Viva la Revolution

Back early 2006 (or early 2007 in the US), one of many revolutions in woodworking occurred, with the arrival on the scene of the Festool Domino. It caused quite a furor at the time! I was quite busy at the time as a moderator on a large woodworking forum, and if you could exchange blows through a computer, I’ve no doubt it would have come to that.  Not sure if there has been another tool released to be surrounded by such polarised opinions!

Mortise and tenon joinery has been around for a long, long time – thousands of years even.  As modern machines have bought additional ease to the production of the joints, particularly in producing the mortise, the floating tenon (loose tenon, or feather tenon depending on your terminology) has come into being, and the domino is the latest version of that joint.  The basic premise being – cut a slot and shove a tenon in one side, then cut a slot into the other and glue it all together.

Sounds simple enough, and it really is.  Where the Festool Domino comes in, is in the absolute ease of producing the required mortises, and the precision in their placement.  This helps dramatically with the accuracy of assembly, and can increase overall joint strength (obviously dependent on load direction).

I experienced (briefly) the Domino a couple of times, the main I recall being at the late Steve Bisson‘s place, where along with his Incra LS Positioner, and a fine collection of handplanes, he had the Domino which he handled with as much reverence as his prized planes.  He showed me how he used it for “Domi-dogs” (bench dogs using dominos) and a couple of other techniques I’m sure I was meant to be impressed by.  I didn’t understand the passion at the time – it’s not until you own one that you understand just how much of a revolution in your own workshop one small tool can have.

Where I really became hooked was after attending the Domino course run at Ideal Tools, I then went onto the Hall Table course, and got to use one for all aspects of that construction, and at that point I really started to understand. At that stage it became a matter of time until one found its way into my shed.

It will find its way into many future projects, but keep in mind – mortise and tenons have been around for millenia, so if I use a domino, you can substitute other methods, either for creating a floating tenon joint, traditional mortise and tenon, a biscuit joint, dowel joint etc (but that will get discussed at the time as appropriate).

The Domino kit I have came with the base machine, a trim stop, cross stop, support bracket and a second Systainer full of various sizes of domino (4, 6, 8 and 10mm) For those that are not aware, the systainers stack, and lock together and are the standard way Festool sell all their handheld powertools and larger accessories (you can save a bit by not getting it, but they are a good way to store and protect your tools).

Domino DF 500 Q-Plus Kit

Domino DF 500 Q-Plus Kit

(In this photo, I’ve also included a mahogany domino – they are available in addition to the standard beech dominos, for situations where the joint is subjected to outdoor weather, or you are exposing the domino and want a different colour!).  At some stage I’ll add a third systainer for the mahogany dominos.

Festool Domino set for edge-mortising

Festool Domino set for edge-mortising

Such a simple concept, such an easy technique, handled with precision.  The front platform supports the tool on the work when mortising an edge.

Precise placement of domino from an edge

Precise placement of domino from an edge

Photographed from underneath, you can see how a domino can be set a controlled distance from an edge, with a stop (black in the photo) registering off the side.

With the correct bit installed, the height set and the depth of plunge set, you can begin cutting mortises.

Mortise cut and domino ready to be inserted

Mortise cut and domino ready to be inserted

The Domino has a circular bit, with cutting edges on front and sides.  The machine both rotates the bit at high speed (router-like), and also oscillates it from side-to-side, so as you plunge the bit in, it cuts a channel with straight sides, and doesn’t just drill a hole.

You can choose one of three settings for the width of the mortise, and as will be covered in a later post I will discuss the merits of doing so.

Varying mortise width

Varying mortise width

Each setting (with the green-dial in the background) increases the mortise width, adding 6mm and 10mm to standard mortise width.

Plunging in to cut a domino

Plunging vertically to cut a domino

In some cases, you want a mortise away from an edge, so plunging in vertically works equally as well.  Again, positioning these mortises will be a subject down-track.

Tight-fitting mortise and tenon joints

Tight-fitting mortise and tenon joints

So this has been an introductory look at Festool Domino joinery.  I’ll talk more about it in upcoming posts, and it will be of definite benefit in some upcoming projects.

As I mentioned, I found it really beneficial attending the course(s) at Ideal Tools – as much as I will have a read through the manual, I found when it got down to brass tacks, I was plenty confident with this tool to jump in when I had it in my own workshop (not that I don’t anyway, but I was well ahead of the usual curve in this case).  I have heard of some of these being bought, then sitting unused in their containers for over a year as the new owner didn’t have the confidence to actually wield the tool. Such a sad state for a precision machine. Ideal Tools have the very impressive workshop/showroom in Williamstown which I mentioned a while ago, and have their business primarily focused on the Festool range.

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For the pie graph, Australia is at 40%, USA at 37%, UK at 6%, Canada at 5%

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