How Does a Festool Domino Work?

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 If your woodworking projects are more advanced, something beyond a simple miter cut and corners for a picture frame, you are likely familiar with a mortise and tenon joint.  Maybe you made a new dining room table with turned legs and a modesty panel, or perhaps a new solid wood door. 

Mortise and tenon joints connect two pieces of wood used mainly when the pieces are connected at right angles.  It is one of the strongest and simplest joints in woodworking, and it has been used for thousands of years.

In the old days, before power tools, chisels and hammers were used to cut a mortise, removing a little bit at a time to the desired dimension and depth.  The tenon would be cut by saw and perhaps finished to dimension by chisel carefully to the desired width, length, and depth.  Glued, inserted, and clamped, these joints hold up exceptionally well over time, providing stability and endurance to the project.

Mortise and Tenon Joint

Today, with so many power tools to choose from for so many varied tasks, it was inevitable that a specific tool for this particular project would become available.  Sure enough, that tool is the Festool Domino.  Let’s discuss.

What is The Festool Domino?

This specialty power tool first hit the US woodworking market in 2007.  Its function is to cut a mortise in a single plunge.  What by hand used to take a chisel to dig out the material to create the mortise in many strokes, and hammer blows can be accomplished in a single plunge.

It works like a biscuit joiner (a single plunge), except it has a drill-like rotating cutter with a spinning bit; and, that cutter and spinning bit also move sideways, cutting a full-rounded mortise.

Festool 574422 XL DF 700 Domino Joiner

The cutters come in different sizes, depending on the size and depth of the desired mortise for your project.  The cuts match the domino dimensions available commercially.  Those dominos come in various sizes; also, to fit the mortises, the Festool Domino will cut for you.

The number, size, and depth of the joints needed will depend on your project.  The run length of the lumber being joined, the weight of the lumber to be joined and supported, and the project itself will help you calculate how much joinery strength you need.  Large or small tabletop size, size of the bed frame, size and weight of the entry door will all require multiple mortise and tenon joints along the length. 

Biscuits are a good joinery method when assembling, for instance, several planks to form a small table top or shelf.  They help align each plank edge to edge, provide additional gluing surface, and hold tight over time.

Festool 574422 XL DF 700 Domino Joiner

Dowels are also a good joinery method for the same purpose.  No special tool is required (except for maybe a doweling jig), as your shop certainly has a power drill, and dowel sizes come in a wide variety to choose from.

But, for joining at right angles, nothing is as strong as a mortise and tenon joint.  And when it comes to cutting a mortise, the Festool Domino is THE perfect tool.  It is designed for that specific purpose, is easy to operate, and is the best product for the job.

The tool includes an exhaust for attaching your dust collector hose, and it is surprising how little dust the tool actually generates.  And, one of its adjustable attachments measures the distance between mortises when joining long planks with multiple loose tenons.

Want to see one in action?  Check this short video.

It will remind you of a biscuit joiner, but a larger size and much more elaborate and talented in its use. 

The size of the mortise to be cut is adjustable, as is the depth.  Set the attached ruler to establish distance between each mortise; plug it in; attach the dust collection hose, and plunge.  The result is a perfectly sized mortise.

What Can You Do With a Festool Domino?

As we have discussed, any project requiring or benefitting from mortise and tenon joinery is why your shop would want a Festool Domino.  The task of creating these joints is made easy, convenient, quick, and high quality.

Among those projects and tasks:

  • Edgeless frame joints, such as for making a box, or a bed frame.
  • Flush panel joints, for assembling a free-standing bookshelf. The cross stop allows for easy measurement of distances for mortises along the span of your shelves.
  • Door frames and solid rack joints. Its flat design allows for easy access to numerous wood pieces thick and thin along framing spans and makes convenient work in creating multiple mortises.
  • End joining with bevel joints. The Festool can be custom-set for angles on beveled edges to make a strong corner quickly and accurately.
  • Mitered frame joints. Again, its flat design allows for mortises in the two pieces being joined in a frame project.
  • Batch production of repetitive tasks. The Festool can be preset to accommodate custom wood pieces for batch work; creating a jig to hold the pieces makes production work easy and convenient.

While this is only a partial list of projects you’ll use your Festool Domino for, you get the idea from its variety of projects.  It should be clear why we are so high on this tool and why we plan to add one to our shop’s power tool inventory.

If the project you are about to undertake would benefit from or require a mortise and tenon joint or several, no matter the project, the Festool Domino is the right tool for that job.  With the cutter and domino tenon assortments available for the tool and the joint, the variety of mortise sizes and their tenons to fit can make just about any joinery project come together strongly.

What Are the Domino Sizes?

Domino tenons come in five sizes, ranging from 3/16 inch to 3/8 inch, and a maximum length of just under 2 inches.  Mortise depths range from  ½ inch to 11/8 inch.

Compare these dimensions to biscuits, which are 5/32 inches, and penetrate to a depth of ½ inch at most. 

Festool 494938 Domino Tenon, Beech Wood, 5 X 19 X 30mm, 300-pack

That larger size and deeper penetration help create a much stronger joint, making a mortise and tenon joint the strongest in woodworking. 

Festool Domino vs Domino XL

The Festool Domino DF 500 was the first portable mortising machine.  It came with four mortising widths and was the perfect tool for small to medium furniture projects, panels, cabinet doors, and face frames. 

The Festool Domino XL DF700 is the larger model, well suited for large-scale furniture projects, including beds, large tables, and entry doors.

Practical differences for you to consider:

  • Festool Domino DF500: cutters are available for 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 mm tenons and a maximum depth of 28 mm.
  • Festool Domino XL DF700: cutters are available for 8, 10, 12, and 14 mm tenons and a maximum depth of 70 mm.

The same rule applies to the Festool Domino choices as to any other for your woodworking shop:  the right tool for the right job.  What types of projects are you likely to undertake in your shop? 

If you anticipate larger projects like dining room tables for 8 or 12 people, heavy solid wood entry doors to your home, queen or king size bed frames, you would want to consider the XL DF700 for your shop.  For smaller projects, you will be well-served by the smaller model, the DF500.

Festool 574422 XL DF 700 Domino Joiner

Notice there is an overlap at the 8 mm size – the upper end of the DF500, the lower end of the DF700.  Each would be sufficient for a medium size project, and if that is the upper end of the projects you’ll undertake, the DF500 is the better choice.

Price will also be a consideration, and this is especially true for the Festool Domino. 

  • Festool Domino DF500 starting prices are in the range of $1100
  • Festool Domino DF700 starting prices are in the range of $1500.

*The prices above are as of January 2022.

Compare these prices with those of a biscuit cutter, which for smaller models can start as low as $50, and a decent model will be in the range of $50 – $100.

Why Is The Festool Domino So Expensive?

There are several reasons for the high price of Festool Domino tools.  Location, quality control, manufacturing standards are among those reasons.

Location.  Festool tools are manufactured in Europe and the US.  Rather than leverage cheaper labor in Asia, Festool chooses to make their products where the manufacturing standards are high.

Quality Control.  Festool maintains exceptionally high manufacturing standards for its tools.  Using high-quality tooling for its parts and careful inspection of its projects, their tools are the best at what they do.

Although not about woodworking, the professional golfer Gary Player was once asked why he always played with Titleist golf balls; he said it was because of their quality control.  Every ball was consistently the same, and he had confidence in his shots as a result.

The same can be said for Festool Domino tools.

Add to that the fact that nothing does what the Festool Domino does; there is no better tool choice for the high-end professional woodworker.

Festool Product

They are certainly not on the list of must-have tools for the beginner, both because of the price and the projects they are best suited for.  As an aside, here is a previous piece on those must-haves for the beginner.

The most likely customers are those professional woodworkers.  You’ll likely find a Festool Domino tool in their shops.  But for $500 less, you can also find a decent substitute in a doweling jig or biscuit joiner.  They just won’t be as fast or easy to use.

Here at Obsessed Woodworking, we think Festool Dominos are very cool tools.  We’d love to have one in our shop, to be honest.  Someday, we will. 

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