Festool Domino | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

The quickest, easiest, and most accurate way to cut mortises for floating tenons.

Festool Domino DF 500 Q

Festool Domino DF 500 Q



MANUFACTURER:Festool
MODEL:DF 500 Q-Plus
PRICE:$1,329.00
SOURCE:Locate a Dealer
KEY FEATURES:
Power:420 watts
Cutter Speed:24,300 RPM
Depth Stops:12mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25mm, 28mm
Cutter Diameters:4mm, 5mm, 6mm, 8mm, 10mm
Height Range:5mm - 30mm
Preset Height Stops:16mm, 20mm, 22mm, 25mm, 28mm, 26mm, 40mm
Dust Extraction Port:27mm
Weight:7 lbs

After the bandsaw, one of the tools I most gravitated to during school was the horizontal mortiser – sometimes called a slot mortiser. Basically a router mounted horizontally instead of vertically. I liked the fact you could put a mortise in both parts of a joint and then make a floating tenon to join them. I always thought this was stronger than just a regular mortise and tenon as you were adding glue to both sides. After I finished school I tried to buy the same Laguna model. However, it was no longer being manufactured.

The Festool Domino is a hand-held alternative to a floor mounted mortiser. It comes in two sizes, the smaller DF 500 Q, which I review here, and the larger XL DF 700. There are two versons of the smaller Domino. The DF 500 Q-Plus, which includes a 5mm cutter, support bracket, wrench, and Systainer, and the DF 500 Q-SET, which comes with the same components as the Plus, with the addition of a cross stop and trim stop. The cross stop allows you to create repeated mortises along the length of a board with spacing between 3-7/8" to 8-1/16".  The trim stop allows you to safely hold narrow material that is between 7/8" to 2-3/4" wide. Would the DF 500 Q live up to the challenge of being a smart, well designed, and productive tool like most of the Festool products?

The buttons and settings on the tool include the power switch, the cutter depth adjustment and lock, a multiple height preset slider and lock, as well as a fence with detents at common angles. The fence is adjustable anywhere from 0° and 90° along with its lock. The other control is a circular knob that regulates the width of the mortises from a perfect fit to 2 sizes incrementally larger. This is an ingenious built-in operation that allows for errors made in laying out the mortises. By making the first mortise the perfect width for the tenon then increasing the width for the rest of the mortises, it allows the two boards to still line up along their length and width. There is also a little lever that releases the body from the fence allowing you to change the blade. Lastly, a spindlelock button allows for one wrench cutter changes. I’ve always liked that feature, which you see mostly on routers.

The carefully laid out systainer holds the Domino, power cord, wrench, a pair of extra stop latches and springs, a 5mm cutter, a support bracket, and an instruction manual. The Systainer can also accommodate the other cutters that are available from Festool. These include 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, 8mm, and 10mm carbide-tipped cutters. The beech wood Domino tenons range from 4mm x 20mm all the way up to 10mm x 50mm. Widths from the smallest are 17mm and end up at 24mm for the largest. Festool also has a similarly sized line of sipo wood Domino tenons that are better suited for outdoor work as they resist both insects and mold. These tenons can be bought individually as required or packaged in a systainer.

Another addition to the line includes all-metal Domino Connectors that allow you to construct furniture that can be taken apart. To see how these new connectors work watch my video on making a knock-down version of a Krenovian sawhorse. 

Using the Domino   

The Domino feels good in the hand with a nice weight to it. The surfaces that contact the work are a good mixture of 'slip and grip' allowing you to hold a position while cutting, yet easily slide to the next layout line. The return spring is stout enough to provide good feedback when advancing the cutter yet does not allow loose play. The front handle and the rear barrel are where my hands are most comfortable and it allows me to plunge into my work with no issues. I found it best to proceed at a slow rate to allow both the machine and the vacuum to cut and remove the waste. In a few test pieces I plunged much faster and this created oddly shaped mortises and occassionally moved the Domino off of the layout line. Connecting the Domino to a Festool vacuum allows the suction to turn on and off with the tool.

The Domino tenons are stamped with their sizes and fit snuggly into their mortises. I found sometimes that "snug" became "really tight".  I always like to do a dry fit before actually applying glue. That tightness requires an extra bit of persuasion in the form of pliers to remove the tenon to apply glue. I found that using a block plane to remove the small splines along the tenon’s width works perfectly. In the case of adding wooden tenons with the Domino connectors for extra support, definitely remove these "side splines" to ease in assembly and disassembly of your furniture.

Using the fence oriented at 90°, completely vertical, on mitres at 45°, or at any angle in-between, is not an issue for this machine. I’m not a fan of mitres in my furniture but adding dominos to small boxes that have mitred corners really locks the joint with no further support needed other than glue. One reason that I chose the smaller DF 500 Q was the ability to use it on fine work. On thinner pieces, as well as when using the trim stop, I found flipping the tool on its back worked better. I’m assuming Festool anticipated this as there are two feet at the top of the height posts that will rest nicely on a bench.       

One of the other great uses for the Domino is allowing for movement when attaching solid wood tops to the legs and aprons of a table. The mortises create nice slots for either shop-made or store bought clips.

The key to using the Domino is accurate layout lines. There are guide lines all over the machine including the fence as well as the base. If you want to create mortises without numbers and lines then the stop latches on either side of the machine will lock onto an edge of a board. On some narrower boards I found that the stop latches would occasionally hinder centering the machine on my layout lines. Festool anticipated this as you can lock these out of the way by tightening the associated setscrew holding them to the base. Working from the same surfaces on all boards also insures that the boards are kept flush with regards to their thickness. When using the Domino with the fence set at 0° adding the support bracket will help in keeping the machine steady. Having said that, I did not find that the machine wanted to tip at all without it. As for cutting vertically, Festool has again made ease-of-use a priority. Looking at the side of the machine, there is a small L shaped forging that indicates the centre of the cutter, no matter what size – 3/8" or more accurately 10mm.  

Conclusions

This machine has really impressed me. It's not a tool that was thrown together overnight but rather thought of over and over before being released. At the very least I am able to complete joinery with ease (almost too little thought) and accuracy all day long. Beyond that, I can just as efficiently create offsets, reinforce mitres, and create knock-down furniture. You really would have to go out of your way for components to not line up accurately. There is also the ease with which different sized mortises are created when one piece of the joint is thicker than another. The cutters work just as nicely in MDF and plywood as they do in solid wood. The 4mm x 20mm dominos fit quite nicely in the zebrawood box with walls only 9/32” thick. I can always add extra dominos when needed to work on larger and thicker pieces.

Little features increase the ease-of-use substantially on the Domino. These include the ability to lock down the stop latches out of the way, the preset height stop slide, and the L shaped forging that lets you know where the centre of the cutter is from the side. These are not the features that blow it out of the park but rather tell you how much detail has gone into the Domino.  

The downside of the machine is going to be the cost. However, if I were to have bought the floor based horizontal mortiser I wanted it would have cost just as much and taken up a lot more room. I typically work with board feet and inches when working wood. The Domino is setup with metric measurements. I really didn’t find this to be a hindrance but more a double check of my measurements. The first few times I used the Domino I would forget to adjust the depth setting and blow through the other side of a piece. Although I don’t like to admit it, this is more "operator error" than a machine shortcoming. One other small negative is that the 3mm ball end screwdriver that comes in the connector Systainer broke on its first use.

I have never liked biscuit joinery as there is a lot of play both horizontally and vertically. A long time ago someone borrowed my biscuit joiner and never returned it. I’m not too upset. Dowels are better as they are strong and accurate as long as you lay them out carefully. I use them with both shop-made jigs and store bought versions. The Domino creates a simple and accurate rotation-free joint even with only one tenon. Woodworkers are really joiners. We take wood apart then join it back together in the shape of tables and boxes amongst other things. The mortise and tenon is the bread and butter joint of woodworking. Festool has nailed how to spread that butter.

Photo Gallery

TR-Domino_1
The Festool Domino is a great way of doing mortise and tenon joinery.

TR-Domino_2
The Domino comes in one of Festool’s iconic Systainers with or without the trim stop and cross stop attachments.

TR-Domino_3
The Domino has detents for common angles (left) on the fence with lock, preset height stops (bottom centre) and depth settings (right). The “L” shaped forging (red circle) shows the cutter centre from the base which is 10mm

TR-Domino_4
Top view showing the circular mortise width adjuster, power switch as well as the height stop lever and top of the angled fence.  

TR-Domino_5
Changing the cutter requires inserting the included wrench into the body/fence release lever.  The return spring will push the two sections apart.

TR-Domino_6
Placing your index finger on the spindle lock will allow you to change the cutter.  Be careful not to over tighten the cutter to the spindle.

TR-Domino_7
The fence set at 0° shows the stop latches as well as cutter direction.  An extra set of latches and springs are included.

TR-Domino_8
Cutting mortises into a black walnut blank.

TR-Domino_9
Tapping beech wood dominos into various width mortises.

TR-Domino_10
Beech wood dominos showing the spacing of the three different width mortises.

TR-Domino_11
Cutting the “side splines” off of the beech wood dominos allows a “slightly less “tight” fit that doesn’t need a set of pliers to remove.  The right side shows the removed spline while the left shows it still intact.

TR-Domino_12
Two blanks ready for joining.  The left mortise is with the first setting while the right mortise was completed with the selector in the middle position.

TR-Domino_13
Joinery completed with the Festool Domino come together very nicely and are flush on length and thickness.  Layout lines are key to making an effortless joint.

TR-Domino_14
Using the Domino vertically is not any more difficult than horizontally.  The support bracket can be added to create a stable platform although the tool does not have a tendency to tip.

TR-Domino_15
The trim stop attachment fits onto the Domino without any play adding to the accuracy.

TR-Domino_16
Top view of the trim stop attachment along with the top of the height adjustment posts (red circles) that makes them act as feet when the machine is turned over.

TR-Domino_17
The cross stop attachment locks into the sides of the Domino with a dovetail fitting and lever lock.  It allows for repeated mortises varying in spacing from just under 4” to just over 8”.

TR-Domino_18
The Festool Domino connector Systainer with its connecting elements, drill jig, drill bit and all associated hardware that will allow you to create knock-down furniture.

TR-Domino_19
Some of the Domino connector hardware used in parts of a sawhorse.  The only downside to the set was that the ball end screwdriver (blue handle) broke on its first use.

TR-Domino_20
The use of the connectors acts as draw boring when the setscrew is tightened on one of the posts and anchor assemblies.  Festool calls this one of their corner joints

TR-Domino_21
The joint comes together nice and tight.

TR-Domino_22
Store bought or shop made table mounting clips are a great way of attaching solid wood tops to legs and aprons of a table allowing for movement.  The mortises created with the domino are perfect for this application.

TR-Domino_23
The smallest of the beech wood dominos, 4mm x 20mm fit quite nicely in material even as thin as 9/32” such as these baltic birch veneered box sides.  While the Domino on its own will not set to cut this thin of a material, using shims will bring the centre of the 4mm cutter to the centre of the plywood.

Author: 
Steven Der-Garabedian
Discover more great woodworking reviews!
Subscribe Now and get instance online access to our library filled with exciting woodworking information.
Continue to stay connected to the latest tool reviews with our bi-monthly woodworking magazines!