The master tool for wood joining – Domino DF 500 and DF 700

The Festool Domino revolutionises the way woodworkers join wood, reinventing mortise and tenon joinery for the 21st century – making it easy, accurate and strong.

Greg de Villiers, the leading tool guru and brand manager at Vermont Sales explains what Domino is all about.

When it comes to joining wood, there is a huge array of options at your disposal, nailing, screwing, glueing, and a host of other joinery options. The challenge in joining wood however is not joining it – it is picking a joining method that is both strong enough for the wood’s intended use and one that does not alter the appearance in a negative way. For many applications, whether it is constructing a door, constructing cabinets, or constructing a piece of furniture, this limits your wood joinery options significantly, as the last thing you want to see is a nail or screw hole on a superbly finished piece of furniture.

This leaves you with a few options – learn to master more complicated, time-consuming wood joinery methods (such as mortise and tenon joints) or check out what may be the greatest wood joining method of the 21st century – the Festool Domino.

“Whether you are new to the Festool Domino, or you’ve heard of it and are simply questioning whether it lives up to the hype, I’m here to tell you that simply put, the Festool Domino is a game-changer when it comes to joining wood,” said de Villiers. The Domino takes the advantage of mortise and tenon joinery (strong joints with no visible fasteners) and lets you accomplish them significantly with more speed, precision and ease.

The Festool Domino family consists of two models: the Festool Domino DF 500 and the Festool Domino DF 700. As you have probably guessed, the Domino DF 500 is the smaller of the two, capable of using Domino tenons ranging from 4mm – 10mm thick. Its bigger brother, the Domino DF 700, expands the Domino’s functionality to a larger, more diverse set of wood joining applications, with Domino tenon sizes ranging from 8mm – 14mm thick tenons.

At their core, however, the functionality of both is the same: pick a Domino tenon for the specific pieces of wood you are joining, and the Domino’s unique cutting motion creates a perfect mortise to accept it.

Aligning the Domino to your workpiece is both fast and precise, and the mortise is cut in mere seconds. Both Domino joiners offer a variety of alignment options, and both offer identical ease and speed of use.

Which Domino joiner you use simply depends on the size Domino tenon you are using. “After using the DF 500 for a few years and more recently working with the Domino DF 700, I can tell you that both have become indispensable in our training centre. Rather than tell you which one to get, I will tell you instead how I use both, and how depending on the type of work you do, both have the potential to play a significant role in your wood joining projects.”

My first introduction to the Festool Domino system was the Domino DF 500, as the Domino DF 700 was not yet available. I have worked with a biscuit joiner and from a functionality and ergonomics standpoint, the Domino DF 500 is remarkably similar. I found, however, that biscuits had far too much play to be used for precisely aligning pieces, and while I never performed an actual strength test, I did not feel like they added a significant amount of strength.” said de Villiers.

The Domino system took the ease of the biscuit joiner but added in a significantly higher level of precision and strength, which is exactly what I felt was lacking in biscuit joinery. Since then, I have found a huge amount of uses for the Domino that I never would have tried with a biscuit joiner, and I’ve yet to regret my decision.

Festool Domino cutting mortise

For anyone with basic woodworking experience, the learning curve is quite small. Step one is simply deciding whether the Domino is right for your situation. “For me personally, I use the Festool Domino DF 500 any time I want a tight, strong joint with no visible fasteners, typically for interior applications. I’ve used the DF 500 for joining plywood, wood wall frames, larger mouldings, shelving, and a variety of furniture projects. This is going to vary from person to person and what you enjoy building, but I would say from a sizing standpoint, the DF 500 handles probably 80% of the joining tasks that I need,” says de Villiers.

When creating a Domino joint, there are two primary settings you need to make on the Domino itself (this applies to the Domino DF 700 as well): the depth of the mortise, and the vertical alignment of the cut. For the depth setting, you have the option of either centring the Domino tenon so that it rests equally on each side of the joint, or you can offset the tenon so that more of it rests on one side of the joint (which comes in handy for more complex joining tasks). Changing the depth is simply a case of moving the depth adjustment lever on the side of the Domino, which is incredibly quick and simple. In addition to the mortise depth, you can also choose to adjust the mortise width from three different settings, creating either tight-fitting Domino tenons or mortises that offer two wider levels of flexibility from an alignment standpoint.

Festool Domino plywood tenons

The other key adjustment you need to consider is the vertical alignment of the cut, which is set by adjusting the Domino’s fence height. To set the height you have two options: use one of the Domino’s pre-sets on the board thickness gauge, which covers a variety of standard board thicknesses and centres the mortise on the thickness specified; or you can use the Domino’s height gauge, which shows the distance from the bottom of the Domino fence to the centreline of the mortising bit. As is the case with the mortise depth of cut, adjusting the fence height or adjusting the settings on the board thickness gauge is incredibly quick and simple and takes only seconds to accomplish. If you are joining two angles, you can also adjust the angle of the fence, perfect for joining a variety of different mitred pieces.

These are really the two key elements to learn when first using the Domino system, and once you understand how they work, the rest is a breeze. De Villiers notes, “I mentioned earlier that one of the key features of the Domino system is precision, and rather than list different Domino features, I’ll give you a quick real-world use example of what I mean.”

Festool Domino joining plywood

“Let us say you want to join two boards or two pieces of 25mm (3/4″) plywood. Once you have adjusted the Domino’s two settings already mentioned (mortise depth and the vertical alignment), the first step is aligning the Domino for its first mortise. Making the task quick and precise, the Domino features built-in indexing pins, which you simply butt up to the edge of your workpieces, eliminating the need to measure and mark. From here, you have two options. You can align your two pieces of wood, mark measurements every 150mm (6 inches) -or whatever distance you would like), align the Domino to each pencil mark, and make the cuts. Your other option, and one that I highly recommend, is you can purchase the Domino set that includes the trim and cross stops.”

Festool Domino Cross Stops

“With the cross stops, you are simply adding a measurement scale and a bigger set of indexing pins. Set the distance you want between each mortise, align the cross stops indexing pin inside the mortise you previously cut, and you get perfectly spaced mortises without the need to measure or even mark your workpieces. For joining boards, plywood or shelving, the speed of the Domino system is simply remarkable and will change the way you work.”

“From here, your possibilities in Domino joining are huge. I will not go into specifics, because simply put, the Domino’s versatility is simply too great. It is one of those tools that once you have it, you start seeing different ways you can use it on a huge variety of projects, and you look back at past things you built and wish you had gotten it sooner, as it would have saved you significant time and labour. Instead, here are some random questions my customers have asked me about the Domino to hopefully shed more light on its versatility.”

How precise is it?

“When joining boards and plywood, which is primarily where I need precision, it must be dead on. It is so accurate I stopped test fitting most pieces, and the few times I do test fit, it’s still always accurate. If you are accustomed to joining pieces with a biscuit joiner and then having to go back and sand the two pieces so they are flush, the Domino precise alignment will virtually eliminate the need to sand, it is that good.”

Is it difficult to change the cutters for different sized tenons?

“Not at all. Cutter changes require a small wrench that comes included in the Domino’s Systainer, and the process takes about 30 seconds once you know what you are doing.”

Does the Domino work on narrow pieces?

“Absolutely. Because I purchased the Domino set, it came with trim stops, which keep narrow pieces of stock perfectly in alignment. Even without the trim stop, however, with a bit of clamping, you will have no problem mortising narrow pieces. The same is true for round pieces: use the optional handrail fence, and you will have no trouble creating mortises in what would ordinarily be a difficult workpiece.”

Is there much dust?

“No, I do not think there is any. Using the Domino requires the use of a dust extractor (I use the Festool CT 26), and together the two create dust-free cutting that are immediately ready to be glued.”

Is there anything you would recommend purchasing with the Domino?

“As noted in the previous question, you will need a dust extractor, and for the small extra cost, I highly recommend the Domino DF 500 set that includes the trim and cross stops. In addition, I highly recommend the Domino DF 500 tenon assortment, which is a Systainer packed with five different cutter sizes and a huge assortment of Domino tenons. It keeps everything neat and tidy, and it comes with enough Dominos to handle a huge variety of joining needs.”

“So that is my take on the Domino DF 500 – you can learn more about its tech specs at the official Festool USA website.”

The Domino DF 700

“Take everything I said about the Domino DF 500, supersize it, and you have a good idea of what to expect from the Domino DF 700. It operates under exactly the same principle as the DF 500, with the key difference being it’s more powerful and cuts larger tenons but foregoes the smaller tenon sizes. Whereas the DF 500 goes as small as 4mm thick tenons, the Domino DF 700’s smallest tenon thickness is 8mm. The flip side, however, is that the Domino’s largest tenon is huge, with a 14mm thickness and a 140mm (approximately 5 1/2-inch) length.

If you know you’re going to be primarily working with a certain size wood on one side of the spectrum, then picking between the Domino DF 500 and the Domino DF 700 is easy: pick the size you need. The trouble, however, is what happens when you need a range of cutting sizes that falls in the middle? Do you opt for the bigger or smaller option or both?”

Festool Domino DF 700 cutting Domino mortise

“I’ll give you my answer in a second, but first let me cover the Domino DF 700’s features quickly. As is the case with the DF 500, the two main things you’ll need to familiarise yourself with are the Domino DF 700’s mortise depth and vertical alignment settings. As is the case with the DF 500, you can choose to either centre the Domino tenon between each workpiece or offset it. With the Domino DF 700, in addition to the actual mortise depth setting, there’s also a minimum and maximum depth setting, allowing you to quickly switch back and forth between two settings if you are offsetting the tenons, saving a little bit of brainpower. You can also adjust the mortise width, opting for either tight-fitting Domino tenons or tenons with a little extra leeway. Unlike the DF 500 that offers three mortise widths, the Domino DF 700 offers two: tight, and an extra 3mm width.”

“As for the vertical height setting, you again can use the Domino DF 700’s board thickness gauge, which centres the mortise in a variety of common board thicknesses, or you can use the Domino DF 700’s height gauge, which measures the distance from the bottom of the fence to the centre of the mortising bit. Setting the height takes only seconds and is accomplished via a single locking lever. Adjusting the fence’s angle is equally as simple for mitred pieces: simply loosen the other locking lever, adjust the fence, and re-tighten. Detents and an easy-to-read angle gauge make setting the perfect angle easy for various mitred cuts.”

Festool Domino DF 700 indexing pins

“When it comes to aligning two pieces (like edge joining two pieces of wood for example), the Domino DF 700 operates under the same principles as the DF 500, meaning it’s equally as precise. Whereas the DF 500 has a pair of built-in indexing pins (one on each side) that allow you to make your first mortise without marking or measuring, the Domino DF 700 uses similar indexing pins. The difference is that the Domino DF 700 uses six (three on each side), allowing even more fine-tuning of Domino tenon placement without the need to measure or mark. These pins also make cutting multiple mortises that are in close proximity incredibly easy, as once you cut your first mortise, you can use the indexing pins inside this mortise for even, consistent mortise spacing.”

“If you’re joining larger pieces with a larger mortise spacing, the Domino DF 700 also accepts the same cross stops used on the DF 500, allowing you to set a distance and then use the cross stops indexing pin to reference off the previously cut mortice. In other words, even when joining large pieces, just like with the DF 500, there’s no measuring or marking required. The same is true for the other DF 500 accessories: for creating a mortise in narrow boards, the Domino DF 700 accepts the trim stop, and for mortising in round workpieces, it also accepts the handrail guide. As is the case with the DF 500, if you’re considering a Domino DF 700, I highly recommend opting for the Festool Domino DF 700 kit that includes the trim and cross stops, as they’re invaluable when joining larger pieces of wood as well as narrower pieces of stock.”

Festool Domino DF 700 with Domino mortises

“So why did I buy the Festool Domino DF 700 when I already owned the DF 500? For me, it came down to the work I was doing. I’ve been renovating my home for the past several years, accumulating new tools as I go, and when I started, I did a large amount of interior work that the Domino DF 500 excelled at. For me, it was a game-changing tool as far as speed and precision in joining wood, and I immediately fell in love with the Domino system. When the Domino DF 700 was released, I knew that eventually, I would have one, so when it came time to undertake a project that required a larger joinery method than what the DF 500 was capable of, I didn’t hesitate to add the Domino DF 700 to my arsenal. From a cost standpoint, not including my own labour, the Domino paid for itself after my first door building project. It also opened a huge range of new projects for me, especially when it came to building things outside my home, and it’s grown to become one of my most used tools for larger-scale projects.”

If you’re considering which Domino to purchase, my advice is to narrow down as much as possible the work you’re going to use it for. It’s tempting to take the bigger, but for most indoor projects, the DF 500 performs brilliantly. It’s small, nimble, and comfortable to use. If you’re worried that later down the line you may want more capacity, do what I did and add the Domino DF 700 to your tool stable. One or two projects in, and it will pay for itself.

Festool Domino DF 700 with Domino Systainer

“On the other hand, if you’re building things on a bigger scale on an even semi-regular basis, the Domino DF 700 is superb. I love the feel of the Domino DF 700, its ergonomics, and its build quality, and once you use it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. I’ve built doors, a garden gate, and several pieces of furniture with the Domino DF 700 that I never would have attempted otherwise, and they all turned out beautifully. One thing to note on the mortise sizes of the Domino DF 700: there are some aftermarket adapters that let you move down to smaller cutter sizes with the Domino DF 700, although I personally haven’t used them. For me, when using the smaller cutters, reaching for the DF 500 has become like second nature, and I can’t picture using the DF 700 in its place. If I was only occasionally using the adapter on the Domino DF 700, I probably wouldn’t mind it, but considering how much work I do with the smaller cutter sizes, the DF 500 is right for me.”

“Long story short, if you have the budget for one and can’t decide which to buy, buy the one that’s best suited for most of your work, skip a few meals out for the next month or two, then buy the other one. You won’t regret it, and with the time and labour you’ll save on projects, they’ll pay for themselves in no time.”

Like the Domino DF 500, rather than list a variety of random features of the Domino DF 700, I’ll answer the questions fellow woodworkers ask me.

Can I use the Domino DF 700 to build large projects?

The Domino DF 700 will let you build massive pieces, whether it’s a garage door, an arbour for your outdoor living space, a garden gate, etc. For outdoor projects, you can opt for is tenons, which offer even greater durability for outdoor projects.

How much dust is there when cutting?

Like the DF 500, I don’t think there’s any. The Domino DF 700 requires the use of a dust extractor (I use the Festool CT 26), and together the two create dust-free cutting that is immediately ready to be glued.

Is it hard to change the cutters?

No, it’s pretty much identical to changing cutters on the DF 500. A single wrench that comes included with the Domino DF 700 is all you need, and the whole process takes about 30 seconds after you’ve done it a couple of times.

What accessories do you use with the Domino DF 700?

You’ll need a dust extractor for cutting, and like the DF 500, I highly recommend the Domino DF 700 set that includes the trim and cross stops. I also splurged and bought both Domino DF 700 tenon assortments, each of which is a Systainer packed with a variety of Domino tenons and corresponding cutters. Your Domino tenons will be neatly organised in the Systainer and you will be well on your way to some massive joinery projects.

If you’ve made it this far, you clearly want to learn more about the Festool Domino system, and you can do so at the official Festool website. You can also head straight to either the Domino DF 500 or Domino DF 700 pages to see the tech specs on both.

The comprehensive range of Festool dust extractors also boasts another innovative feature, the AUTO function gives the user the ability to select between AUTO and MANUAL function allowing your dust extractor to be turned on simultaneously as your power tool is powered on.

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