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  Festool's Domino  

Beyond biscuit jointers

There are two things that knock me down about Festool products, the price and the quality. For years the price of these tools has driven me away from purchasing, but now, having grown older and hopefully a little smarter, I'm learning that quality is worth paying for, especially if it meets three criteria: if a tool makes me a better carpenter and allows me to do better work; if the tool makes it easier to do the job, to enjoy my work more; and if the tool is durable, then the investment is worth it. I'm sad to say that the Domino meets all three criteria. So why am I sad? Because this tool, has a price tag of over $800.00.

Let me tell you why I think the Domino is worth every penny of it's price tag. First of all, this is a dangerous tool: it must be kept out of the hands of non-professionals—homeowners, serious enthusiasts, motivated do-it-yourselfers, etc. Here's why: a tool like this can turn a neophyte into a professional over night. So if you see a Domino in your local store, be sure to buy it before it falls into the wrong hands.

Here's the second reason I think the Domino is worth every penny. I recently attended a two-day class at Festool's Last Vegas Training Center. Before I left for the session, I couldn’t imagine how any tool company could keep my attention for two days. After the class ended, I wished it had been longer. There are two companies I think deserve special commendation for improving the lives of carpenters: Sketchup and Festool. Both companies have put enormous time and energy into developing user-friendly protects, tools that have been engineered to meet every conceivable use, with accessories that make it easy to accomplish difficult tasks with ease and perfection. The Domino epitomizes the very best in engineering and company care.

The Domino is similar to a biscuit joiner

Most Festool tools are equipped with quick-connect cords, which makes it easier to switch between tools.

One vacuum hose and one electrical cord can remain plugged into the vacuum, which makes it faster to switch between tools. The domino shares only a few similarities with a biscuit jointer--one is that it really requires dust control. Few biscuit joiners are equipped with dust control, let along a system that works this well. The Festool dust collection system picks up ALL of the dust from this tool.
Like a biscuit joiner, the cutter height of the Domino can be adjusted for different thicknesses of material, and it can be adjusted to cut mortises in mitered material, too, like picture framed casing. The lever on the right releases the height adjustment. The lever on the left releases the angle adjustment.

To set the height of the cutter, loosen the height adjustment lever and the raise the fence a little to relieve pressure on the depth gauge. Slip the gauge into a pre-marked detent, then press the fence down against the gauge and retighten the locking lever.



Everything on the tool works on the metric system, but the gauges and adjustments are so user-friendly that after working with the tool for only one day, I actually started learning the metric system!


Like a biscuit joiner, the fence can also be adjusted at an angle, to cut mortises into mitered joints. Detents on the angle gauge—at 45 and 22 1/2 degree, make it easy to reliably re-set the fence at precisely the same angle. And that's where the similarity to a biscuit joiner ends completely.


The Domino is NOT a biscuit joiner

The Domino doesn't cut a half-moon slot, like a biscuit jointer. This tool cuts a mortise for a real tennon. I wasn't surprised to find that Festool supplies only one wrench with the Domino. That's the degree to which Festool engineers their tools. That little wrench is all you need to change cutters.

First, place the wrench under the motor lock release button. Lift the wrench gently and the pressure of the return springs will back the motor out on the guide tubes.


Slide the motor completely off the guide tubes. Notice that one tube is much longer? Again, that's thoughtful engineering. The longer tube makes it extremely easy to slip the motor back on the guides.

To change bits, hold down the spindle lock while wrenching the bit loose. All the bits thread on to the spindle with minimal pressure, just like a high-end lock mortiser. You don't have to over tighten this bits—that's why the wrench is so small! The direction of rotation secures the bit on the spindle.
The Domino comes with a bit kit that includes four cutters. Each bit is sized for pre-cut tenons, also supplied with this tool in a separate "systainer".

For carpenters who are accustomed to making their own tool boxes (I'm one of them), the systainers might seem hokey at first--like most plastic boxes. But these 'kits' are the best way to organize your Festool tools and accessories, especially the tenons for the Domino. I'm holding the largest cutter, sized for 10mm tenons (more on tennon sizes in a minute).


The size of the bit alone doesn't determine the size of the tennon being cut. The real secret to the smooth cutting action and versatility of this tool is the oscillating movement of the cutter.
Three easy-to-adjust switches control the movement of the oscillating cutter, which determines the size and shape of the mortise. This top knob controls the width of the cut.
This small switch on the side of the tool controls the depth of cut. Here I'm pressing on the release lever with my left thumb and adjusting the depth stop with my right finger. The depth of each mortise must be a little greater than the half the length of the tennon, to allow for glue. Not surprisingly, the depth stop takes that glue space into account.
As I said, the tool comes with an assortment of pre-cut tenons, in five different sizes, which fit precisely in the mortises. For easy identification, each tennon partition is labeled and matches the labeled cutters, which provides another easy lesson in learning the metric system. Labels for the pre-cut tenons also provide a guide for making width and depth adjustments.
Anyone who has worked with Festool tools knows the degree of engineering that goes into these products. The Domino is the best example to date of why Festool makes some of the finest tools in the business. Two spring loaded pins on the face of the fence make it extremely easy to use this tool without having to mark any layout lines.
Use one pin to register the tool from the outside of a 2x6 or 1x4. The second pin retracts out of the way. Now cut the first mortise.
Move the tool over and set the first pin inside and against the far edge of the first mortise, which registers the tool for the second mortise. Notice how the center line on the bottom of the plate is aligned perfected with the second mortise.

Cutting the mating mortises often requires moving the tool in the opposite direction. That's when you use the retractable pin on the other side. All the mortises will match perfectly.


Two accessories help make this tool a dream for fine woodworkers building high-end furniture or for finish carpenters building job-site doors, gates, stairs...the list is endless. For cutting mortises in spindles, narrow rails, or balusters, be sure to get the Trim Guide, which slips onto the front of the Domino like a tight glove.
Be sure to secure and tighten down the two metal hooks on the back of the guide. First loosen the lock knobs, then slip each hook over the base plate into a perfectly matched notch.
Turn the tool upside down and adjust the guides to the width of your stock, being sure to center the stock perfectly on the base plate. Registration lines set in the base plate make the job easy.
Always clamp your workpiece before using the tool. With the Trim Guide, it's easy to cut precise mortises into the edge of small stock. Be sure to use the appropriate sized tennon, and adjust the tool properly before making the cut.
21 & 22
Registering the tool to cut multiple mortises, say in a rail or frame for a gate, or for balusters, can't always be accomplished with the onboard registration pins—they're rarely in the right position for every job. Festool provides another accessory that tames this job too. The Cross Stop mounts to each side of the Domino. Retractable pins ride on this fine-adjustment fence, so that making multiple mortises, in both directions, can be accomplished without any layout lines.
If the layouts are too close for the Cross Stop, and the onboard pins are spread too far, cut the first and second mortises to layout marks, then use the Cross Stop, registered off the first mortise, to make additional cuts. Here I've adjust the stop so the tool will span one mortise at each cut.
Using the Cross stop and onboard pins ensures that the mortises will line up precisely. However, in sometimes operator error or the nature of the workpiece might make alignment difficult.

In that case, after cutting the first mortises, turn the width-adjustment knob (photo #11) to the next larger size before making succeeding mortises. That way, the first mortises and tenons will register the joint flush, and the succeeding tenons will fall easily into their mortises, providing a joint with plenty of strength.


I tested this tool out with a purpose in mind. I've been wanting to build a new Crafstman Style gate for my home, but I've shied away from the task because of all the mortise-and-tenon joinery required.
  With the Domino, I suspect I can knock that pair of gates out in one day, easy. After that…well, I've always wanted to build a Mission Style chair for my living room; and a screen door for…

Oh! I almost forgot...MITERS. Here's something a biscuit joiner can never do--register a mitered joint perfectly flush and perfectly aligned from long point to short points.

With the Domino, rest one of the retractable registration pins against the long point of the miter. The other pin will retract. I have the fence tilted up so it's easier to see the pin on the long point of the mite, but when making the cut, always lower the fence so that the base of the tool isn't resting on a worktable. After making the first cut, move the tool and engage the pin against the far shoulder of the first mortise. Do the same on the second leg of the miter.


The retractable pin layout on the Domino is perfect for installing tenons in 1/4 material. In 1/6 material the tenons won't as close to the short point, but the miter will nonetheless lock together without any wiggle.

Because each tenons fits snugley in its mortise, I found it helpful to increase the horizontal size of the last mortise. Flipping the green switch on top of the tool (see #11) to the next size tenon makes it easier to fit the tenons and the miter together. The first tenon still registers the miter together short point to long point; both tenons lock the two pieces perfectly flush.

For pre-assembling mitered frames or trim, nothing could be easier.

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