So you are thinking about making another addition to your tool’s arsenal, a joiner in particular. You are not sure whether a domino joiner or a biscuit joiner suits your needs best. At first glance, these tools may look similar. Actually, they are very different. Starting with the type of joint they make: loose tenon the domino joiner, biscuit joint the plate joiner.
In this article, we’ll discuss a lot of aspects: tool specs, joints characteristics, applications, price, and more. In short, the Domino joiner beats the biscuit joiner in every matter. Dominoes are way stronger than biscuits and guarantee better results. They can be used for basically all the projects you can think of. The only downside is the price. Domino joiners are way more expensive than biscuit joiners. But if you are willing to spend the money, there’s no match.
Let’s start with a brief description of both tools. Then we’ll discuss similarities and differences between the two. After that, we’ll try to draw conclusions.
Domino Joiner Description
A Domino joiner is one of the best choices you can make to enhance your joinery tasks. It’s a powerful tool specifically designed to make floating tenon joints. As opposed to the classic mortise and tenon joint, the tenon is detached from both joining pieces, “floating” around and inserted into two mortises, which are cut with the domino joiner. The tool uses a spinning cutter which is similar to a drill bit. The difference lies in the motion, which is not only up and down, but also sideways. That way, you can cut a full mortise in a single stroke.
The required tenons are called “Dominos“. They are produced by the tool’s manufacturer. We’ll talk more later about them.
Domino joiners are manufactured by Festool, a german based company specialized in high-end power tools. Their tools are recognizable by the typical black and green paint scheme. Learn more about the tool here.
Biscuit Joiner Description
What about the biscuit joiner then? This tool is also used for joinery purposes. Unlike the domino joiner, it utilizes a rotating blade that is pushed into the wood with a spring-loaded system. The result is an oval-shaped slot. Slots are cut into both boards. Glue is applied to the slots and the biscuit, which is then finally inserted and clamped in place.
The system has also European roots: apparently, the biscuit-based technique was first proposed by a carpenter in Switzerland during the 50s. Unlike the Dominos, this is not a proprietary system: several companies like Dewalt and Porter Cable manufacture biscuit joiners.
Biscuit joinery is used for a variety of projects. It performs especially well with sheet wood, where other heavy-duty techniques may fail.
Domino Joiner vs Biscuit Joiner: Full In-depth Comparison
After this short introduction, let’s start comparing the domino joiner and the biscuit joiner. To keep it simple and easier to read, I’ll divide the comparison into smaller paragraphs, then we’ll draw conclusions based on what will come up.
When it comes to choosing between different tools, I believe it’s always a good idea to start with some numbers. For my purpose, I’ll use the Festool Domino DF 500 and the Makita PJ7000 Plate Joiner. I’ll assume the latter to be like an average biscuit joiner you can get.
Let’s start with some dimensions. The DF 500 is listed at 15.5″ x 11.5″ x 6.4″, while the PJ7000 dimensions are 7.87″ x 19.49″ x 10.24″. Talking about weight, the DF 500 is 7 lbs, while the PJ7000 weighs around 12 pounds. Both are lightweight and compact, which makes them easy to handle.
Talking about spindle speed, the DF 500 rotates at 23,400 rpm, versus the 11,000 RPM delivered by the PJ7000. That’s a reasonable difference, due to the different cutters they implement (a drill-bit-like cutter for the domino, a rotating blade for the plate joiner).
Both come with adjustable fences, ranging from 0° to 90°. That makes it very easy to cut slots and unusual angles.
When it comes to power consumption, the DF 500 requires 420 watts. The PJ7000 comes with a 5.6 AMP motor, which consumes about 700 watts. That was a surprise for me. I didn’t expect that much of a difference. The DF 500 proved to be much more efficient than the PJ7000.
Strength and Alignment
That’s one of the key aspects to address. As we said before, Domino joiners are used to make floating tenon joints, while plate joiners are used for biscuits joints. Both are similar to dowel joints, the differences are the slot and tenon/biscuit dimensions and shape.
A floating tenon is as strong as a classic mortise and tenon joint, which is believed to be the strongest joinery technique available. So there’s no doubt that domino joints are way better than biscuit joints, strength-wise. They are also very good versus torsion. That’s why you see them used for a wide variety of projects, while biscuit joints have a narrower field of applications.
To be fair, comparing the strength of these two techniques isn’t even appropriate, since it’s like comparing a biscuit joint to a mortise and tenon joint, and you wouldn’t even think about that.
When it comes to alignment, biscuits perform at their best. They are ideal to put boards in place before joining them with your chosen technique. Keep in mind that they aren’t super accurate: if you put a biscuit inside a slot without gluing, there will always be some wiggle room left. Depending on the project, that could be an advantage or a drawback.
In all honesty, Dominos can also be used for alignment purposes. Unlike biscuit joints, they are very precise and accurate: tenons fit perfectly inside the mortises. That’s required by the nature of the joint.
You don’t see Domino joints used for alignment very often due to the tenons price and dimensions (they may be too big for that).
Tenons vs Biscuits
Let’s talk a bit about tenons and biscuits. They are very different when it comes to shape, size, material and applications, price.
- Let’s start with the shape. Domino tenons are similar to dowels since they develop vertically, but their cross-section is different. (Cylindrical for dowels, oval-shaped for Dominoes). Biscuits are also oval-shaped, but they are put in place horizontally.
- When it comes to the size, both tenons and biscuits are available in a variety of dimensions. For the DF 500, there are 6 tenon sizes provided, ranging from 4mm to 10mm in thickness and from 20mm to 50mm in length. On the other hand, widths are limited. When it comes to biscuit sizes, there are FF, #0, #10, #20 available. The #20, the biggest, is 56 × 23 × 4 mm.
- Talking about materials, tenons are cut from beech hardwood, so they are very solid. On the other hand, biscuits are made of compressed wood.
- Finally, let’s talk about the price. As I said before, Dominoes are directly produced and sold by Festool, there’s more material to them, plus they are cut from natural wood. That’s why they are more expensive than biscuits.
As you can see, biscuits and tenons are very different. This is reflected in the applications: tenons are ideal for solid connections, even with natural wood projects. On the other hand, given that they are thinner, biscuits work well with sheet goods.
Noise and Dust
Both plate joiners and domino joiners produce a lot of noise when cutting. You should always wear ear protection when using them. When it comes to dust, they also both make a lot of dust when working. That’s especially true for domino joiners since they need to cut bigger slots.
It’s advisable to have some sort of dust extraction for both of them. Both tools have dust ports so that they can be connected to a shop vac. Most biscuit joiners come with a simple bag attached, and it might be enough. Biscuit slots aren’t very deep, the blade doesn’t take much time to cut, so there’s little chance for overheating.
On the other hand, domino joiner cutters have to go deeper, they are smaller and rotate faster. That makes it very easy for them to overheat if there’s not a dust extraction system in place. Luckily, you can easily connect them to whatever shop vac you have by using an adapter. If possible, you’d want a high-velocity dust extraction system, so that it would be able to keep up with the joiner’s high rotational speed. Ideally, you’d want to get a Festool vac that is specifically designed for Festool domino joiners.
Type of projects
Let’s start with the domino joiner. It can be used for all those projects where you would normally utilize mortise and tenon joints, biscuit joints, and all the others. This includes small projects or even large pieces: I’m thinking about cabinets, tables, bookcases, countertops. Basically every piece of furniture you could think of. The only limitation is the tenons’ size. Dominoes are not the best for lighter projects like picture frames, where the tenons’ thickness might cause trouble.
Let’s look at the biscuit joiner now. It performs at its best with small projects like picture frames and little boxes, like jewelry boxes. It’s very handy when attaching face frames to cabinets since it’s a fast and cheap method. As we said before, biscuit joiners are also good for alignment purposes, especially when you need a larger tolerance. Sometimes, that’s needed in positioning.
In the end, biscuit joiners are good in applications where you don’t need to be super precise and where it isn’t required a structural joint, like in simple cabinetry. For everything else, a domino joiner is much better.
Finally, let’s make some price considerations. At the moment, you would pay around $1,100 for a Festool DF 500, while you would spend 200-250 bucks at most for a good biscuit joiner. There’s no doubt in my mind that Festool tools are overpriced. There’s a supply and demand problem in place. Festool doesn’t have any competitors when it comes to Domino joiners, so they can afford to sell them at those prices.
What Do Users Say?
Something I like to do before getting a new tool is going online and looking for other people’s considerations. I find it very useful to get some second-handed experience. This is what I found out when searching if I whether get a domino joiner or a biscuit joiner.
- Most users say that Domino changed the way they work. They say no longer use pocket screws, mortise and tenon jigs, dowels, and other joinery methods. Domino joiners are just so convenient, reliable, quick, and simple to use that they beat everything else. Why use anything else?
- What about those who also own a biscuit joiner? Needless to say, their plate joiner is left in some remote spot of their workshop, gathering dust. Most of them say that they even forget they had one, or they sold it or gave it to a friend.
- Obviously, tool detractors mainly bring up the price as a point against it. For the same money, they say you could get maybe a more needed tool, like a bandsaw for example.
After all the talking, it’s time to draw conclusions.
If you consider all the aspects besides the price, the Festool domino joiner wins hands down. Dominoes guarantees strong, durable joints. In my opinion, the best thing is that domino joiners are very straightforward tools. You’ll get the hang of it very quickly, obtaining professional results even if you are a beginner!
Then there’s the price. For many of us, woodworking is simply a hobby, so spending 1000 bucks for a tool might make you turn up your nose. If you can afford it, go for it and never look back. I’m 100% sure you won’t regret getting it. It will take your woodworking to another level.
Finally, it’s time to choose between the two models available, the DF 500 or the XL DF 700. In my opinion, the DF 500 is more than enough for most shop owners. You’ll handle basically all the projects you could think of, plus you’ll spare some money (the DF 700 costs about 50% more). An XL DF 700 is only needed for large furniture projects.