10 Ways to Put Your Trim Router To Work
By: Chelsea Rodgers
In the woodworking world, when it comes to a router, there are many options available. Routers have features like fixed base, plunge base, brushless, variable speed, horsepower, corded, or cordless, to name a few, how can you only just have 1. If you’re like most woodworkers, your router collection Is probably extensive. So why get a Trim Router, like the Rocky 30, Trim Router (MLCS item # 9056) to add to your router crew? We’ll give you 10 reasons why you need a trim router.
Rocky 30, Trim Router
(MLCS item # 9056)
Wait, Back Up, What Is A Trim Router?
The trim router is a tool that can often get overlooked. The trim router is unique and surprisingly just a versatile as the router itself. They’re lightweight, surprisingly powerful and small enough to go places other bulky routers can’t. If you only use yours for trimming plastic laminate, think again.
# 1 Duplicating Parts
Trim routers with top-bearing pattern bits make short work of routing out wood around a template, perfect for making multiples of the same item. Yes, we’re really just talking about template-routing. Template work isn’t just for mid- or full-sized routers. Think about it: it doesn’t take 2hp to shave off 1/16" of material to bring 1x or thinner stock flush with the edge of a template. A trim router equipped with a top-bearing pattern bit will do this job just fine. Or, mount your template below the workpiece and use a long flush-trim bit instead. It works so well you might wonder why you need a bigger, heavier machine to do it — especially on smaller or narrow parts.
#2 - Cutting Hinge Mortises
Making a door hinge mortise can be done with a chisel, but it's more efficient with a standard trim router. Use a 1/4" straight bit inside a standard guide collar for this task. With this setup, hinge mortising becomes a standard template routing operation. Make a U-shaped template from scrap and fasten it to a base that you can clamp against the door frame. The template opening is sized to match the hinge leaf proportions, plus the amount of offset between the outer rim of the guide collar and the bit’s cutting edges. The template not only creates one uniform mortise after the next; it also creates a larger platform to help steady the router.
#3 - Profiling Edges
Laminate trimmers are perfect for edge profiling, provided you make several careful passes to reach your cutting depth. A laminate trimmer is a router, after all — just a small one. And, with horsepower ratings on some of these machines achieving one or even 1-1⁄4hp peak, that’s plenty of power for routing edge profiles. Grab your trim router when cutting tiny chamfers or roundovers to knock off sharp edges. You can also use Larger ogees, coves, beading and other edge shaping. Just make sure you follow good routing practices and use a sharp, clean carbide bit to remove the waste: start shallow on the first cut, and make a series of deeper passes after that, removing more wood each time. Make the last pass just a whisper deeper to clean away any last burn marks that may still be present.
#4 - Cleaning Veneer
Trim routers can help bring edging into alignment with a solid-carbide laminate trimming bit or a sheer flush-trimmer. A quick pass with a trim router can bring the veneer edges into perfect alignment. With thin veneer, to keep the veneer from chipping or tearing out at the corners, you can use a climb cut when necessary. This will also help prevent the router from grabbing erratically. A solid-carbide laminate trimming bit or a flush-trimmer with a sheer cutting angle are both good choices for this application.
#5 - Trimming Shelf Lipping
Rather than trying to sand veneer and risk damage, a trim router can cut the solid wood lipping flush. A trim router’s compact size makes it a safe choice. Just set the bit a tad deeper than the edging thickness and zip the overhang away. Quarter- or 1/2"-thick edging is a breeze, but it can even be used to flush-trim thicker 3/4" lipping or to bring face frame edges flush with cabinet carcasses. Bits with a sheer cutting angle leave a cleaner cut, especially on hardwood.
#6 - Flush Cutting Plugs
Using a trim router with a straight bit can allow you to cut several thin flush cut plugs in a very short amount of time. If you use a thickness or two of office paper as a spacer for setting bit depth, you can shave plugs nearly flush in no time flat. Nibble them away with gentle, sweeping strokes. Follow up with a little sanding, and you’re done. You can even trimmed plugs on vertical surfaces this way, The Rocky CL Cordless Trim Router (MLCS item #9019) because of the tool’s small stature and light weight and did we mention cordless feature makes jobs like this faster than with any other tools.
Rocky CL Cordless Trim Router
(MLCS item #9019)
#7 - Cutting Joinery
Trim routers will never take the place of true joinery cutters, but for small, quick joints, it works fairly well. A trim router isn’t a go to for every routing operation, of course. Big bits and deep cuts spell trouble with a tiny router, so use common sense. That being said, you can cut rabbets, dadoes, laps and other joint parts with a trim router, the same way you would with larger tools. Run the edge of the base against a clamped straightedge; install an edge guide or use a piloted bit to limit cutting depth. The key is to take reasonable cuts so you don’t overwhelm the motor or the bit.
#8 – Sign Making
Using a trim router and letter template guides like the Router Sign-Pro Sign Making Template Kit (MLCS item #9038), and you can make a great sign in almost no time. At first, this technique would be a little easier with the plunge base attachment (MLCS item #9064). But, you can get it done with just a fixed base too. Use a softwood for your sign stock. Position the bit over the widest part of each letter, and start here. Hold the router base firmly with one edge pressed against the template, and slowly pivot the machine down into the wood. Once the base is resting flat, you’re golden. Rout away!
#9 - Hole Drilling
Just like with your standard plunge router, you can bore shelf pin holes with your trim router and a template. The concept of using a plunge router for boring shelf-pin holes isn’t revolutionary. But, thanks to plunge base attachment (MLCS item #9064), like we mentioned earlier, hole drilling is possible for trim routers too. Make a shelf-pin template with holes sized to fit a guide collar bushing, and install 1/4" upcut spiral bit in the machine. A router works as well as a drill here, and perhaps even better.
#10 – Mortising Inlays
Cutting thin, flush inlays requires small cuts and precision, which makes the trim router the perfect tool for this job. Inlays require a shallow excavation to seat them flush with the surrounding wood. You can get the job done with other routers too, but a trim router is the better choice. Its small size offers several advantages for precision work like this. Use a 1/8" or 1/4" straight or spiral bit. If you have a steady hand and a good eye, there’s no need for a template here; just guide the machine freehand. If not, the Trim Router Wide Base with Handles (MLCS item #9052) will help give you better control. And, if you’re mortising a narrow apron or small box side, the router’s LED light will brighten up the cutting area is a big bonus for this sort of exacting work.
Trim Router Wide Base
with Handles (MLCS item #9052