Author Topic: Domino review by new user  (Read 6451 times)

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Offline Nick C

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Domino review by new user
« on: November 22, 2011, 03:09 PM »
Greetings, everyone

I purchased a Domino recently, based in part on the presentations I have seen here, in part on a demo at my local Festool dealer, and in no small part on the experience I have had with other Festool products. Many of the other reviews are long, elaborate--and very impressive--presentations by long-time owners and experienced users. I thought I would add my experiences as an eager--but motivated--novice. I should add that I also own a Mafell (used to be called Hoffman in the US) doweling machine, which looks and works very much like the Domino. The big difference is it drills two adjacent dowel holes at one time, rather than a single slot mortise. So I had no problem anticipating and adapting to the Domino system workflow. And now, my novice's review.

The Domino is basically a plunge router that employs a rotating, oscillating bit to cut a slot--i.e. mortise--in a workpiece. The concept is simple: A mortise is formed in two workpieces to be joined,  a wooden tenon of appropriate dimension (the "domino") is glued into both mortises, and the workpieces are clamped up. The Domino accommodates several sizes of bit, and Festool sells the matching dominos. In use, the Domino registers against the workpiece. If either the workpiece or the Domino offer inadequate bearing surface, the registration is unstable. Festool offers accessory pieces which are attached to the machine to improve stability, when necessary. Another accessory is provided to allow the Domino to register off a previously-cut mortise, in which case the machine can cut a line of equally-spaced mortises.

The overall build quality of the Domino is high--like most Festool products. The machine has plenty of power, feels solid, and runs smoothly. Dust collection is excellent. The joinery system is intuitive, and appropriate workflows are easy and convenient to devise. The Domino dramatically reduces the time and effort needed to implement M&T joints. For example, a frame (as, say, for a cabinet door) can be joined with four tenons, one in each corner. This process, from start to finish, takes about five minutes, and is much less complicated and fussy than other methods. No router tables, cope-and-stick cutters, coping sleds, etc. In fairness, the Domino does not address the inner-edge profiling, which is incorporated into the cope-and-stick method, but such profiles--if needed at all--can easily be handled by other means. The resulting M&T joints make for a stronger frame than the tongue-and-groove joints associated with the cope-and-stick method.

The size of the project to be joined is limited by the size of the joints, which in turn is limited by the available cutter sizes and tenon sizes. The Domino handles small-to-medium size projects very well. Cabinet doors? Yes. Passageway doors? Maybe. Entry doors? No way. End tables, coffee tables, night stands? Yes. Dining tables? No. Chairs? Maybe. By the way, Festool will soon release the Domino XL--a significantly larger machine--to handle larger projects.

The Domino has two problems. One is flexibility. The cutter diameters are fixed, providing for slots of 4, 5, 6, 8,and 10mm widths. Not  a serious limitation, but there is no convenient way to cut, say, a 15mm slot with the 8mm bit by making two parallel, overlapping slots. Such a capability is routine on a horizontal slot mortiser, a vertical square-bit mortiser, or an M&T jig like the Leigh FMT. In any case, such a slot would not match the thickness of the supplied tenons, which would then have to be specially made. Another limitation is the distance by which the cutter can be offset from the workpiece edge. Several "standard" (metric) workpiece thickness can be preset, but it's awkward to implement an offset distance other than the standard ones. A third limitation is plunge depth. This is also controlled by presets, which are adequate in most cases. All in all, thee limitations do not seriously compromise the usefulness of the Domino, but it is interesting to note that they have been addressed in the design of the new Domino XL.

The second--and more serious--problem is accuracy. The Domino is capable of sufficient accuracy, but only if properly adjusted. Unfortunately, the adjustments are difficult and awkward to make, and only partially effective.

The primary method for positioning the Domino is to set the workpieces as they should be mated, scribe a line squarely across both pieces, then separate the pieces and cut the mortises. This should result in mortises that are centered on the lines. The Domino has a plastic sight gage for aligning the machine with the scribed line. If this gage is not centered properly, the mortises will be off center, and the centering misalignment will be doubled when the pieces are assembled. The gage can be loosened, slid slightly to one side or another, and retightened, to correct this alignment error. This involves tedious trial-and error, because there is no method for moving the gage precisely and systematically. A small feed-screw mechanism would be helpful, especially if the screw had 1mm threads. It's easy to measure the misalignment on the test mortises (a metric caliper helps), and it would be easy to adjust such a feed screw by 1/4mm just by looking at the screw head. No need for micrometer markings. Note that a 1/4mm centering error translates into a 1/2mm joint-misalignment (between 1/32" and 1/64"), which I would consider the maximum allowable error. On my machine, I achieved this spec after an hour of trial-and-error cuts, with the aid of a feeler gage to estimate how much I was sliding the sight gage. When I assemble the joint, I take a thin shaving off both sides of the tenon with a block plane. This gives me just a bit of side-to-side play. Note that the Domino also provides the ability to cut the mortises oversized, but only by two preset, significant amounts. This capability is used when the side-to-side alignment is not critical, such as when building up a tabletop by edge-jointing multiple boards, the ends of which will be trimmed anyway.

There is another way to register the Domino. A pair of retractable indexing tabs is provided--one on each side of the cutter--which when engaged, position the cutter at a fixed distance from the tab. This is a quick way to make frame joints (assuming the frame parts are an appropriate width)--no need to measure at all. Any discrepancy between the left and right tab-to-cutter distances will result in a misaligned joint, again by twice the error. On my machine the initial error was 0.70mm, resulting in a 1.4mm error in the joint. The end of the stile would not be flush with the outer edge of the rail--off by 1.4mm--which is not acceptable. Festool provides replacement tabs that are slightly undersize. The manual advises the user to replace one of the two tabs to reduce the cutting error. On my machine, this reduced the tab spacing discrepancy to 0.3mm, for a joint error of 0.6mm. Outer frame edges are often profiled, in which case the joints must be dead flush, so a discrepancy must be removed with a block plane, edge sander, or some other means. Again, I shave the tenon lightly to provide just a bit of side-to-side play, although it's difficult to force the joints into alignment at glue-up, because the panel is in place. Another difficulty with this indexing system is that there is some side-to-side play in the tabs, due to the way they are mounted. A better system would use tabs with no play, but with screws inserted in the tabs such that the screw heads contacted the workpiece. The screws could then be used to modify the tab-to-cutter distance for each side. A big improvement, at a modest cost.

In summary, the Domino is a robust machine that does its job reliably and well, and most importantly, quickly. Its limitations and problems are not serious, and once understood, are easily addressed. If the Domino is to be used on a project, it helps to keep in mind the machine's "preferences" for certain part sizes when designing. For example, if an apron is to be tenoned to a tale leg, plan the apron set-back such that tenon will be placed roughly in the center of the apron, using the fixed depth presets. In other words, understand what the tool wants to do, and work with it.

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Offline Upscale

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Re: Domino review by new user
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2011, 04:46 PM »
The Domino has two problems. One is flexibility. The cutter diameters are fixed, providing for slots of 4, 5, 6, 8,and 10mm widths. Not  a serious limitation, but there is no convenient way to cut, say, a 15mm slot with the 8mm bit by making two parallel, overlapping slots.

Welcome to the FOG. Appreciate your review, but I believe you've made an error with one of your comments. The Domino 500 can indeed cut diameters wider then the dominos, two different wider widths in fact. They *are* fixed and and not freely adjustable wider widths, but they do allow for adjustment with connecting parts. (example picture attached). If this was not what you were referring to, then my apologies. Again, welcome to the FOG.

Offline Nick C

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Re: Domino review by new user
« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2011, 11:45 PM »
Thanks for reading and commenting on my first Festool review. We have a terminology issue. I am defining the slot "width" as the small dimension, which is also the nominal thickness of the domino tenon. This dimension is set by the bit diameter. To increase it slightly, the user would have to alter the fence offset, then make a second pass. Since the tenons are designed to fit the standard slot "width," custom tenons would have to be fabricated, which would probably not be worth the trouble. Later in the post I refer to the "side-to-side" distance, which I probably should have called the "length" of the slot. I do point out that the Domino can cut oversized slots (oversized in this "length" dimension), but that the extra clearance is excessive for simply tweaking an alignment mismatch of 1/2mm or less. I have found that, even when I choose the smallest slot "length" I still shave the edges of the dominos. By maybe 0.2mm on each side. This does two things for me. It gives me just a bit of side-to-side adjustability--enough to eliminate the need to be extrememly accurate in the sight gage adjustment, and it makes the dominos much less difficult to insert. I was concerned at first about the very tight fit, assuming that the dominos were just a bit too thick, and that the joint would be glue-starved. When I trimmed the domino edges, I discovered that the tightness was not due to the tenon thickness after all, but rather their "length," and the insertion effort was more reassuring--just right, in fact, like I would aspire to with traditional M&T joints.

Offline RonWen

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Re: Domino review by new user
« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2011, 12:25 AM »
Thanks for reading and commenting on my first Festool review. We have a terminology issue. I am defining the slot "width" as the small dimension, which is also the nominal thickness of the domino tenon. This dimension is set by the bit diameter. To increase it slightly, the user would have to alter the fence offset, then make a second pass. Since the tenons are designed to fit the standard slot "width," custom tenons would have to be fabricated, which would probably not be worth the trouble. Later in the post I refer to the "side-to-side" distance, which I probably should have called the "length" of the slot. I do point out that the Domino can cut oversized slots (oversized in this "length" dimension), but that the extra clearance is excessive for simply tweaking an alignment mismatch of 1/2mm or less. I have found that, even when I choose the smallest slot "length" I still shave the edges of the dominos. By maybe 0.2mm on each side. This does two things for me. It gives me just a bit of side-to-side adjustability--enough to eliminate the need to be extrememly accurate in the sight gage adjustment, and it makes the dominos much less difficult to insert. I was concerned at first about the very tight fit, assuming that the dominos were just a bit too thick, and that the joint would be glue-starved. When I trimmed the domino edges, I discovered that the tightness was not due to the tenon thickness after all, but rather their "length," and the insertion effort was more reassuring--just right, in fact, like I would aspire to with traditional M&T joints.

A nice review, you put a lot of thought into it.
Most Domino users adopt the standard mortise dimension references that are used in the Festool Domino manuals which refer to mortise widths as being the "X axis" or horizontal dimension (think east-west) and the mortise thickness references the "Y axis" or vertical dimension (think north-south).  The mortise depth refers to the plunge depth or "Z axis" dimension.
The Domino tenons also do tend to vary a bit from batch to batch and nominal sizes, some being tight right out of a fresh new sealed bag.  Since they are wood humidity also has it's affect at different times of the year.
« Last Edit: November 23, 2011, 10:12 AM by RonWen »

Offline SRSemenza

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Re: Domino review by new user
« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2011, 10:05 AM »
Hi Nick,


Welcome to the FOG !  [smile]

Nice write up lots of good observations. It is clear you tool some time to do this. I would be curious as to your follow up thoughts after you use the Domino for a while longer.

As to the accuracy adjustments (plastic sight plate etc). I made them on mine, and it is well worth doing. Once you have them set, the precision  and accuracy of the machine really shines.


Seth
 

Offline John Stevens

  • Posts: 811
  • Ardmore, PA
Re: Domino review by new user
« Reply #5 on: November 23, 2011, 10:29 PM »
Hi Nick, and welcome.  Just two comments.  First, that was a nice, thoughtful and balanced review.  Thanks for posting it.

My second comment is in regard to this--


The second--and more serious--problem is accuracy. The Domino is capable of sufficient accuracy, but only if properly adjusted. Unfortunately, the adjustments are difficult and awkward to make, and only partially effective.
[text omitted]
When I assemble the joint, I take a thin shaving off both sides of the tenon with a block plane. This gives me just a bit of side-to-side play.
[text omitted]
On my machine the initial error was 0.70mm, resulting in a 1.4mm error in the joint.

Wow, that's very disappointing.  I own a pin-style domino, and I bought an extra pin-style head used.  On both heads, the plastic sight-gauge was dead on, as were the pins.  No adjustment was needed with anything on my machine, even when I switched to the used head.  IMO, after tuning, the alignment of a joint with the "stop dogs" should be so accurate that you can't feel any misalignment with your finger.  You may want to talk to your dealer or to the service department at Festool USA.  Part of the high price of Festool tools is the extraordinary level of customer support--you paid for it, so go ahead and take advantage of it!

Also, if you haven't downloaded Rick Christopherson's manual, you may find it worth your while.  You can download a printable copy here:
http://www.waterfront-woods.com/festool/Domino_DF_500-print.pdf
Calibration of the sight-gauge and "stop dogs" is on pp. 22 and 21, respectively.

Best of luck--I hope you will get whatever it takes to go from being a "somewhat satisfied" Festool owner to a "very satisfied" owner.

Regards,

John
What this world needs is a good retreat.
--Captain Beefheart

Offline Nick C

  • Posts: 158
Re: Domino review by new user
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2011, 01:31 PM »
Update

I took the advice of the Festool service department--and the FOG--and returned my Domino for exchange. The Festool technician told me that the side-to-side swing of the cutter is controlled by a cam, and that the swing extents are adjusted at the factory. Anyway, I had a new Domino in 2 days. I made sure the centerline of the fixed plate was lined up with the centerline on the sight gage, and made some test cuts. No more joint misalignment. More quantitatively: Over a number of trials, the aveage error was 0.05mm, and the max error was 0.08mm. To put this in context, the line scribed on the Domino fixed plate is 0.2mm, the sight gage line is 0.3mm, and the lines on the workpiece were 0.4mm. The Domino is capable of far more accuracy than would ordinarily be required. Thanks to all--now I need to go make something. My wife is giving me that "worried" look she sometimes gets...