A laminate trimmer is a hand-held power tool very similar to a router except that it’s smaller, lighter and less powerful, designed for a single task: trimming veneer or laminate once it’s been glued in place. Because it’s smaller and lighter than a conventional router, a laminate trimmer can be operated safely with one hand. Laminate trimmers and routers have much in common with power drills, but instead of boring holes, they shape wood, usually by cutting its edges with sharp blades incorporated into their sides.
Laminate trimmers were developed to meet a specific need. Laminates and veneers are applied to a wide variety of surfaces. Cut larger than the substrate they’re being glued to, the overlap is trimmed off after the gluing process so the veneer is perfectly flush with the edge of the workpiece. A full-sized router can be used for the task, and many home woodworkers haven’t got the budget to be able to afford both a router and laminate trimmer. Laminate trimming is such a common job in such places as cabinet shops, though, that developing a tool that could be dedicated to the task, freeing up routers for other jobs, became a priority. In addition, it made economic sense to develop a tool more exactly suited for the job; a laminate trimmer costs about half the price of a full-powered router of comparable quality.
On the other hand, many home wood shop hobbyists have found it more economical to use a laminate trimmer for jobs other than trimming laminate, jobs for which they’d otherwise have to employ a router. As the efficiency of the motors has increased over time, they’ve become more capable of handling most small routing jobs. In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb that if the bit will fit the laminate trimmer — they generally have a 1/4-inch (about 6.4-millimeter) collet — then it can do the job.
Operating a laminate trimmer is similar to operating a router. For example, when trimming laminate, a bearing guided flush trimmer bit is the best bit to use. Placing the baseplate of the trimmer on the laminate with the bit protruding over the edge, turn the trimmer on and cut through the laminate toward the edge of the workpiece. Once the bearing makes contact with the edge, simply use it as a guide, following it until the entire overlap of the laminate has been trimmed off. The most important thing to remember is to keep the baseplate flush with the laminate.
Safety considerations shouldn’t be discounted simply because this is a smaller, lighter tool. The fact remains that it’s a power tool, spinning a very sharp bit at very high speeds of up to 30,000 RPM. Before operating a laminate trimmer for the first time, the operator should read, understand and observe the operator's manual, and always wear safety glasses whenever operating any power tool.