Trim Router vs. Regular Router: A Woodworking Comparison

When shopping for woodworking tools, few things will have you scratching your head more than routers. There are too many options available (88 different machines/packaging varieties and still counting), each with different sizes and features. Deciding between a trim router and a regular router is one of the trickiest dilemmas you’ll face, so let’s take that off your hands.

A regular router is more versatile and better suited to large scale routing projects than a trim router. On the other hand, a trim router is cheaper, more portable, and a better tool for precision-cutting and trimming laminates. Generally, both router types can be used to hollow out wood. 

In the rest of this post, we review both tools in greater detail and compare them to help you choose the best option for your woodworking needs.

Primer on Regular Wood Routers

True to its name, a regular wood router is used for routing, which means hollowing out a specific wood area. In woodworking, routers are used in making various types of joints, cabinetry, rounding over edges on furniture, and other uses such as making intricate designs.

The original version of a wood router was a hand tool. Dubbed the “old woman’s tooth,” this was a specialized type of hand plane with a broad base and a slim blade that extends well past its base plate. This form still exists, but with a different name: a router plane

The modern and the more standard version of a wood router is a powerful tool with a motor-driven spindle. It comes in various styles and sizes, from compact plunge-based options to fixed-base routers.

Generally, DIY woodworkers prefer a compact handheld router over its table-mounted counterpart. The former is ideal for small DIY projects because it’s user-friendly and portable. However, the latter is generally safer when working with small-sized materials. 

While the primary function of a regular router in woodworking is to hollow out wood, modern wood routers support a wide range of add-ons to enhance versatility. Some standard routers support router bits with guide bearings, allowing you to trim laminate with better control. Others may allow you to switch between a fixed base and a plunge base to suit each project’s specific requirements.

Primer on Trim Routers

While trim routers may be used for minor general routing applications with a few modifications, they’re specifically designed for trimming veneer and plastic laminates. Generally, trim routers have a ¼” (0.64cm) collet. Thus, they cannot accommodate larger bits like the ones meant for a ½” (1.27cm) collet.

Modern trim routers have evolved to the extent that they’re considered fully functional miniature versions of regular routers. Besides trimming laminates, a trim router may also be used for flushing, rounding edges, performing light routing on dados and grooves, jointing, and chamfering.

Trim Router vs. Regular Router: What’s the Difference?

Essentially, the main difference between a regular router and a trim router is the size. A trim router is essentially a smaller and lightweight version of a standard router. The compact and lightweight design of the former means you can hold it with a single hand, which you might not do with most regular routers.

But while one tool is a more compact version of the other, there are some variations between a trim router and a regular router.

One such variation is that trim routers have a smaller motor, which translates to less power. Typically, trim routers average between ¾ and one hp. For comparison, the typical average for regular routers is between 1 and 3 hp.

Lastly, trim routers may not support larger bits than a regular router because they have a smaller collet. They also come with a guide bearing instead of the router bit you’d find in a standard router. This feature protects the material you’re working on from scratches caused by the bearing. Such functionality is critical when dealing with laminates because they’re especially prone to scratching.

Functional Strengths and Weaknesses

When it comes to trimming laminate, a trim router has several advantages over a regular router. 

For starters, using a trim router on laminate means fewer chances of scratching the material and ruining it, which helps minimize waste. That’s because, unlike a regular router that comes with a router bit, a trim router has a guide bearing, whose primary purpose is to protect the laminate from scratches.

The other advantage of trim routers over regular routers is that they are more portable because they’re usually designed to be used with one hand. There are two benefits to such compactness.

  • First off, it means you’ll have one hand free to hold down the material, which is crucial when performing intricate tasks such as profiling edges.
  • Secondly, it adds convenience to your day when you’re doing a lot of trimming in a remote location.

Additionally, a trim router is cheaper than a regular router. It’s also better at making intricate cuts and angle cuts, making it a better tool for trimming corners.

But while a trim router has the above functional benefits over a regular router, it has a few shortcomings. First on that list is that it’s typically not ideal for heavy-duty routing applications due to its small motor. Also, trim routers usually lack many of the optional additional accessories available for regular routers.

The bottom line?

A regular router is a more versatile option, offering a more comprehensive range of bit sizes and accessory add-ons. It’s also more powerful and thus a better tool for large scale routing applications. But while it has a broader scope of functionality than a trim router, a regular router may not be the best option for trimming laminate and making intricate cuts. It’s also more expensive and less portable than a trim router.

Choosing Between a Trim Router and a Regular Router

We’ve established that modern trim routers are more featured and can tackle most regular router tasks. They’re also cheaper and more accurate, not to mention less bulky than traditional routers.

So why would anyone want to choose a regular router over a trim router? The choice between the two depends on two factors, the first being your skill level. 

As a novice woodworker, you may be better off with a trim router, mainly because it’s easier to control in delicate situations. Since it can also do most of the things the larger-sized regular router can (albeit on a smaller scale), it’ll continue to be a handy tool as your skills and scope of applications grow. On the other hand, a professional woodworker may be better served by a regular router because it’s more versatile and heavy-duty. 

The second factor you need to consider when choosing between a trim router and a regular router is the type of projects you often take on. If your tasks involve trimming lots of laminate, you’ll want a trim router because it’s a better tool for that purpose.

On the other hand, individuals whose router applications barely involve laminate may be better off with a compact regular router. Since it’s a versatile tool, it can still be used for trimming veneer and plastic laminates when the need arises, albeit with less accuracy and more difficulty.

Ultimately, no one understands your woodworking needs and level of expertise better than you, so the choice between a trim router and a regular router is entirely personal. 

Final Remarks

That does it for the trim router vs. regular router discussion. Hopefully, this comparison has helped you understand the functional differences between the two tools, and you will use this information to make an informed decision when shopping. All the best!

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