Dominos, Biscuits, and Dowels (Oh My!)

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Forum topic by CRAIGCLICK posted 04-12-2018 05:09 PM 3266 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View CRAIGCLICK's profile


117 posts in 884 days

04-12-2018 05:09 PM

So, as I compile my tool wish list, I am trying to ascertain the importance of having some type of joiner.

When I built my first cabinets, I simply used glue to assemble the panels for the doors, but for subsequent projects, I’d like to feel more secure about the panels that I build, so that brings me to my question.

Is a joiner worth the coin…or would I be money ahead with a jig, a drill, a dowel, and some patience?

I’m certainly attracted to the efficiency of using a joiner, but there are also other things I could spend my money on (a router, for example).

So what are your thoughts? Is this something I need? If so, what should I get, biscuit or dowel? The Festool Domino joiner seemed like a great idea…but then I saw the price and decided that sending my daughter to college was probably more important. Not knocking Festool…They build fantastic tools, but its like Snap-On…You don’t really need it unless you make your living off the tools.

Is a domino joiner a Festool-only thing, or does soomeone else manufacture a less expensive one?

-- Somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace.

16 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6327 posts in 3304 days

#1 posted 04-12-2018 05:14 PM

For panels I wouldn’t consider any of them as necessary. The Domino is Festool only, at least for a few more years and they are very nice. Biscuits are also useful in some uses, but I don’t feel like mine earns it keep. I still won’t give it up (even with a Domino) but I would put it way down on the list. I don’t use dowels so other will chime in on them. Maybe you could consider cutting mortises with your router (if you don’t have one, go buy 2) and the tenons on a table saw.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Elwyn24601's profile


15 posts in 1225 days

#2 posted 04-12-2018 05:15 PM

Save your money for a router. you can get a slot cutting bit and do some of these joinery processes. yes, festool makes the only floating tennon tool as far as I am aware. Though, there are some unique DIY dominos out there (stumpy nubs comes to mind) that are easy to assemble from purchased plans and work (though not as well)

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4459 days

#3 posted 04-12-2018 05:31 PM

Doweled casework demands a rigorous approach
to getting them perfectly centered so the holes
match up. Some jigs do that faster than others
but they are all slower than the trick you can
do with biscuit or domino joiners which is make
a bunch of pencil lines and have at it because the
tool makes the slots a little wider than needed
so there’s lateral play.

With dowels you can put the glue in and put them
together with hand pressure or a mallet. If
clamps are needed to close the joints they can
usually be removed pretty quickly and used on
something else. With biscuits the fit is too sloppy
for that and the clamps need to be left on longer
or other fasteners like nails or screws used to
keep the joint together while the glue dries.

Biscuits are adequate imo for a lot of casework
applications. Where you may not want to trust
them is with joints on freestanding pieces that
get pushed around like tables and chairs.

Making mortise and tenon joints isn’t the most
tedious thing ever. For everyday hidden joinery
(not pocket screws), biscuits offer a lot of
flexibility and it isn’t too spendy to get a decent
joiner with a reliable fence.

Making a router jig to cut slots for loose tenons
with a plunge router can be a great investment
of time. I’ve made a few. The drawbacks to the
approach are that the tenon stock is kind of
fussy to make, that the end grain mortises tend
to be a little differently sized than the long grain
ones, and for mortising the ends of long boards
you’ll have to do some goofy things like work on
a ladder. I assume domino slots come out a
little wider in end grain too but the domino stock
is compressed wood like a biscuit that expands a
bit when the glue soaks in.

As in all things with woodworking, if you’re patient
and think things through it’s possible to get
great results without spending a lot on equipment.

View Dustin's profile


707 posts in 1551 days

#4 posted 04-12-2018 06:00 PM

I’ve had and sold a biscuit joiner, mainly because I didn’t use it very often, but I’d never consider giving up my router. Aside from my table saw, my router was my first real shop tool, and it gets a ton of mileage.

-- "Ladies, if your husband says he'll get to it, he'll get to it. No need to remind him about it every 6 months."

View Woodknack's profile


13444 posts in 3191 days

#5 posted 04-12-2018 06:11 PM

If you want to feel better about your butt joints, break them. The other day I broke apart a prototype table built with glued butt joints and pocket screws, it was end grain to face grain. After removing the screws I had to stand on one piece and apply my weight to the other, the glue didn’t give, it ripped out the grain. It was in pine but nevertheless, glue is very strong. I’ve also taken apart cabinets that were butt jointed, the plywood splintered but the glue didn’t give.

-- Rick M,

View pintodeluxe's profile


6181 posts in 3624 days

#6 posted 04-12-2018 06:12 PM

I use a biscuit joiner and a doweling jig for certain secondary joinery applications. Never for the main strength of a piece, but usually to reinforce an end-grain joint for a corbel or web frame. Mortise and tenons do all the heavy lifting for me.

I never use anything but glue for solid panel glueups. As long as you let solid panels move in frames and cabinet doors, you shouldn’t have any trouble with them. No additional joinery needed for solid wood panels.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View CRAIGCLICK's profile


117 posts in 884 days

#7 posted 04-12-2018 06:20 PM

Thank you all for your help. I’ll put that one in the “maybe later” file.

-- Somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace.

View BlasterStumps's profile


1721 posts in 1250 days

#8 posted 04-12-2018 06:44 PM

I can remember using these on some frames in times past:

-- "...I've been through the desert on a horse with no name." So name the damned horse already!

View ArtMann's profile


1480 posts in 1627 days

#9 posted 04-14-2018 02:37 AM

If you use a Dowelmax doweling jig for the same applications as you use a Domino, you will find the two machines to be very similar in the amount of effort it takes to make the joint and in the strength of the resultant joints are comparable. I doubt if Loren’s opinion comes from actually using both. Mine does. If you want to know how the Dowelmax works, visit their web page. It is not misleading.

View Jacksdad's profile


247 posts in 1235 days

#10 posted 04-14-2018 02:59 AM

I have used a Domino in one of my classes at Woodcraft, I was not impressed. I use a biscuit joined for panel glue up, pocket hole screws or dovetails for casework, and mortise and tenon or rail and stile bits for the doors. I use a mortise machine and a table saw tenon jig, that works for me.

View Sunstealer73's profile


192 posts in 2903 days

#11 posted 04-14-2018 11:49 PM

I’ve used all the methods you mentioned and the Domino is superior to all in my opinion. It’s so fast and accurate.

View buckhorn_cortez's profile


7 posts in 854 days

#12 posted 04-15-2018 01:01 AM

There is an alternative to the Domino system which is the Beadlock system. You buy the Beadlock guide block that allows you to drill a series of overlapping holes. After the holes are drilled you insert the Beadlock tennon into the mortise created with the guide block and drill. You can either buy the tennon pieces preformed, or you can get a Beadlock router bit and make your own. You can do both glued and loose tennons with the Beadlock system.

View TheFridge's profile


10859 posts in 2297 days

#13 posted 04-15-2018 01:18 AM

You can easily do without a bicuit joiner.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View msinc's profile


567 posts in 1314 days

#14 posted 04-15-2018 02:01 AM

I will add that one advantage biscuits have over dowels is that you cannot use dowels with a tapered joint, e.g., tapered columns. All that said, I have a lot of machines in my shop, I even have my own saw mill, but the most used machine I own is my joiner. It’s not that I “couldn’t imagine woodworking without a joiner”’s that I couldn’t imagine finding a source where I can get enough wood that is truly flat, straight and square on all four sides to use in my shop and still be economical enough to continue.

View John_'s profile


251 posts in 2517 days

#15 posted 04-15-2018 02:24 AM

Don’t forget – the Domino machine REQUIRES proper dust extraction to prevent the bit from breaking so add on $$$ to the already expensive ($1,100+) price tag… I always get a chuckle when somebody does pony up the money to buy one and all of a sudden they are using Dominos in everything, apparently so they can try to justify the cost.

I really like using a doweling jig. It is just simple and easy. I have never used the Dowelmax jig, it has too many parts/adjustments for me, but I do have both of the Jessem dowel jigs and I would suggest you take a look at the 8350

I just saw this pic today and thought it was pretty cool

showing 1 through 15 of 16 replies

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