When Makita popularised the small trim-router, I wonder if they could have ever imagined how many manufacturers would jump on the bandwagon and produce copies, even literal clones of their product. I’ve used a Makita RT0700C trim router for years and it’s one of my favourite tools, but I’ve never been able to justify the cost of the optional bases and attachments that would make it a lot more versatile.
So when Rutlands had a deal on their version, the ‘Premium’ 1/4 inch trim router, it peaked my interest. Their kit comes with 4 bases – trim, offset, tilt and plunge – and a motor that looks about as close to a direct clone of the Makita as it is possible to get, right down to the vents and brush cover. Offered for £89.99, the whole package was little more than the cost of the single Makita plunge base. But is it any good?
First impressions were great. I’ve tried my luck with a cheap router before – a Clark, which was an epic fail. The Rutlands trim router however comprises bases mostly in cast alloy with the familiar Makita design. They’re so similar in fact that the bases are interchangeable. You can use the Makita motor with the Rutlands bases (though the fit isn’t quite as nice as with a Makita base) and vice versa, and even the collets and nuts are identical.
There are a few subtle differences. The speed control on the rutlands model is stepped and not continuously variable, and positioned on the top of the router whereas the Makita has it above the power switch. The Rutlands comes with dust extraction fitments for the trim and plunge bases. The extraction attachment for the trim base is especially good as it completely encloses the front of the base which not only stops the dust flying everywhere but greatly improves the safety of the machine. I believe there is an optional extraction outlet accessory for the Makita but I’ve never had one, and it is possible to poke a finger through the front of the base when you’re using the router if you’re not careful.
The cable on the Rutlands model is shorter (irritatingly so) and not as flexible. The Rutlands comes with an additional 3/8 inch collet and spare brushes, and doesn’t include a bearing-guided trim attachment despite the trim base having the necessary screw to fit one. And believe it or not, this is the one Makita attachment that doesn’t fit the Rutlands base. I’d also like to see metric collets included in 6 and 8 mm though naturally Makita collets will fit.
A seemingly identical router is offered by Katsu for £89.99 but it doesn’t come with an offset base as standard. Rutlands offer theirs with a three-year warranty and though I’ve never had need to use it their service is reputed to be first-class. I have made technical enquiries concerning other products which were answered promptly and in all cases all of the requested information was given.
Build quality is great across the board. The fixed base is every bit as substantial as the Makita. I don’t have the other Makita bases for comparison, but I find the tilt and offset bases to be similarly well constructed. The plunge base lets the side down as there is a lot of play in the mechanism where the motor carrier slides on the plunge columns. A couple of bushings would have improved this for very little cost, but as it is now there is enough play to inhibit the accuracy of the router as a plunge router. This was disappointing as the plunge base was one of the main reasons I purchased the kit, but it won’t suffice where accuracy is important.
The fence to fit the plunge base is rubbish. It’s a simple piece of bent metal that slides along a slotted rail which in turn mounts to a substantial twin-bar fence mount on the base. You can fit the fence to its guide rail in two positions, and the mount can be slide forward on its bars to give better capacity from the centre of the bit to the face of the fence. The faces aren’t square to the bar however, and they’re not aligned with one another, so cuts made with the fence are usually slightly angled. There is no adjustment for this, and given the inaccuracy in the plunge base itself there’s really no sense in using it if you have access to even a basic plunge router.
The motor itself is nicely made though. The brush cover feels a little bit more plasticky than the Makita does but otherwise you’d be hard-pushed to tell the two apart. The motor is significantly louder than the Makita but has a soft start function which works well. It sounds like a quality motor and there were no unpleasant smells as you sometimes get when you spin up a cheaper tool for the first time. The spindle lock works well and appears as though it will last. Input power is 710W and output power is 580W, the same as the Makita.
It’s important to keep the limitations of these smaller routers in mind. I’ve found the Makita trimmer to be so powerful that I’ll confess to having pushed my luck with it a time or two, most recently cutting shapes from 12 mm HPL which is an extremely dense, solid material. It coped, but only just. Given that a Makita on its own is several times the price of the Rutlands kit, I can’t imagine it would be as robust, nor would it be reasonable to expect the warranty to cover user abuse. Time will tell exactly what this router can cope with in the real world, but so far it has handled everything I’ve thrown at it. Its biggest challenge so far was slotting solid oak in 6 mm passes with an 18 mm cutter, and adding 45-degree chamfers to a piece of maple. It worked perfectly in both cases.
The offset base is a feature I was keen to try as I often find myself routing in tight spaces – inside boxes or turntable plinths, for example, when I have forgotten to make cuts before assembly. The offset base is the more fiddly of the bases to attach as a toothed rubber belt must be fed around a gear fitted to the router spindle. Naturally as this base is designed for edge and cutout trimming there isn’t any height adjustment besides that afforded by the length of the bit shaft, but you do get a secondary handle for extra control. The gears are metal and the offset bearing assembly has no discernible play which is excellent.
All in all a decent router. If money was no object I would still choose the Makita with the official bases and if seeking additional bases for a Makita you already own I would look elsewhere. But as a package for the budget-conscious DIY woodworker the Rutlands router ticks most of the right boxes. The plunge base stops me giving the kit a wholehearted recommendation, but it’s great for trimming, shaping and other edge-routing tasks.