How Does a Domino Joiner Work? What Can You Do With It?

There are many alternatives you can choose from when it comes to joining 2 pieces of wood. At your disposal, you have a variety of joinery techniques. Dowel joints, mortise and tenon joints, half-lap joints, simple butt joints, and the list goes on. Do not forget about the mistreated biscuit joint. It carries advantages and disadvantages, but it needs to be treated with respect.

Let’s stay on topic. If you are reading this article, you probably just find out about the existence of the Domino joiner and you want to learn more about it. To make it short, domino joiners are used to make loose tenon joints. They are very effective tools that can be used for basically all woodworking projects. The biggest downside to them is the price. Quality is not cheap, and they are for sure very expensive.

So how does a domino joiner work? What can you do with it? Does it suit your needs? In this quick article, I’m going to try to give you the best answers that I can. Let’s start with the first question.

How Does A Domino Joiner Work?

festool domino
“File:Festool-domino.jpg” by Ratel is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Domino Joiner is a woodworking power tool manufactured by Festool, a German company. Domino Joiners make loose mortise and tenon joint. It’s called “loose” since the tenon is detached from both joining pieces. In particular, Festool uses self-made tenons, which are called “Domino tenons”. These are basically dowels with an oval-shaped cross section. Despite being called loose, this joint is in no way inferior to the classic mortise and tenon joint. It guarantees plenty of strength and accuracy in positioning. We’ll talk more about it in the next paragraph.

The Festool Domino is pretty similar to the biscuit joiner, which you are maybe familiar with. Instead of cutting a thin slot for an oval-shaped biscuit, the domino joiner cuts a mortise that can accommodate a thick tenon. To do that, it exploits a spinning bit that is similar to a drill bit. The trick here is that it moves not only up and down, but also sideways. This allows it to cut a full mortise in a single plunge.

The cutter sizes are standardized, in order to create slots that fit the domino tenons. There are a variety of dimensions available, which depends on the domino joiner version in your possession. The available tools are the Domino DF 500 and the Domino DF 700, which is also known as Domino XL. With the DF 500, the cutters are 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, 8mm, and 10mm. The Domino XL comes with 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, 14mm bits.

The tenon sizes also differ a bit. A DF 500 cut slots for tenons as large as the cutter, while the length ranges from 20mm to 50mm. The same thing goes for the XL DF 700, but the tenon’s length here goes from 80mm to 140mm.

Thus, what size to choose for your project? A good rule of thumb here is using tenons which are about 1/3 of the board’s thickness. For almost all woodworking activities, the Domino DF 500 is more than enough.

What Can You Do With a Domino Joiner?

festool domino joiner
“Maker Ed at Tam High” by fabola is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Domino joiners are appropriate for a variety of woodworking projects. This is due to their precision and repeatability. Moreover, let’s consider the inherent advantages of the loose tenon when compared to the traditional mortise and tenon joint and the biscuit joint:

  • The loose tenon is more efficient. That’s because you have to cut both joining sides in the same way, while you would need a different setup for a traditional tenon and mortise joint;
  • When working at arbitrary angles, the loose tenon is easier to make. While it’s certainly possible to cut fixed tenons at an angle, that would require a high level of craftsmanship. With a domino joiner, there’s no difference between working at set angles like 90 degrees vs unconventional angles.
  • When compared to biscuit joiners, it’s easy to imagine that a domino joiner makes for a stronger joint than a biscuit joiner. Domino tenons are bigger and thicker than wooden biscuits, thus providing a stronger connection between the wooden pieces.

All this is to say that you can use a domino joiner for all the projects wherein you would normally use a biscuit joiner or a mortise and tenon joint. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that you’d get even better results with it. Finally, let’s list some of the things you could do with a domino joiner:

  • Domino joints are a very good choice when making tabletops. Long boards are typically difficult to handle when using tools like tablesaws. With a domino joiner, you’ll align the boards easily (the same as you will do with a biscuit joiner). Furthermore, you’ll obtain a very solid joint.
  • Loose tenon joints are ideal for furniture construction since they are very strong. They are effective for chairs, cabinets, tables, doors, and many others. Think of one, and you can safely assume that domino joints are appropriate for it.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, domino joiners are very powerful tools. They are ideal for most of the woodworking projects you can think of for the following reasons:

  • They are equipped with 4 or 5 different cutters. Therefore you can make appropriate-sized joints for most of your projects;
  • Domino joiners are very easy to use. Even if you are a beginner, you’ll get the hang of it in no time;
  • Loose tenons are very strong joints. If you build a chair with them, you won’t have to worry about it snapping under your weight 😉

Obviously, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. As I mentioned before, domino joiners are very expensive. On top of that, you will need to buy Festools tenons if you want them to fit perfectly in your slots. Naturally, they don’t come cheap either. Domino joiners also generate a lot of dust when cutting, so it is better to have some kind of dust extraction in your workshop.

That’s it for this article. The key takeaway is: if you can afford it, a Festool domino joiner is definitely worth it. Domino joiners are very nice tools to have in your workshop. You won’t regret it. If you have some doubts, there are a lot of cheap alternatives to it. I discussed some of them in this article. Check it out if you want.

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