable package, the innovative Triton TRA001 delivers.

DeWalt DW615 2 HP Fixed-Base Router – Best for Edge Work

The DeWalt DW615 offers a great blend of ample power and control in a mid-sized body for optimum edge routing capabilities. The 2 HP motor provides all the power you’ll need for common materials, and the fixed three-point base keeps the router steady and stable for smooth edges. The soft start eases into the cut, while the adjustable speed dial lets you match the 12,000 – 25,000 RPM to the task. With dual LEDs to illuminate the work area, the DW615 makes it easy to achieve clean, crisp edges.

Makita RT0701CX7 1-1/4 HP Compact Router Kit – Best Kit

The Makita RT0701CX7 comes as a complete kit with multiple bases to equip this compact router with even more capabilities right out of the box. Along with the fixed base router, the kit includes an adjustable height plunge base and centering cone for neat circle cuts. At just 3.9 pounds, it’s extremely light yet provides 1-1/4 HP power. Like the other Makita, the variable speed dial makes it easy to match the speed to the task for optimal control and precision. The whole kit adds up to outstanding functionality in a slim, ergonomic package.

How to Choose the Best Hand Router

Now that we’ve highlighted some top-hand router recommendations, let’s go over some key considerations as you compare models and determine the best trim router to match your needs and budget.


Hand routers typically provide between 1 and 2.5 horsepower. Light tasks like trimming laminates and softwoods only require around 1 HP, while tough jobs in hardwoods call for maximum power closer to 2.5 HP. Match the power to your planned applications.

Bases and accessories

Consider which base types and accessories will be most useful for your work. Fixed bases provide stability for edge work, while plunge bases enable stopped cuts. Look for accessories like edge guides for increased precision. Kits can offer excellent value by bundling multiple base types.

Variable speed

Models with variable speed dials allow choosing the ideal speed from around 10,000 to 30,000 RPM to match different materials, tasks, and bit types. This level of control is highly beneficial for optimal performance.

Comfort and handling

Look for a hand router that feels good in your hand, with comfortable grips. Added handles can improve control and reduce fatigue for extended use. Convenient controls and switches also contribute to ease of use.

Depth adjustment

Precision depth adjustment enables setting exact cut depths. Look for tools with depth stops that adjust in small increments around 1/64” for fine-tuned precision.

Bit changing

Tool-free bit-changing systems allow quick, easy bit changes to switch between different bit types and diameters. Make sure the mechanism holds router bits securely during operation.

Build quality

As with any power tool, opt for well-made hand routers from trusted brands like DeWalt, Bosch, Makita, and other reputable names. Paying a bit more for quality ensures you’ll get years of reliable service from your investment.

With the right match between these factors and your needs, you’re sure to find a high-performing hand router that delivers excellent results for your detail routing work.

How to Use a Hand Router Safely

While small in size, hand routers spin bits at high speeds and require safe handling practices. Here are some tips for using your hand router safely:

  • Always wear eye and hearing protection when operating the router. Use dust collection if possible.
  • Double-check that bits are fully secured in the collet before use. Try pulling the bit to ensure it won’t come loose.
  • Hold the router firmly with both hands during operation. Maintain a secure grip and don’t let go. Keep proper balance and footing.
  • Allow the router to reach full speed before contacting the workpiece. Ease into the cut slowly.
  • When edge routing, always route in a counter-clockwise direction around the workpiece to reduce tear out. Cut in several light passes rather than removing too much material at once.
  • Keep the base flat and level against the workpiece to prevent tipping, gouging, or losing control of the router.
  • Don’t route materials not recommended by the manufacturer. This can lead to kickback or damage.
  • Pay attention to the location of the power cord to avoid accidentally pulling the router.
  • Unplug the router when changing bits during any adjustments, maintenance, or when not in use.

Following these common-sense practices will allow you to safely take advantage of the precision and capabilities of your hand router.

Hand Router Maintenance Tips

Like any power tool, hand routers require some periodic maintenance to keep everything operating smoothly for the best results. Here are some recommended maintenance tasks:

  • Blow out dust from the motor housing using compressed air after each use. Clear any debris from the base and bit-changing area.
  • Regularly check that the collet is clean and free of dust, sap, or other material that could hamper its holding power. Clean collets ensure secure bit holding.
  • Inspect bits for any binding, overheating, or damage. Replace damaged bits immediately. Lightly coat bits in paste wax to prevent rust.
  • Check the brushes periodically and replace them when worn down to 1/4″ or less. Consult the tool manual for brush replacement procedures.
  • Add a few drops of light machine oil to the bearing channels periodically to lubricate the spindle and keep it rotating smoothly.
  • Inspect the power cord for any damage or cracks. Repair or replace damaged cords.
  • For plunge routers, periodically lubricate the plunge posts. Consult the owner’s manual for recommended lube types.
  • For adjustable bases, keep threads clean and lubricated for smooth operation.

Following this basic maintenance will maximize the performance and service life of your hand router. Refer to the owner’s manual for any additional recommended maintenance procedures.

Troubleshooting Common Hand Router Problems

While hand routers are generally quite durable, issues can arise after extended use. Here are some potential problems and solutions to try:

Router lacks power or bogs down during cuts:

  • Dull or damaged bit – replace the bit with a fresh sharp one.
  • Blocked motor housing vents – blow out built-up dust with air.
  • Carbon brush wear – check and replace worn brushes.

Bit slips in collet:

  • Dirty or damaged collet – clean the collet thoroughly or replace it if worn.
  • Insufficient tightening – ensure bits are inserted fully and the collet nut is tightened fully.
  • Bent shaft – replace a bent bit.

Bit burns workpiece:

  • Rotating speed too high – reduce speed to match material and task.
  • Feeding too slowly – move router across work at an even pace.
  • Dull bit – replace a worn bit.

Excessive wobble:

  • Damaged bearings – have bearings replaced.
  • Bent bit – replace bit.
  • Debris buildup on base – thoroughly clean base.

By addressing issues promptly, you can restore your hand router to smooth, optimum performance. Avoid improvised repairs and contact the manufacturer or authorized repair center for guidance when needed.

Recommended Accessories

Hand routers are even more versatile with the addition of accessories matched to your common tasks. Here are some recommended add-ons:

Edge guide – Attaches to base for consistent and straight pattern routing along edges or into surfaces. Essential for precision grooving work.

Circle cutting guide – Allows neatly routing circles of various diameters in workpieces. Eliminates the need for a separate jig.

Plunge base – Enables stopped, precision plunge cuts are not possible with a fixed base. Great for mortises and inlays.

Dust collection adapter – Attaches to vacuum for dust extraction when compatible with the router design. Helps control fine dust.

Router table insert plate – This allows mounting the hand router in a table for a stationary operation like a full-size router.

Carrying case – Protects the router during transport and storage. Hard cases provide the most protection.

These accessories help expand the capabilities of your hand router and get more use out of this versatile tool. Consider adding accessories applicable to your planned tasks.

Top Hand Router Brands

With so many options on the market, it helps to focus on hand routers from reputable brands with proven track records for performance and reliability. Here are some of the leading names to consider:

DeWalt – A consistent top brand across power tools, DeWalt hand routers provide a great balance of power, precision, innovation, and durability. Models like the DWP611 and DW614 are very popular choices.

Bosch – Renowned for precision engineering, Bosch routers live up to that reputation. Their Colt trim router is ideal for detail work.

Makita – For outstanding performance at modest prices, Makita delivers lots of bang for the buck. Their RT0701C is perfect for woodworkers on a budget.

Triton – Known for unique designs like their dual-mode routers, Triton focuses on precision and accuracy. Models like the TRA001 excel at intricate work.

Milwaukee – Best known for saws, drills, and other pro tools, Milwaukee has entered the router market with capable, rugged models.

Porter Cable – A long-time leader in woodworking equipment, Porter Cable offers routers spanning from budget-friendly to heavy-duty.

Craftsman – Now owned by Stanley Black & Decker, Craftsman routers provide reliable performance at affordable prices.

By sticking with these and other major brands, you can be confident you’re getting a high-quality, well-engineered hand router for accurate cuts and lasting performance.

Hand Router vs. Full-Size Router

While compact hand routers excel at detailed, light-duty work, full-size routers are better suited for advanced and heavy-duty routing tasks. Here’s a quick look at how they compare:

Power – Full-size routers range from 1-3/4 to over 3 HP, much higher than most hand routers. This extra muscle plows through tough material removal jobs.

Bases – Stationary routers have fixed or plunge bases for stability and precision. Hand routers have compact bases ideal for freehand control.

Bit access – Large routers allow fast, easy bit changes from above the table. Hand routers require removing the base for access.

Advanced capabilities – Stationary routers can use larger panel bits, make raised panels, cut joinery, and handle other advanced work.

Detail work – The maneuverability, visibility, and precision adjustments of hand routers make them ideal for detailed profiling, edging, and fine work.

Learning curve – Hand routers are very beginner-friendly for ease of learning. Full-size routers take more experience to master advanced capabilities.

Price – Hand routers are a budget-friendly entry point, while full-size routers require a larger upfront investment.

In summary, for advanced heavy-duty routing, a stationary router is the clear choice. But for detailed, precision, light-duty work, a quality hand router can’t be beaten! Many woodworkers have both in their shops.

Frequently Asked Question

1. What is a hand router, and what is it used for?

A hand router is a versatile woodworking tool used for hollowing out, shaping, and trimming wood and other materials. It can be used to create decorative edges, cut grooves, dadoes, and more.

2. What are the advantages of using a hand router?

Hand routers offer precision and control in woodworking tasks. They are portable and suitable for a wide range of applications, making them essential for carpenters, hobbyists, and DIY enthusiasts.

3. What features should I look for in the best hand router?

Key features to consider include motor power, variable speed control, depth adjustment, ergonomic design, and the availability of both fixed and plunge bases. The quality of the collet and compatibility with router bits are also important.

4. How do I choose the right-hand router for my needs?

Consider the type of work you plan to do, your skill level, and your budget. If you need versatility, opt for a router with interchangeable bases. For heavy-duty tasks, choose a router with a powerful motor. Read reviews and seek recommendations from experts or fellow woodworkers.

5. What is the difference between a fixed base and a plunge base router?

A fixed base router is ideal for tasks that require consistent depth, such as edge profiling and dado cutting. A plunge base router allows you to start cutting from the middle of the material, making it suitable for tasks like mortising and carving designs in the middle of a workpiece.

6. How do I maintain a hand router for optimal performance?

Regular maintenance includes cleaning the router, lubricating moving parts, and checking for wear and tear on the brushes and collet. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance procedures.

7. What safety precautions should I take when using a hand router?

Always wear safety goggles, hearing protection, and appropriate clothing. Keep your hands away from the router bit, and secure your workpiece properly. Follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines and use push blocks or guides when necessary.

8. Can a hand router be used on materials other than wood?

Yes, hand routers can be used on materials like plastic, laminate, and even metal with the right router bits. Ensure you choose the appropriate speed and router bit for the material you are working on.

9. Are there any accessories or attachments I should consider with a hand router?

Depending on your projects, you might want to invest in router tables, edge guides, template guides, and various router bits to expand your capabilities and improve precision.

10. What is the warranty typically offered with hand routers?

Warranty periods vary by manufacturer and model, but it’s common to find warranties ranging from one to three years. Be sure to check the warranty terms before making a purchase.


From trimming plastic laminates to routing fine edges, inlaying custom details, flush trimming joinery, and other intricate work, hand routers expand your woodworking capabilities for professional results. Compact yet powerful, a quality hand router provides outstanding control and precision on detail routing applications.

We’ve covered the many benefits of hand routers, and how to choose the best model based on power, speed control, base design, bit-changing system, and other key features. While models from DeWalt, Bos

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