6 great uses for trim routers
Don't let a trim router's small package fool you: These one-handed wonders have emerged from the shadows of their full-size cousins to earn their keep in your workshop.
Sometimes, David doesn't have to kill Goliath; just pushing him aside can be good enough. Meet David, the one-handed trim router (aka: laminate trimmer). In the role of the giant, the full-size router has been dominating fine profile and joinery work for decades. But times, they are a-changing. Here are some examples of tasks where a trim router can assist you in your shop by saving time or money or doing jobs better than a big router.
1. Task-specific trim routers
At WOOD® magazine, we frequently work with four forms of decorative edge-routing, shown: Round-overs and chamfers are the most common, followed by coves and beads. To save time changing and setting up these bits, we like to keep a 1/8" round-over bit ready to use in one trim router, and a 45° chamfer bit in another. Many trim routers sell for about $100, so you could buy three trim routers for the same money it takes to buy a 3-hp router.
2. Perfect flutes
Make quick work of routing flutes by installing a round-nose or core-box bit in your trim router. When you don't have a detachable edge guide (standard on some small routers, optional for others), these routers' small bases allow you to set a straightedge close to the cutting area. Those with square subbases follow that straightedge perfectly to cut the flutes with no worries.
3. No-tip hinge mortises
Using a trim router for routing shallow hinge mortises proves a no-brainer. A full-size router can tip or wobble when you balance it on a workpiece edge (a door, for example). But a trim router, with its narrow base, light weight, and low center of gravity, makes the job easy. Use a template with a top-bearing dado cleanout bit with a small cutterhead. Square up the corners, if needed, with a chisel.
4. No-fuss inlay grooves
Decorative inlays add craftsmanlike quality to projects. Using a trim router helps you get into tighter, narrower surfaces—such as aprons attached to table legs. Follow a straightedge or attach an edge guide to the router's base to ensure dead-straight grooves. Use a straight bit or downcut spiral bit.
5. Butterfly patches
A butterfly (or similar decorative patch) is one of our favorite patches for flaws such as unsightly knots or splits. Use a trim router to remove the material, and to cut out the patch. A trimmer works great following a template with a top-bearing bit or guide bushing. When freehand routing, the trim router, using a straight bit or downcut spiral bit, feels like an extension of your hand. Cut out the butterfly first, trace its pattern over the flaw, then cut away the recess starting in the middle and gradually routing toward the lines. Cut crisp inside corners with a chisel.
6. Oh, and one more thing...
Yes, trim routers still do an exceptional job of flush-trimming laminate, veneer edge banding, and solid-wood edging. Bearing-guided flush-trim bits prove best for this task. Rout in a climb-cutting fashion (for edging 1/4" thick or less) to avoid grain tear-out.