Milwaukee M18 Compact Router Takes The Edge Off – And The Cord

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milwaukee m18 compact router

Recently, our woodworking guru, Steve, showed us how to build a sturdy custom bookcase on the cheap. It came out looking great, especially if you like purple, and his tutorial was full of handy woodworking tips, like how to make a dadoing jig. Much of the project was accomplished using a couple of tools recently added to the Milwaukee M18 lineup of cordless tools: The Milwaukee M18 jigsaw and the Milwaukee M18 compact router. While Steve was off somewhere playing in his workshop, we snagged the router off its purple shelf, to get a well-rounded look at it.

The Milwaukee M18 Compact Router, ready to make some free-range sawdust…

On the list of “Tools that are easier to use without a cord,” a router has to be near the top. Whether cutting a roundover on the edge of a long countertop, or adding a nice profile around a table top, not having to worry about where the cord is in relation to the 31,000 RPM spinning bit takes a bit of stress – and risk – out of the task. And you can ditch the cord without sacrificing any power; the Milwaukee M18 Compact Router has power equal to that of a 1-1/4 HP corded router. Here’s the full set of features and specs from Milwaukee, followed by a video that’ll make you say “Ogee!”:

• POWERSTATE™ Brushless Motor: Power of corded compact routers and higher SPM to complete cuts in hard woods
• REDLINK PLUS™ Intelligence ensures maximum performance and protects from overloads, heating and over-discharge
• REDLITHIUM™ Battery Pack: Delivers more work per charge and more work over the life of the pack than competitors
• Variable speed dial ranges between 10,000 and 31,000 rpm, providing precise control for clean edges and details
• Macro Adjust button allows for fast macro-adjustments and 1.5″ of adjustable range
• Fine adjustment screw allows for precise adjustments beyond 1/64″ increments
• Tool-free spindle lock provides easy bit changes with one 11/16″ collet wrench
• Accepts 1/4″ Shank router bits
• LED light illuminates the cut surface
• Compatible with Milwaukee Plunge base and Offset base attachments (sold separately)
• Includes straight edge guide; dust extraction attachment and 5-3/4″ sub-baseplate which accepts 1-1/4″ template bushings
• Part of the M18 System, featuring over 200+ tools

The Milwaukee M18 Compact Router: What’s In The Box

At present, the Milwaukee M18 Compact Router is only available as a bare tool. With the exception of a bit and a battery, though, the router comes with everything you need to start making the chips fly.

Included with the router motor is a fixed base, and a ¼” collet, which comes pre-installed. A 7/16″ spindle wrench and an 11/16” collet wrench are included, for securing bits into that collet.

The Milwaukee M18 compact router comes nicely equipped…

Also included with the Milwaukee M18 compact router are two base plates: A 4” round sub-base plate, and a 5-3/4” template sub-base plate. Both are clear, for better visibility. A straight edge guide also comes with the router, to keep those inside cuts in line.

Another nice addition to the “bare tool” is the included dust shroud. Easily attached to the fixed base with a single screw, it helps corral the incredible amount of debris the little router can generate.

An included dust chute helps corral the flying crud.

With so many pieces, it’s only a matter of time before something gets lost or damaged, unless some canvas-fisted discipline is provided. I bought a small Milwaukee tool bag on eBay; it was only a few dollars, and has plenty of room for the Milwaukee M18 compact router and all its tools and accessories, along with plenty of extra storage space for bits and my hinge template. Alternatively, any home center or hardware store should stock a good assortment of tool bags and boxes. Or, you can get all fancy with a custom Kaizen foam tool storage solution.

milwaukee m18 compact router
A tool bag (preferably RED) is a good protection and loss-prevention investment…

Locking And Loading The Milwaukee M18 Compact Router

As I mentioned, the collet for the Milwaukee M18 compact router comes pre-installed. To insert a bit, make sure there’s no battery attached, and turn the router upside down.

ALWAYS remove the battery before changing bits.

When the router comes out of the box, it is installed in the fixed base. It’s much easier to install and remove bits with the motor out of the base; to remove the motor, simply open the quick-release lever, press the macro adjust button on the base, and slide the motor out.

To slide the motor out, open the clamp and press the macro-adjust button…
milwaukee m18 compact router
Collet access is easy with the motor removed.

If the spindle nut has been tightened, hold in the spindle lock button, and use the included 11/16” wrench to loosen it. Slide the bit in until it bottoms out, then back it out about 1/16”, press the spindle lock, and tighten the nut securely.

Hold the spindle lock button, and crank down the collet nut.

To get the motor back into the base, make sure the quick-release lever is open, press the macro adjust button on the base, slide the motor in, release the button, and close the lever.

To adjust the cutting depth on the Milwaukee M18 compact router, again make sure no battery is installed. Open the quick-release lever, press the macro-adjustment button, and slide the motor to the approximate depth you want. Use the micro-adjustment dial to fine-tune the depth, then flip the quick-release lever closed to lock in your setting.

The micro-adjust dial makes it easy to fine-tune the router’s cutting depth…

Using the speed control dial on the Milwaukee M18 compact router, you can also fine-tune your need for speed, anywhere between 10,000 and 31,000 RPM. Lower speeds are recommended for larger bits and hardwoods; higher speeds can be used with smaller bits and softer woods and other materials.

milwaukee m18 compact router
Dial it down for hardwoods or big bits, crank it up to 6 for the easy stuff.

More Features And Accessories – Included And Otherwise

There are a few other features and accessories for the Milwaukee M18 compact router that are worth mentioning. All are useful, and most are included.

Anyone who doesn’t always work in perfectly-lit areas (my hand is up, but you probably can’t see it) will appreciate the twin onboard LEDs. They light up when the power is switched on, and stay lit for about 10 seconds after the router is powered down, allowing you to admire your handiwork. And they actually do a pretty nice job of getting some light onto your cutting area.

Twin LEDs help guide the spinning bit into position.

There are a couple of important safety features incorporated into the power switch. It’s a rocker switch, meaning it could be accidentally left in the ON position, or switched on when the battery is out. The router has a safety cutout feature, though, that prevents the router from starting up if a battery is inserted with the switch in the ON position.

The power switch is easy to operate, and has great safety features.

In addition to preventing potential shredding of your appendages, it will save you a trip home to change your underwear. Before it will start, the router must be switched OFF, then ON again. When it does start, the router reaches full speed almost immediately.

The other safety feature relating to the power switch is how quickly the router stops spinning when the OFF switch is pressed. The motor stops spinning immediately, which is a great safety feature for those of us who enjoy life without extraneously-furrowed body parts. It’s also helpful in situations where the router is being used with a template, and the spinning bit could gouge the edge of the template on its way out, making the template useless. Of course, all this assumes you switch the router off before lifting it off your workpiece.

Living On The Edge, And Base Jumping

The other included accessory is an edge guide. Designed for use with the fixed base, the edge guide is helpful when you need to make a long, straight cut, a dado down the center of a board, for example. The edge guide is easy to install, and stays in place well once you lock it down.

Moving on to the optional accessories, Milwaukee offers a couple of alternate bases for the Milwaukee M18 compact router, although we didn’t get the chance to try them out. First up is the plunge base. Compatible with the 5-3/4” template guide base that comes with the router, the plunge base has 2” of plunge depth. It also includes a dust shroud, and a six-step depth turret at 1/8” increments. A micro-adjustment on the depth rod lets users make simple and accurate adjustments for repeatable cuts.

Milwaukee M18 compact router
Available options for the Milwaukee M18 compact router include a plunge base…

Anyone who does a lot of flush trimming is likely to be interested in the final accessory, an offset base. Like the plunge base, it has a robust machined aluminum body, and is designed for quick setup. The offset base uses a proprietary bit, and allows for up to ¼” of adjustment.

And a handy offset base.

Taking The Milwaukee M18 Compact Router For A Spin

The Milwaukee M18 compact router helped prevent me from coming unhinged during a recent project. Eight old hollow-core doors were coming out, and being replaced by eight solid oak slab doors. The most tedious and exacting part of the process is mortising out the edge of the doors, to accept the hinges, and I may have procrastinated a bit on tackling this portion of the project.

The new doors are MUCH nicer than the old hollow-core doors, but require a bit of work…

After carefully measuring the hinge spacing and marking out the locations, I installed a bearing-guided router bit, and adjusted the cut depth to use with my hinge template. I clamped the template to the door, fired up the router, and tipped it in. About 10 seconds later, I had a perfectly smooth hinge recess. One down, 23 to go… We’ll walk you through the whole process of installing a new door in an upcoming post.

Once the jig is set up, routing the recesses is very fast…
And the result is a perfect hinge mortise.

On our project house, we recently installed tongue & groove hardwood flooring. I needed a transition piece where the hardwood floor abutted a tile floor in a doorway, with a minor difference in height. After a fast bit swap, I was able to quickly cut a smooth roundover along the edge. After a quick smoothing with some 220 grit sandpaper, and a couple of light coats of polyurethane, it looked like a piece from the flooring store – without the whopping upcharge.

milwaukee m18 compact router
Cutting a roundover on a piece of flooring
A perfect roundover, ready for a light sanding and some sealer.

At one point during our testing, I wanted to give the dust shroud a try. It snaps into place near the base of the router, and a thumb screw holds it firmly in place. With a 1-1/2” (ID) hose snugged up around it, the dust shroud did a VERY good job corralling the incredible amounts of sawdust the little router is capable of spewing.

Steve, who has far more woodworking knowledge and expertise than I, was impressed with the capabilities of the Milwaukee M18 compact router. He used the router to cut dados to support the shelves in his project, and to round over the front of the shelves and create some shapely curves with an Ogee bit.

I have far less woodworking experience, but I found the router very easy and intuitive to use. It has plenty of power for most of the projects I’m likely to tackle, and I like how easy it is to get it set up and into action. I’m planning to buy the plunge base, and I’m looking forward to using the router to make some more custom signs, in free-range fashion.

Final Musings On The Milwaukee M18 Compact Router

The Milwaukee M18 compact router will work with any Milwaukee M18 battery; obviously, the bigger the battery, the more chips you can make. I tried it with 2.0, 5.0 and 12.0 Ah batteries, and found the 5.0 Ah battery to be the “Mama bear” where the equation of weight and power is concerned – just right. It doesn’t make the router too unwieldy, it’s easy to control, and it provides a LOT of run time. Milwaukee says the router with the 5.0 Ah battery will cut a ¼” roundover on over 250’ of trim.

milwaukee m18 compact router
Any M18 battery will work, but eat your Wheaties before grabbing the big HD12.0…

To temper those of us who might get a bit overzealous with this little router, Milwaukee equipped it with its proprietary REDLINK Plus intelligence system. Combined with electronics built into the brushless motor and the Redlithium battery, the system will shut the router off if it overheats, or gets pushed a bit too hard. After turning the power switch OFF and then back ON, the router will start right back up, after a cool-down period if needed.

I was really impressed with the Milwaukee M18 compact router. Design and build quality are excellent, the controls are well laid out and easy to use, and it works very well. Milwaukee Tool has demonstrated its confidence in the reliability of the Milwaukee M18 compact router by backing it with a five-year manufacturer’s warranty. If you buy it from the Home Depot, their risk-free return policy gives you 48 hours to cordlessly re-shape your world.

milwaukee m18 compact router

Buy the Milwaukee M18 compact router from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Plunge Base

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Offset base

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Buy the Milwaukee M18 compact router from Ohio Power Tool:

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

Plunge base

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

Offset base

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

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About Phil

Phil’s path to the pinnacle of success as HomeFixated’s Senior Writer was long and twisted. At various stages of his life, he worked as a framing carpenter, attended motorcycle mechanics school, served as an Army MP, did a hot and itchy stint installing insulation in Phoenix, owned and operated a small contracting firm doing residential renovations, and worked as an employee of a major airline (Motto: We’re not happy ‘til YOU’RE not happy). He is currently semi-retired, but continues to take on little projects, such as the total renovation of an old farmhouse. Yes, he is a slow learner. Future projects include a teardown restoration of his 1965 BMW motorcycle, and designing and building a kick-ass playhouse for his grandsons. Phil loves spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, cool tools, and a cold IPA when beer o'clock rolls around.

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