Why I (Finally) Bought a Festool Domino

domino kit 3 (Medium)

Mortise and tenon joinery continues to serve as the workhorse of furniture construction and, like many furniture makers, it is a critical component of my repertoire. Joinery torture tests prove over and over that this joint is king when it comes to strength and reliability, but a downside to utilizing this joint is that it can be a painstakingly slow endeavor in a non-production shop. There are a number of ways to mill a mortise and I have tried most of them, including using a hand held router, router table, drill press, chisels, and dedicated mortise machine. I’ve had reasonable success with all of these approaches in terms of accuracy and joint quality, but I had not found an approach that was in the same zip code of what I would call fast or efficient.

Having said that, I have been aware of the Domino for many years (See Seth’s review here), and if it wasn’t for the hefty price point ($850 for the base unit) I likely would have bought one long ago. But, I just didn’t feel that I could justify it as a hobbyist who builds perhaps a half dozen pieces of furniture per year. This belief led to my engaging in a number of debates with Domino owners; professionals and hobbyists alike. Deep down I was hoping that someone could convince me that I could somehow justify such an indulgence, but it was simply a mental state that I had to achieve on my own.

One more project per year

As a busy father of two with “day job” responsibilities, I am maniacally focused on making the most of my shop time, and I find that mortise and tenon joinery becomes a time consuming bottleneck in many of my furniture projects. I won’t compromise strength and use an inferior joint when the structural integrity of the project requires mortise and tenon (I will use biscuits for lightweight joinery and for alignment, but not where brute strength is required). I am also not a fan of dowel joinery because of its meticulous nature, so it really wasn’t a viable option for me (I know that it’s an option that works well for many woodworkers, however). So, since I have become somewhat committed to the mortise and tenon joint, it became apparent that I either needed to continue milling them using conventional methods and accept the time consuming nature of the process, or suck it up and buy the Domino.

Ultimately here’s what it came down to for me. Two things. First, by my estimate, the time savings that the Domino provides me will allow me to build one more piece of furniture per year. That will add up over the years, and give me a slightly better chance to keep up with my wife’s wish-list. Secondly, I get greater enjoyment out of crafting the visible portions of my projects; shaping a curved table leg, hand planing a chamfer, inlay, etc. and I find the execution of a mortise and tenon joint to border on the mundane. Yes, I recognize that this talk is blasphemous in some circles, and I respect that, but for me that is just not what delivers the euphoric woodworking experience. The Domino is designed to get through the loose tenon process with precision, consistency, and noteworthy efficiency.

So, about six months ago, I ordered a Domino XL500.

And Did it Deliver?

Holy smokes; this thing is sweet! The out-of-the-box experience was exceptionally intuitive and I was making joints in a matter of minutes. It was barely necessary to use the manual, but when I did have to refer to it, it was extremely well written and user friendly. The engineering of this tool is simply phenomenal: having milled hundreds of mortises on a router table, I was blown away by how smooth and powerful the Domino operates as it mills mortises over an inch deep in a single plunge with no burning or chattering.

My first project with the Domino was a desk in which I used Dominos for alignment in edge joining boards to form the large desktop, making it a breeze to achieve a near-perfect glue which required minimal sanding. I have used biscuits for this many times in the past, and I found that the vertical registration of the Domino tenons was much more consistent (no slop), therefore delivering better alignment.

hall tree domino joints (Medium)

Next I built a large hall tree that incorporated over 80 mortises which would have taken longer than I care to think about using other methods, especially since several of the mortises were cut into end grain . It was a pain free experience using the Domino, and every mortise was perfectly sized and positioned.

hall table - domino

My next project was a table where I used mortise and floating tenon joinery to attach the legs to the rails, and the Domino has probably reduced the time spent constructing the table base by half. On this project, I opted to edge glue the top without using the Domino because it was small enough to do reliably without alignment aids.

Conclusion

$850 is a lot of dough for a tightwad like me to part with, but with the rationale that I will build more projects and spend less time on a chore that I don’t enjoy as much as other aspects of woodworking, I believe that for me it is money well spent. I don’t suggest that a high end single purpose tool such as this will make sense for everyone, but if you are on the fence like I was, and thinking that a Domino might be a worthwhile addition to your tool arsenal, I bet you won’t be disappointed if you decide to bring one home.

Discussion
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13 Responses to “Why I (Finally) Bought a Festool Domino”
  1. roger

    This is a great tool ! Many of my fellow woodworkers proudly own them.
    several years ago I searched for tools and jigs to go beyond my biscuit
    joiner and ended up with an FMT by LEIGH and was money well spent.

    Reply
    • paul mayer

      Nice move, Roger. From what I have seen of the FMT, it looks like an amazing tool! Question for you. As you researched alternatives, were you comparing the FMT to a Domino, and if so, what were the attributes of the FMT that tipped your decision in that direction? Do you ever see yourself owning both?

      Reply
  2. roger

    In response to your question Paul, this was a matter of fixed or lose tenons. The work
    before at the time were several Mission style tables with 28 mortise and tenons each.
    Best fit at that time was the FMT. with fixed tenons. Some of the styles were only 1/4″
    thick. All worked out very well and I enjoyed having control to the thousandth of an inch.
    Clearly situations will present themselves which requires one to carefully select the type of joinery that best fits. In your situation, with the large hall tree, lose tenon joinery is the best solution. Do I plan to purchase a FESTOOL DOMINO? I find them
    rather cost prohibitive. If I did have one, I’d learn to love it, as you have, but until I win the lottery (which I don’t play) I’ll use my head to find the best work around.
    Roger

    Reply
    • paul mayer

      Thanks for the elaboration, Roger. Your reasoning makes sense, and I always like to hear how other woodworkers arrive at their choices. Your point about winning the lotto is a good one, and I think the fact that you don’t buy tickets will serve as your means of rationalizing a future purchase. With roughly $80B in annual state lottery revenue throughout the US, it means that on average every adult in the US spends $328/year on tickets if I’m doing the math correctly. Therefore, using the money that you save on lotto tickets, you can buy a Domino (or any other $850 tool) every 31 months. If, by any chance you are also a non-smoker you can shave another 27 months from that using the same logic, and buy three big tools per year with the money that you save. Your shop will be cluttered with new tools in no time, and ironically, it will look as though you won the lottery… 🙂

      Reply
  3. Ricardo

    It’s Festool, they simply make the best. Every Festool I’ve purchased gives me the same results… Amazing!

    Reply
    • paul mayer

      That’s what everyone kept telling me, Ricardo. I finally had to find out for myself!

      Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      Yes. This tool can do nearly anything that a biscuit joiner can do, and much more. The main advantage that a biscuit joiner has is that it is typically a much cheaper option. Other than that, the advantages favor the Domino.

      Reply
  4. Susan

    Yes I bought one about 12 months back and it is the best tool I have owned it is very easy to use and the joints are square

    Reply
  5. donaldjablonsky

    I have a powermatic mortise and tendon joiner. Would a festool make sense to buy?

    Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      It depends on how much M&T work you do, and what your specific requirements are. Many woodworkers find that the Domino provides more flexibility and ease of use compared to traditional mortising machines. Personally I prefer using a Domino to other means of M&T, but I could certainly get by without one as I did for nearly 20 years prior to getting one. I also haven’t heard of any woodworker who purchased a Domino and regretted it.

      Reply