Joshua Crossman is owner at Yelm, Wash.-based PTL Hardwood Floors LLC and has NWFACP Sales Advisor, Installation and Sand & Finish certifications.

If you're a hardwood flooring installer, you should have a router in your truck, primarily to route new grooves in the boards and make custom headers. It's a good idea to join pieces together and keep everything interlocked. I also like to do a roundover on my headers where my floors meet carpeting; it gives a nice eased edge.

I have a big router, the OF 1400 EQ from Festool, which is a great plunge router. It's very accurate but is way overkill for 95 percent of the work we do. When I bought it, I wanted something that could do anything, and that router can do that. It's too big to drag around to every job, though, so I was curious to try some trim routers and see if they have the power to do what we need to do.

 

For this article I tried the three lightweight routers seen on the above left and got to test drive the big Triton router on the above right; turn the page to read my feedback.

 


DeWalt DWP611PK

Although this is a trim router (DeWalt calls it a "compact router"—it's 11⁄4 hp and weighs 4.6 pounds) it does have a plunge base that comes with the tool so you can use it as a plunge router, which is a handy feature. It has a light on the bottom, which is also useful (you can see that in the photo at left). It doesn't have a spot where you can hook up a vacuum, so if you don't like to make a mess, keep that in mind. This router comes with a fabric bag (personally, when I get those with a tool I usually just toss them in the trash, because you can't stack your tool in your truck in a bag).

I put a grooving bit in the DeWalt and had to remove the base to put the bit in, which wasn't difficult. I found that the adjustments were really easy to make (DeWalt says it's accurate to within 1⁄64 inch). The power switch was right in a spot where it was easy to use. As I ran it I found it was easy to handle and lightweight but had plenty of power to put the groove in the white oak.

With its low cost, this is a very appealing lightweight router with plenty of power.

Retail: $179 including plunge base

 

See Joshua run the router:

 


Festool MFK 700 EQ set

This router's claim to fame is that it "can easily transform from a vertical to a horizontal position with a few simple steps," including tool-free base changes. Of course, for us wood flooring pros, we don't usually need to go up the wall, but having a lightweight router like this one, which is just under 1 hp and weighs 4.2 pounds, can be useful. Like everything else Festool, this router comes with a Systainer, which is Festool's hard case that can lock on top of other Festool cases for easy transportation and organization. Also, like other Festool tools, it comes with an interchangeable cord that works with all your Festool tools.

The other two small routers I tried came with a plunge base, but this one didn't (this router is described by Festool as being "specially designed for flush trimming and rounding protruding edges"). This one comes with two bases, with the smaller one having a triangular shape. When I tried to mount my grooving bit in this router I found it didn't fit with the larger base so I had to change to the smaller one, which meant I lost my vacuum port (only the large base has one).

It took me a minute to get used to the location of the on/off switch. The adjustments on the Festool are, like you would expect from Festool, much more precise than they are on the other small routers (Festool describes this router as having "micro-adjustable depth control to 1⁄256 inch with dual locking columns"). In fact, I had to look in the directions to figure them out.

It had plenty of power to rip through the board and put the groove in. Because I had to use the smaller base with the triangular shape, this router felt a little bit more tippy when I was grooving than the others, but it did the job. When I put the roundover bit in, I was able to use the larger base, which meant I could use the vacuum and keep the dust down. Overall this is a Festool-quality router that has more features than we need for everyday wood floor work.

Retail: $560 for the set, which includes the clamping collet, additional base, Systainer and more

 

See Joshua run the router:

 


Bosch Colt PR20EVS

This is a pretty basic down and dirty router (Bosch calls it a "palm router") that is light and small (it's 1 hp and weighs 3.3 pounds) but has plenty of power to do what we need it to do. It has a nice microfine adjustment, and the handiest things about the router are the fingerholds—two grooves on the base where your fingers go as you run it. At first I thought they were a little silly, but when I ran it I found they were really handy to have. This router has a smaller base plate, so you have to be more careful to get it set up and use those fingerholds. This router also comes with a plunge base, which is a nice feature. It has no vacuum port. Its variable speed is controlled by a dial on top of the tool. After running this on several jobs, I loved this lightweight router and found it easy to use.

Retail: $99 including plunge base

 

See Joshua run the router:

 

I also tried this large router:

Triton 3¼ hp plunge router

This is a router with plenty of power to rip through just about anything, but it's a simple router—I didn't need to read any instructions to know how to run this thing and adjust it. It has a vacuum port, which is helpful. It also has little knobs you can take off the base if you want to mount it to a router table. Because it's big and heavy, it's a little harder to use as a handheld router.

A feature I really like on this router is that the power switch is protected by clear plastic so you can't accidentally turn it on. I always have that worry with some routers that I will bump into the switch, and those cutters are dangerous. Having the switch protection is a little cumbersome but so much safer.

Triton says the router's depth adjustments are easy because of its "'winder handle'—just squeeze the router's handle and turn to raise or lower, then use the micro-adjustment knob to dial in the final setting. You can also turn a dial to use the standard free-plunge adjustment." As I mentioned, I found those adjustments to be intuitive to use, and with the microadjustment, you can get it really precise. It also has a chip guard so you don't get a bunch of chips flying in your face. It's open on one side, but with its vacuum port, you are able to catch some of the chips there.

While testing this tool I needed to make some baseboards for a job to match the floor. I needed a router table but didn't have one handy, so I made one real quick out of some scraps and clamps, then I mounted the Triton router. The table wasn't the prettiest but it got the job done, and the router performed wonderfully. It is easy to use, very stable because of the size, and has tons of power. Overall, this Triton is definitely a keeper, and the more I use it, the more I like it.

Retail: $289

 

See Joshua run the router:

 

 

See Joshua's final thoughts on the routers:

Joshua Crossman is owner at Yelm, Wash.-based PTL Hardwood Floors LLC and has NWFACP Sales Advisor, Installation and Sand & Finish certifications.