In the 21st Century it is rare that a tool can revolutionize a wood joinery technique, yet the Festool Domino does just that. It borrows the portability and engineered fasteners from the biscuit jointer, and the robust joints created by a slot mortiser to result in a super-efficient joint making machine. The first time I used it I was amazed at the capabilities. Four years later, I am thrilled to have the Domino in my quiver of tools. The Domino DF 500 Q-Plus comes standard with a 4 mm cutter, Trim Stop, Cross Stop, Support Bracket and a storage “Systainer” for $850.00. Also pictured is a Domino Systainer assortment of 1225 Dominos in six sizes and the five cutters needed for those loose tenons. The Domino Assortment is $285.00.
Central to the tool’s success is the engineered loose tenons, also called Dominos. These loose tenons come in 6 sizes. The largest is 10 mm thick (over 3/8-inch) and 50 mm long (about 2 inches). This is more than enough for chair joinery, and when stacked, plenty for joining aprons to table legs. The smallest Domino is 4 mm thick (5/32″ thick) and 20 mm long (less than 3/4-inch). Of course, there are 4 more sizes in between.
The Dominos are made out of solid Beech, which are both stamped and compressed. The stamping leaves pockets for glue, and the compressing allows the Domino to swell when exposed to the moisture in glue. Festool also stamps the size on each Domino, so there is no guessing as to which size cutter is needed for each Domino. The “Sipo” Domino is also available in Mahogany for outdoor applications.
The Domino has a unique mechanism, which both plunges and “wags” back and forth at the same time. The proprietary bits cut a perfect slot, just like a slot mortise, without any dangerous jumping one might expect from a hand-held tool. As with any joinery, careful layout and preparation make for safe and accurate cuts. Once marked and clamped up, I cut these eight mortises in about a minute.
Changing the bits is simple. The motor unlocks from two stanchions on the fence providing excellent access to the bit. A thumb-lock holds the shaft in place when tightening and loosening bits with the small wrench, included with the Domino.
The Domino can cut multiple widths of mortise, easily adjusted by rotating the green knob. This is an extremely useful feature when you need a bit of wiggle room when joining pieces of wood. I was disappointed to find that multiple width Dominos are not available, as this would broaden the capabilities of a single mortise.
Like a biscuit cutter, the Domino comes with an adjustable fence. This one, made from cast and stamped aluminum is extremely accurate. It comes with positive detent stops at 45, 30, 15 and 0 degrees. The angle is adjusted by rotating the black knob in the foreground.
Because the Dominos come in different lengths, the machine has an easy-to-use depth adjustment. These measurements indicate the depth in millimeters, corresponding to the length of the different Dominos. When joining one thinner part to a deeper part, it is possible, for example, to split the mortises of a 40mm Domino into a 12mm and a 28mm deep mortise. I find the depth adjustment a great improvement over stationary slot mortisers, which generally don’t have measurable depth stops built in.
Another feature is the fence height adjustment stop. With seven built in height stops, it is easy to dial in a repetitive cut. Oddly, these numbers indicate a cut in the center of a piece with the millimeter thickness indicated. While not immediately intuitive, (especially when Americans use Imperial measurements) one learns to cut at the center of a 3/4″ thick piece of wood (actually 19.05 mm) is indicated by the 20 on this tool.
Flip stops on the Domino face allow for accurate indexed joining of parts. The spring loaded stop presses out of the way when the Domino is used in the center of a piece, but also lets the user join parts without the bother of measuring.
Holding and cutting thin rails and stiles is always a challenge, no matter what method of mortising is used. Standard with the DF 500 Q-Plus is a Trim Stop, for precise and repeatable mortising in the ends of thin parts. The Trim Stop snaps on to the angle fence, and the two side stops can be adjusted tightly to the work piece with the green thumb screw. I have flipped the Domino over to show this feature, but I would always recommend clamping work piece to the bench before engaging the cutter.
This is a bomber joint. Each of these tenons is 3/8″ thick and 7/8″ tall. Once glue is applied, this table will never fall apart. Offsetting the joint for a small reveal is a cinch. After marking, I cut the sixteen mortises on the aprons. Then I increase the height of the fence, and make a couple test cuts in scrap to get the offset just right. Sixteen more mortises and I am ready to go.
Joining the aprons to the legs on this desk base took less than an hour! The Domino virtually dispenses with set-up. As is typical with loose tenons, measuring out parts is easy. You never have to consider extra length for fixed tenons.
The Domino really excels at funky applications and repairs. This table-top was snapped in an ugly, irregular break. Because the Domino is capable of cutting over an inch in depth, I bored the deepest hole possible, using the tabletop as my datum for the mortise position and utilized four dominos to stabilize the repair. The Domino lives the old mantra of bringing the tool to the workpiece. Try clamping this broken piece of furniture to a small slot mortising table! Imagine how easy it is to joint miters or angled pieces of wood.
It is easy to use the Domino without the fence too. This mortise was in the middle of a mirror frame, making the fence irrelevant. I struck a line at 90 degrees and marked the center of the mortise I needed to cut. I folded the fence all the way back and held the Domino upright. Amazingly, the tool doesn’t jump or wiggle when making a cut like this. The joints in this mirror came together in minutes and will last a lifetime. It is also easy to mortise in the middle of sheets of plywood (for shelves for example).
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Okay, it is pretty easy to pooh-pooh a hand held machine that costs $850, especially when a decent biscuit jointer can be had for less than $200. While the basic operations are the same, this machine does everything a biscuit jointer can do, and much more. First, the Domino is capable of cutting much smaller joints than a biscuit cutter, making projects like small jewelry boxes and thin picture frames with the 4 mm loose tenons easy. The machine is accurate enough to edge join 1/4″ thick (thin!) stock. At the same time, the Domino can cut much more robust joints too. The largest Domino loose tenons are 3/8″ wide x 1″ tall x and 2″long (one inch in each piece). To make joints like these one would require a non-portable dedicated slot mortiser. With router, the least expensive package is about $700, and the loose tenons would still have to be fabricated, a time consuming operation. Oh, and one more thing: the Domino has excellent dust collection. With a tool actuated vacuum attached, 100% of the dust is removed. I never have to sweep or clean up after myself.
What type of woodworker would I recommend the Domino for? Well, if you only make period reproductions, or only work with plywood, I probably wouldn’t suggest dropping the big bucks for a Domino. But if your projects range from small, framed mirrors to big dining sets, I would recommend this machine. If you are a hobbyist and you feel like you never have enough time in the shop to make all the gifts you want to give, take a hard look at the Domino. You will immediately feel more productive in the short amount of time you get to spend in the shop. I’ll be honest, I spent on the Domino twice what I paid for my table saw, and I have no reservations. Seriously. If you are a professional custom woodworker like me, I would suggest you shut down the internet as soon as you are done reading and head off to the nearest store that carries Festool and pick up a Domino. It is that versatile, precise and efficient.
Photos By Author
Festool Domino QP500 Q-Plus
Comes with Trim Stop, Cross Stop, Support Bracket, Systainer Storage Container, and Replaceable Cord
Festool Domino Assortment and Bit Set
Comes with 1225 loose tenons of various sizes, 4 Domino Bits (4, 5, 8 and 10 mm), WrenchFestool www.festool.com (888) 337-8600