Sunday, 19 May 2013

Mmmm, Dominos!

Who’s up for some Dominos? No, not the world famous pizza franchise but the equally woodworking world famous Festool Domino.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last seven years, you will no doubt have heard of the uber useful loose tenon technology available from german tool meisters, Festool.

So what’s wrong with the common tenon joint? Not much really. They are a doddle to make and you don’t get stronger than a properly fitting tenon joint but in most instances a full blown tenon isn’t necessary. Do you really need an all singing and dancing tenon joint to, for example, connect a rail to a table leg? In short, no. A loose tenon would be more than adequate and is super easy to make, especially if you have a mortiser.

But if someone whispered into your ear that they had a machine which could make perfectly fitting loose tenon joints every time and in seconds, of course you’d want to take it for a test drive.

DF 500 Q-Plus
Domino DF500 Q-Plus

I've been obsessing over woodworking for several years and jealously watched many a video featuring Domino machines but I never had the opportunity to use one until I started my furniture making course here in Sweden. We, the students, are obviously taught how to make hand-made tenons before being introduced to the Domino machine but now it is the weapon of choice and is used in pretty much every project made in the workshop. Its so good that unless a customer requested it, it would be my go-to tool 99% of the time. I would probably only make hand-made tenons if the project required a stronger, structural joint. But if I am going to make a living out of making furniture then the projects need to fly out of the door and any tool that makes this happen quicker is a no brainer investment.
Lamello Classic Biscuit joiner

Don’t get too carried away thinking that the Festool Domino is the bee’s knees of connecting two pieces of wood together. As I recently learned, another tasty treat is always waiting in the wings to take the dominos place at the dinner table. The good old biscuit joint! Maybe I got carried away with the hype and excitement surrounding the Domino machine but I went against my own advice and used it in a project where it royally backfired on me.

Table top before shaping

While working on the top for a coffee table, I needed to attach some 80mm wide strips of elm along the long edges of some blockboard sheet material before pressing my own elm veneer over the top of it all. I decided that Dominos would be great for lining up the surfaces so they would be in plane with each other and I didn’t even consider biscuits or a glue only joint.

Table top after initial shaping
(Shaping temple still attached to underside)

Shaping the table top wasn’t a problem and I was overjoyed with my progress until time came to shape the underside of the table top. I needed to create a profile which made the table top look thinner than it actually is. To achieve this I routed away material through several passes and planned to shape the exact profile later by hand. But to my horror, when I removed the table top from the router table I was confronted with holes in three of the four corners. I soon realised that this result was a combination of using the wrong tool for the job and misjudged planning. You see, I neglected to remember that the Domino machine bores holes which are a fraction longer than the tenon to give room for glue and such.
The offending hole!
This error was especially agonising as the holes only just showed through and this was my final project of the first year. A culmination of everything I had learned in the first year! So, in other words, it was quite important. Had I been 1mm further in then nobody would have been the wiser. In the end I enlarged the holes to accept some pegs which I had fashioned from the same piece of wood for a good colour and grain match but it was an unnecessary job. Luckily, the holes were on the underside of the table top, so all is good in the hood. 

Stuffed crust repair!
The only real damage has been to my time plan. It didn’t take too long to repair but I need all the time I can get to be able to finish it before the summer break.

What have I learned? Just like the “measure twice, cut once” saying, I have a new saying. “Think twice, cut once, idiot!”. Basically, it is all about tool choice. Just because there is a more modern and exciting tool on the market doesn’t mean that it does everything better than the rest.

So, another lesson learned and at the end of the day I am a little older, a little wiser and will be a better furniture maker as a result of my own mistakes.

Remember, the best woodworkers aren’t the ones who never make mistakes. The best woodworkers are the ones who know how to repair (or disguise) their mistakes. 

Now, if only Festool did Two for Tuesday! 

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