While cost is a factor, the decision on a domino joiner vs biscuit joiner must include a hard look at your style, woodworking skill AND type of projects. And while domino tenons are superior in strength, the cost outweighs the benefits in many applications. In this article learn which tool is best for your projects and budget.
Let’s start by saying there is no dispute among woodworking professionals the Festool DOMINO is the supreme machine for woodworking joints.
At least, that is, until their patent runs out in (hopefully) a few years.
But that doesn’t mean a biscuit joiner doesn’t have its place (I use one for building face frames).
It’s more that the two don’t compare, which is what we’ll review in this article:
- What is a biscuit joint
- What is a domino joint
- The differences between the two
- Key features of each tool
- Where each joint excels (strength, ease of use, quality)
- Best biscuit joiners
- Best domino joiners (there is only one!)
- Other options, including pocket holes
Lastly, to help your decision we’ll include links and tool options to get you started. And while I’ve made over a thousand face frames and countless plywood glue-ups with a biscuit joiner, the flexibility of the Festool DOMINO opens up a lot of doors with it’s extreme accuracy.
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What is a Biscuit Joint?
What is a Domino Joint?
A domino joint is actually a mortise and tenon joint that is branded after the Festool DOMINO portable mortiser. A domino joint is made by cutting two matching, elongated slots in the wood to be joined and then inserting the tenon (with glue).
What makes a domino different than a typical mortise and tenon joint? Well, a few things:
- While a typical mortise and tenon uses one of the wood pieces as a tenon, a domino joint uses a tenon that is inserted into both pieces of wood. If you’re familiar with plumbing, the project is the “female” (times 2) and the tenon is the “male”.
- A standard tenon is made from the wood used in the project. However, a domino uses a beech (interior) or mahogany (exterior) tenon.
Domino Joiner vs Biscuit Joiner: Understanding the Differences
To start, let’s first take a quick look at the difference in the joints:
- First up: a biscuit joint relies on a fixed thickness biscuit spline, available in varying widths, and inserted and glued into a cavity created by the biscuit joiner
- And, biscuits are composite wood in an oblong shape and used only for interior use
- On the other hand, a DOMINO joint uses a true mortise and tenon of varying thicknesses and widths
- Mortises are the holes left by the DOMINO tool
- Tenons (the wood piece) are either beech or mahogany for use in interior or exterior projects
Which is better? We’ll get to that based on your projects.
Key Features of a Biscuit Joiner
The good news is a biscuit joiner is made by many manufacturers. So when shopping you’ll have ample machines to choose from (but overall, a small variety in features).
Later in this article we’ll rundown the full list of manufacturers, but let’s first take a look at the key features of a biscuit joiner.
Biscuit Joiner Overview
- Rack and pinion fences for ensuring left to right alignment
- Fence tilts 0 to 90-degrees for cutting biscuits in angles
- Advanced models have heavy duty aluminum fences that can be clamped for stationary use
- Biscuit joiners cut to an adjustable depth of 20mm (just over ¾”)
- Support cutting biscuits sizes of 0, 10 and 20
- Higher end models have hand held or foot activated production units
- Some models offer cordless power vs traditional corded
Biscuit Joiner Spline Sizes
How does a biscuit joiner accommodate both narrow and wide material?
By coming in four sizes:
- #20: ~5/32” thick, 1” deep and 2-¼” wide
- #10: ~5/32” thick, ¾” deep, 2” wide
- #0: ~5/32” thick, ⅝” deep, 1-¾” wide
- FF: ~5/32” thick, ½” deep, 1-¼” wide
Of course, FF stands for face frame which is one of my preferred uses for biscuits. But, I tend to go for a size #10 in face frames for a stronger initial hold and easier gluing.
Key Features of a Festool DOMINO Joiner
While there are options to Festool in a portable mortise and tenon jig they aren’t handheld. Which makes the Festool DOMINO distinct with the following features:
- Handheld portable mortising
- Indexed mortises using an optional jig
- Mortising in round or semi-circular stock
- Wide range of tenon width and thickness for small to large projects
- Dust collection
- Fast and accurate adjustment
Available Domino Tenon Sizes (500 Series)
To start, the 500 series Festool DOMINO supports 6 tenon sizes:
For reference, 100mm is just shy of 4″.
So, here’s a good place to stop and pause on the advantages of a domino joiner vs biscuit joiners. While a biscuit joiner will AT MOST go 1/2″ into each side of the wood, a domino joiner will go almost 3″ into each side (remember, 1/2″ the tenon length goes into each piece). Which means a domino joiner will assist with both alignment AND structural rigidity of the joints.
Domino joiner vs Biscuit Joints: Strength, Easy to Use, Quality of Finished Piece
Now on to the key aspects and comparison between these two tools.
While you might suspect the DOMINO is a dominant tool, each of these types of wood joining tools has its own strengths.
When might a domino joint be more than needed? Well, face frames on cabinets are a great example of a joint that needs to be sturdy during assembly but will not undergo sideways torque during use. So, a biscuit will be fine (and cheaper) in most applications.
And, getting over the price of the DOMINO might be tough. So, even considering pocket hole joinery, I’d still opt for a biscuit joiner if you just aren’t sure how much you’ll need the more expensive (and capable) DOMINO joiner.
Biscuit Joiner Pros and Cons
Pros of a biscuit joiner:
- Marginally faster than a domino
- Cheaper initial and ongoing cost
- Many manufacturers of biscuit joiners and biscuits vs Festool-only domino and tenons
- Less setup accuracy required as biscuits can slide in groove
- Using metric measurements is not required
- Dust collection optional
Cons of using a biscuit joiner:
- First, biscuits come in just one thickness (5/32”…or slightly over 1/8″) and have a shallower joint depth
- Best for only wood surfaces that meet with over 1-1/2”+ of contact space
- Due to shallower depth in wood and thinner biscuit it is weaker in comparison to a domino joint
- And last, a biscuit joiner will not make curved biscuit joints
Lastly, you’ll have fewer joints you can make with a biscuit joint. In fact, for any furniture making you can rely on just domino joinery for MOST tasks and skip even a pocket hole jig.
Domino Joiner Pros and Cons
Now switching over to the domino joint, if you haven’t used either machine you will quickly learn alignment of the biscuit or mortise is KEY. And, due to the biscuit being forgiving in left-right alignment, a domino joiner compensates with features like cross stop and trim stop.
Pros of domino joiner:
- Controlled width of cut with a simple turn of dial
- Interchangeable bits for varying tenon thickness
- Excels at corner joints
- Cross stop setup allows for repeated, indexed cuts in wider boards or plywood
- Trim stop setup allows for perfect alignment of same-width work piece tenons
- Optional support bracket allows for enhanced support with vertical cuts
- Hand rail fence allows for wood joints in round or curved material (not possible with biscuits and very tricky with pocket hole jigs)
- By using the Sipo (mahogany) tenon outdoor projects can be built using the domino joiner
Cons of a domino joiner:
- Cost (for a casual DIY’er)
- Higher learning curve than a biscuit joiner as PRECISE layout is required before cutting the tenon
- Festool is the only manufacturer – and surround accessories like dust collection are all owned by you guessed it … Festool
- As Festool is German made you’ll need to brush up on your metric measurements
Best Biscuit Joiners
While the subject on an entire article itself, there are a couple of classes of biscuit joiners. And one for just cordless, with woodworking cord cutting a priority for most shops.
Here’s what I see and consider as the best biscuit joiners (I own the Dewalt, by the way):
|Best overall||Check price|
|Most portable (cordless)||Check price|
|Best value||Check Price|
Best Domino Joiners
This is a bit of a trick question, as there is only ONE: the Festool DOMINO .
So, Festool, depending on how you look at it, fortunately or unfortunately owns the market on portable mortise and tenon joinery.
But, like most tools, you’ll find that you can start with the basics and move your way up with optional accessories.
With that, here’s a good place to consider starting:
- Go with the package that includes the indexing trim cross stop. Due to many projects requiring joints in plywood this slight upgrade will pay for itself over time.
- If your projects don’t include hand rails or round pieces then opt out of buying up to a handrail kit until you find you need it.
- The dust collection kit is a must to keep the bit clear and the machine working optimally
Festool DOMINO Accessories
If you are at all considering a Festool DOMINO you have likely seen their other tools, like the class leading miter saws.
And while accessories like the following can drive up the cost, if you are committing to Festool you can choose from:
- T-Loc Systainer that holds a complete variety of tenons and bits
- Individual packs of tenons
- Individual DOMINO cutters
- Festool dust extractor
Alternatives to a Festool DOMINO
So if you want a mortise and tenon system but without the cost what are your options?
First, you are venturing outside of a comparison of a biscuit vs a domino joiner.
But, knowing that mortise and tenons are a stronger joint you can look at the myriad of benchtop mortisers that start around $300 and work their way up in cost:
- RIKON 34-260
- Jet Bench Mortiser
- ShopFox W1671
- Powermatic 1791310
- WEN 43012
The trade-off? These units are built for vertical mortising of smaller parts. Which makes the Festool DOMINO handheld more functional for plywood and larger projects.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a biscuit joiner work?
A biscuit joiner works by creating an oblong “half football” shape groove in 2 pieces of matching wood. This groove is filled by a football shaped biscuit which is glued, inserted, and then clamped until the glue is 100% dry.
Can I make biscuit joints without a joiner?
You can make biscuit joints without a joiner, however it will require a table saw with a blade thickness (kerf) the same as the biscuit and set to a precise height. However, this is a MUCH more dangerous solution and should only be attempted by a professional, using all safety precautions, and for longer stock where risk of injury is reduced. A safer solution is to consider the use of wood splines or mortise and tenon joints.
What does a plate joiner do?
A plate joiner is the same as a biscuit joiner and are used to create an oblong hole in two matching pieces of wood. After the joiners have created the hole, a biscuit is glued, inserted and typically clamped until the wood is dried.
Is a plate joiner the same as a biscuit joiner?
Yes, a plate joiner is the same as a biscuit joiner. Both use the same fence system and guides to allow cutting biscuit grooves in wood.
Is a biscuit joiner good for alignment?
One of the best features of a biscuit joiner is it’s ability to quickly set biscuits that will match the height between two surfaces. However, the biscuit joiner only works best on flat surfaces like plywood ends. If your project involves more angles than a domino joint will perform better with it’s higher precision alignment.
What are the alternatives to a Festool DOMINO?
Since the domino system from Festool is proprietary the only alternatives to the system are to use a traditional mortising machine. Or, with a lot of alignment and setup, a square hole setup that attempt to mimic the width, depth and height of a Festool DOMINO tenon.
Is a domino joint stronger than a biscuit joint?
Generally a domino joint is stronger than a biscuit joint. The only time it isn’t? If the domino joint is inserted into an extremely thin stock and weakens the surrounding wood.
Summary: Domino Joiner vs Biscuit Joiner
If you have a long woodworking road in front of you and are planning on complex furniture beyond basic cabinet making then a Festool domino joinery system shouldn’t disappoint.
But, for a DIY’er on a limited budget I’d suggest spending your money on either a biscuit joiner or pocket hole jig.