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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Festool Domino Joiner: Long-Term Performance Review

I have owned and used the Festool Domino "biscuit" joiner for about a year now.  I've used it in dozens of projects, employing nearly all of the Domino's features, fences, and tenon sizes.  Now, a year on, it's time for a review of the product that many regard as the best biscuit joiner in the business.  My overall verdict: the Domino is indeed an excellent tool for biscuit joinery, provided you know its shortcomings and foibles.  If you aren't familiar with the Domino's quirks, however, you could be setting yourself up for some expensive disappointments.

This review looks at the individual features of the Domino, one by one.  I think this is the easiest way to organize the review, and also makes it an easy reference while using your Domino. for each feature, I list the positives first, and the negatives second. 

Click "Read More" for the rest of this post...
Let's begin with the most striking feature of the Domino Joiner: the Domino Tenons.

Domino Tenons are unlike traditional biscuits.  Instead of football-shaped biscuits, Festool's Dominoes are rectangular "floating tenons", similar in shape to traditional floating tenons.

The advantages:
  1. rectangular tenons take on the appearance and function of regular tenons once they're buried in a mortise cut by the Domino.   
  2. the domino cutter can be set to make three widths of mortise, so you can choose to make one joint snug, and leave the other mortises with space on either side of the tenon for easy fitting and/or wood movement.  This may be possible with a regular plate joiner, but the Domino is designed to do this.  
  3. By adjusting the depth of the mortise on each side of a joint, the longest, largest tenons can be used, even in thin boards.  for example, I often use the 40mm x 6mm tenons to join 5/8" boards face-to-edge.  I cut a 12mm mortise in the face of one board, and a 28mm mortise in the edge of the other board.
The Disadvantages:
  1. The 5mm tenons are too thick for the mortises made by the 5mm cutter.  Festool recommends microwaving the 5mm tenons, or rubbing them on sand paper to make them thinner.  Frustrating. 
  2. You may have noticed that 12mm + 28mm = 40mm, the same length as the 6mm tenons.  to make a little room, you have to saw off the ends of the tenons to bring them down from 40mm.  Festool should provide a 6mm x 30mm tenon for joining thin boards.
  3. you may have also noticed that 12mm is awfully close to 5/8".  The 12mm depth setting on the Domino is the shallowest available setting, making the Domino dangerous to use with stock less than 3/4" thick.  Too bad!  
The Fence:  All biscuit joiners have a fence that goes up and down as well as tilting from 0-90 degrees.  Festool's fence isn't much different, but it doesn't disappoint, with plenty of visibility, markings, centering guides, and positive stops for the height setting.

The Advantages:
  1. The Domino Fence includes two spring-loaded tabs that make referencing off an edge easy and repeatable.  It's a great way to start off a row of mortises.  
  2. The fence has fine adjust screws for setting the 90 and 0 degree angles.
  3. the fence has positive stops at several heights, for easy repeatability, even if you have to change the height of the fence and them go back.
The Disadvantages:
  1. The fence settings slowly drift.  After a year of use, my Domino fence no longer stops at 90 degrees.  
  2. the cheap plastic tabs that lock the fence height and angle get loose over time.  they can be tightened, but you might not know you need a tightening until after you cut a row of mismatched mortises.
  3. The handle on the top of the fence can run into the mortise width setting knob when the fence is in its low position.  This can result in the Domino "automatically" switching into narrow-mortise mode in the middle of a cut.  
  4. there are no positive stops at 45 or 22.5 degrees.
The layout tabs on the Domino are myriad, better than other biscuit joiners, and absolutely essential.  

The Advantages:
  1. The plastic "wings" that can be attached to either side of the Domino carry little spring-loaded posts that sit perfectly inside a mortise cut with the Domino.  By setting the posts on these wings, you can lay out a series of mortises with exact positioning on both pieces to be joined.  This eliminates a lot of layout work and also the possibility of error.  
  2. Again, the permanent, spring-loaded tabs on the front of the Domino are great for referencing off an edge. 
The Disadvantages:
  1. Drop your Domino with the wings attached, and you'll be needing new wing clips.  Festool will send you these, probably for free.
  2. the tabs that tighten the wings on the Domino can interfere with the tab for locking the fence height. 
The auxiliary fence on the Domino is designed to hold narrow or round stock.   But if you use this add-on, you'll lose the use of the layout tabs.  I have never used this piece, and I don't think it's very useful. 

Dust Collection is excellent.  Especially if you use the Domino with some kind of tool-triggered vacuum system.  I use mine with a Festool CT 33 dust collector.  There are no disadvantages to the dust collection. 

In Conclusion, I have been frustrated by the range of depth settings available on the Domino (not shallow enough), and also the match between the length of the tenons and the depth settings.  (for example, you can't join a 3/4 board with 6mm tenons without cutting the tenons to 30 mm).  I have also broken both the wings and the handle on my Domino by dropping it from my bench onto the workshop floor.  It's fragile! 

BUT - I wouldn't want to use a "regular" biscuit joiner instead of my Domino.  And the Domino has allowed me to make professional-looking mortise-and-tenon furniture with a minimum of skill.  Layout with the Domino is easy and self-contained in the unit.  this is especially useful in making sure each workpiece is cut in the same location for a clean, well-placed joint. 

Also, unlike some of my tools from Delta, Bosch, Ridgid, and DeWalt, there have been no major breakdowns or failures of the Domino in the past year.  And whenever I did have a problem, Festool's support team was wonderful, which is more than can be said for any of their competitors.

I give the Domino a "buy" recommendation. 

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