I had a set of custom doors to build from scratch and boy was the timing right. Festool picked me as one of the few carpenters to get a Domino XL for user evaluation. And I took full advantage of the opportunity, one that I felt was both a privilege and a responsibility. I carefully documented the process for my peers on THISisCarpentry. Maybe another contributor will follow up with a different angle on this awesome second generation tool.
Without further chatter let’s build some doors.
First, to build doors from stock, you have to laminate your stiles and rails. I try to select vertical grain materials, and Douglas Fir is a perfect choice. The species is known for limited movement—great stability, and distinct hardness for a ‘softwood’. Maybe this is why a lot of wood doors are made from fir. When laminating, it’s best to orient your lumber so the grain is opposed.
I know that this photo doesn’t show that opposed grain as well as it might (see photo, right)—we got pretty lucky with vertical grain being…well…vertical. In fact, some of the grain actually turns at the end and runs the same direction as the piece it’s laminated to. I also inspect the lumber and will sometimes compromise the grain direction to bury a defect in the glue face.
|Just a few passes and we have the dado. A few minutes with a sharp chisel and you have a nice clean bottom dado.
Next I cut the rails to length. Be sure to leave extra length for the tenons on each end.
There’s high dollar machinery for this step too, but I found the MFT table to be a fantastic substitute, with my OF1000 router riding on the rail with a ¾” dado bit making a single pass per tenon side.
Cutting the Tenons
This is an extremely simple setup. First, set your router up on the guide rail. Pick your shoulder cut location and set up a stop on the MFT fence. Dial in the cutter depth and then have at it. The MFT table and the router is almost too sweet for this use; the precision and repeat-ability insure each rail is exactly the same, which is critical for building doors square. This was one of those moments where the cost of a Festool product was immediately justified by the time it saved me to perform the task at hand. Tenoning each rail took less than two minutes each.
Excuse me while I take another sip of the green koolaid here…umm my, that is delicious.
Here’s a tip, don’t fuss too much trying to make your stile and rail mortise and tenon joints super snug—you don’t want it sloppy, but you shouldn’t have to fight it. Having a little wiggle space here makes the glue up a lot easier. Once the domino is added into the mix, those joints will tighten right up anyway.
I cut the mortise pockets in the rails first before cutting the tenons—so the rails would have square ends and better support for the Domino. But I’ll admit I also made those cuts first because I was over eager to fondle the XL. I cut the tenons later.
Once you have all your stiles and rails run, cut the panels. I had ¼” VG Fir ply in stock but I wanted a ½” panel so I laminated two sheets together with spray adhesive.
|The secret weapon here is 3M Spray 90. I love this stuff.
|Chamfer the edges of the panels and the tenons on the rails a little to help them slide into the stiles. I used the RO90 for this.
Honestly, this wasn’t intended to be a fix for Festool junkies, it just feels that way.
If you don’t round over the tenons a little, it’s nearly impossible to get everything together when you’re gluing up. Test your assembly before glue up—including your clamps. More than likely you will have to ‘tune up’ a rail or two to get all the joints tight. I always do. So, keep that MFT table setup until you finish the glue-up.
|I like to keep my stiles long for extra clamping space, and so I don’t have to fuss around keeping them perfectly flush. It’s easy to cut the tails off with a tracksaw after the glue-up dries.
So How About that XL?
My first impression of the XL was that I was surprised at how small it was. I was expecting a behemoth given the sizes of the new dominoes, but it really isn’t a whole lot bigger than the 500. While similar in size, the units are completely different.
I prefer the ergonomics of the new XL much more than those on the 500. With the 500 I’ve found myself actually holding the cord end where it meets the machine for ‘keep it flat control’. But the XL seems to lock onto the material much better with a more positive forward placement of the front hand. From my perspective, the improved ergonomics provides a superior clamping force compared to the 500, which frees the back hand to focus on controlling the plunge cut.
Actually, both hand placements are an improvement, providing more consistent plunge cuts and improved control. This is really important given the length of these new dominoes. If you are off in plane between holes, these long behemoths won’t allow the joinery to close. I’ve had the same problem with the 500 but only when I wasn’t paying close enough attention and allowed the machine to sag off the work piece slightly. That ‘sagging’ is usually the only cause of misalignment.
|The new hand positions resolve the issue, and now as long as I’m applying significant pressure to the front hand, the machine feels ‘locked’ down.
I also like that I can see the bit doing its thing. While you can’t actually see it plunge into the material, just being able to see it gives me a bit more confidence. You also don’t have to break the machine apart to change the bit. It makes it easier if you do, but I was able to make a change without taking off the front handle/table assembly.
The XL maxes out at 70mm deep, half the exact length of the 140mm dominoes. I had to use the 100mm dominoes because my mortise-and-tenon joint ate away a half inch (12-13mm) of depth.
The new XL offers two mortise widths versus the three widths available on the 500. Given the specialty nature of the XL, I expect this will be adequate; I found the 3MM oversize a nice amount of play when assembling the doors. I chose to bore a tight hole in the rails (horizontal members) and use the oversize hole for the stiles. This gave me a little wiggle adjustment between the three rails to accommodate any slight discrepancies in my markings, as well as allowed for adjustments for keep things square.
To adjust the width of the mortise you switch a lever (see photos, below).
Another improvement over the 500 is a easy-to-view display of the mortise width adjustment, right on top of the tool.
If I had a bunch of doors to do, I might set up a story pole to be precise about placement, especially for heavier exterior doors where strength is more of an issue.
I discovered a few other tidbits during my introductory evaluation. First, let’s look at the positives.
|The indexing pins on the front of the machine called ‘stop pins’ can now be locked up and out of the way.
There are now six stop pins, which provides a lot more options for spacing mortises, which is handy for quickly setting up repeatable cuts on a variety of projects.
|And when you don’t need them, just push them up and they’ll click out of the way.
|You’ll find the depth of mortise adjustment is different too—on the XL there’s a lot more settings available so you can dial in the exact depth of cut.
As I said before, it’s easy to remove the motor from the fence. In fact, it’s a little bit like the Domino 500. You use the same technique, with the wrench, but in this case you lift a lever that’s on the base of the fence (see photos, below).
Of course no review is good without a gripe or two. The doors I built were 1-3/8″ thick, standard thickness for interior doors—which is just under 35mm. Naturally, I wanted my mortises in the center of that dimension, at about 17.5mm. Unfortunately, you can’t dial in a custom mortise location based on the thickness of your stock. Like it’s smaller brother, hard stop settings are 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 40mm.
I’m not a big fan of pre-set depth adjustment settings. Either what you want isn’t available, or—as happened in my biscuit-jointing past—vibration or an accidental drop knocks off the adjustment setting just enough to ruin the job. The good thing about the XL is that the stops are ‘positive,’ they won’t move accidentally.
|To dial in the exact depth I wanted, I used a 2mm spacer placed under the faceplate of the tool set at 20mm. This put me .5mm off but it was close enough as long as I marked all the tops of the parts.
I admit I did a little rough handling test of the XLs friction lock for the height adjustment. Like I said before, the lock held solid. But I’d still like to see a micro adjustment device here, similar to a router, given the precise nature of the tool and how accuracy affects the success of the joint. Especially when—like in this example—you have a domino going through a secondary tenon and alignment is critical within that tenon.
And while I’m on a rant, given that this machine excels at door building, why not have centerline stops for 1-3/8″ (17.5mm) and 1-3/4″ doors (22mm)? Just sayin’.
But all gripes aside, watch the video below and marvel at an awesome machine, one that effortlessly cuts the most precise mortise pocket known to man. Visibility and seeing your layout marks is superb—same as the 500, which makes placement a snap.
Once I had all the holes cut and dominoes in place, I test fit the whole assembly again. Of course, this is when I discovered the depth loss in the mortise hole due to the height of the stile-and-rail tenon (you don’t think I figured that out before I made the cuts, do you?).
Once satisfied with the fit of all the joinery, I disassembled the whole door again and started the glue up.
|I don’t use a whole lot of glue. In fact, I don’t apply any to the panels, so they’ll float and move. I apply a small bead of glue along the bottom of the tenon on each side.
The reason for this is squeeze out. These are stain grade doors, and glue wreaks havoc on stain grade. In this application, less is more. You should have a little consistent squeeze out on each seam. Nothing more. Let that squeeze out set up for an hour or two then carefully chisel or scrape it away while it is still a little pliable but not runny. When it comes time to finish sand the doors, you’ll be glad you waited.
And when you clamp up, be sure to have clamps on both sides of the door to create opposing clamping force. This keeps the clamp from pulling the door into a bow or a belly. Also, use a straight edge to insure your assembly stays flat. Adjust your clamps as needed.
Additionally, I lay full-length strips of 1/8-in. plywood beneath the clamps, to protect the door—which also makes sanding a little easier. It takes quite a bit of force to get everything tight with all that joinery going on. You don’t want to dent up your work with the clamps.
Allow setup to dry overnight, and enjoy a frosty beer while you watch the glue dry. If you’re inclined, fondle the XL a little more and marvel at its magnificence. It just saved you a ton of time. Once the glue has dried, unclamp and cut off your stile horns with the track saw, sand out imperfections and glue joints, then set up a router for hinge mortising.
While sipping a brew, I got to thinking of other ways the XL could benefit my operation. We’re a custom door shop, first and foremost, so anytime I’m building a door from scratch there’s no doubt the XL will have a part in it—for building doors, this unit is a phenomenal time saver. In fact, you could even build doors right on a jobsite, like our grandfathers did. Wait a minute…how did they do that without a Domino XL?
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Watch this bonus video on Making Doors with the Domino XL, featuring a brief introduction by Gary Katz: