Domino, Doweller or Zeta

This is an old video, and the text below was originally posted as a blog post on the old website. As I mentioned in AWITW 149 I did this because I could go into more detail in a blog post than I could in the video description on YouTube; it was a short-lived experiment, but I thought I'd repost a few of these for you here, as the information contained remains valid. Let me know what you think! Peter


Direct Video Link - https://youtu.be/m78BZHu-uuA


In this video I look at the three best portable jointing systems on the market, Festool's Domino, Mafell's Doweller and Lamello's Zeta P2, with the emphasis on the Mafell Doweller as it's a tool I've only just got my hands on. I also share my reasons for not buy it originally, instead spending more for the Lamello, despite the consumables being (considerably) more expensive...


Highlights:

  • These three are all excellent machines, so the differences between them will come down to personal preferences and needs, as much as anything.

  • No seriously, the Festool is the cheapest one in this lineup; well, 'least expensive' perhaps.

  • I'm a long-term Domino user, so I tend to compare all other systems to it; these are just personal preferences, and I would always encourage people considering any significant tool purchase to try the tools out for themselves,

  • I used talk these machines in MDF because that's what I mostly use; others have said that the Mafell performs better in MFC, and certainly all the Mafell videos show it being used in MFC.

  • Using the Lamello and the Doweller at the same time reminded me just what a great idea the Festool removable power chord is!


Health & Safety Notes:

All wood dust is hazardous, so be sure to take appropriate precautions; I recommend using dust extraction/collection with all power tools

Your safety in the workshop is your responsibility; treat tools with respect and if you feel at all uncomfortable carrying out any operation, stop!


Related videos:

10 year of Domino P1 https://youtu.be/7oxd2Qnvyw0

10 Years of Domino Part 2 https://youtu.be/OJaVpnCfcLc

Domino follow-up https://youtu.be/u212fH426v8

One handed domino https://youtu.be/qQzqwTkRrHk

Dominos at 20mm centres https://youtu.be/6pKY9soOJ1I

Clamex or Connect https://youtu.be/TzOAwo3vpqI

Zeta first job https://youtu.be/0AnErNRpA18


Festool's Domino

I bought a Domino as soon as they were available,here in the UK as I could see straight away how useful it would be; what I didn’t see, or appreciate at the time, was just how flexible and versatile it was. This is something that I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I get to experience other jointing systems.


Out of the box the domino can cut mortises 4,5,6,8 and 10mm thick, as shallow as 10mm or as deep as 28mm, and in three different widths. You can line them up to make a bigger loose tenon, or join the slots together and make your own.


A standard Domino going into a wider slot affords a degree of wiggle room during a glue-up that is absent from the Mafell or Lamello; the Domino is a precision tool that lets you work loosely, which is invaluable when you’re working hard and fast. The height adjustment on the fence is free-moving, and there are depth pre-sets or common thicknesses of materials, marked in the full thickness of the material. Maximum height of the fence is 40mm.


Is it perfect? No; the knock down ‘connect’ fittings look like the afterthought they are, and at £1.60 per fitting are expensive. And ever since the Domino came out there have been requests for the dominos to be lightly bevelled at the to aid insertion; this is starting to happen, but only just.


And then there’s the annual price increase for essentially the same tool - good for residual values, but not great when you think that the Domino you buy today is virtually identical to my ~11 year old one.


I know Festool get dinged for being expensive, but it is the least expensive of the three tools shown here, and it will keep its value very well; I would be astonished if I couldn’t sell my Domino for what I paid for it 11 years ago, and after 11 years of professional use , that the closest you’ll ever get to a ‘free’ tool.


Mafell's DuoDoweller DDF40

The original duo-doweller launched around the same time as the Domino and it had a lot going for it; standard dowels are as cheap as anything and widely available, and the range of 8mm dowel-type knock-down fixings is vast. But the original had an odd fence arrangement that seriously restricted its usefulness. The latest version of the Duo Doweller, the DDF40, resolves all the original issues and ticks plenty of boxes.


The fixed fence is gone and in its place is a well engineered rack & pinion fence that locks in place firmly, and folds back, making it possible to put fixings in-board onto the face of a workpiece e.g. for a fixed shelf in a wardrobe or shelf unit. This also means that, combined with the 32mm bit spacing, the doweller can be used to drill shelf pin holes without any expensive accessories - just swap the bits out for 5mm, and use a cheap plastic spacer. Of course, Mafell will always be happy to sell you an expensive accessory, and there are a few to choose from that make life easier for the fitted-furniture maker e.g. guides to offset the dowel holes if the shelves are inset, and an accessory that allows for accurate duo-dowels in narrow stock - a problem that the original couldn't handle at all.


You can have two pre-set depth stops now, which makes life easier when working with uneven hole depths e.g. a 40mm dowel in an 18mm board would need a 15mm/25mm plunge, and this is easily accommodated by a simple side switch. Changing bits is easy to do - the side switch also acts as the bit-changing selector, which locks the machine in the bit-changing position and cuts out the power switch - and bits are available from 3mm to 12mm; combine a 12mm bit with the 40mm maximum plunge and you have a machine that's capable of light joinery duties, not just cabinetry.


The height presets on the Mafell fence are marked as the height at which the centre of the dowel will be drilled, and the adjustable fence has an impressive maximum height of 60mm.

In use I found the doweller slightly harder to use - possibly unfamiliarity, but the plunge action in particular definitely required more effort than on the other two, and I've had this confirmed by a couple of people who have the Mafell, and it was also from them that the comment was made about it seeming to be much happier in MFC than MDF.


Lamello's Zeta P2

Possibly the most niche of niche products, this 'fancy biscuit jointer' carves a curved T-slot to take the proprietary Lamello fittings. The machine is expensive, and the consumables easily the most expensive here, but they perform the job extremely well. My main experience has been with the Tenso and Clamex fittings, and the Clamex in particular are outstanding, albeit on the pricey side at around £1.20 per fitting.

The zeta cutter can be changed for a regular biscuit slot cutter - I must look at the manual sometime - if you really needed that function, though an alternative is to keep the cutter the same and use Lamello Bisco connectors instead.


The Zeta P2 is a beefy machine - probably the heaviest of the three - with a hefty 'hewn from the solid' feel to it. The height adjustment on the fence - a totally separate 90 deg sliding fence - is unique amongst the three machines, but works flawlessly and accurately, to a maximum height of 50mm, albeit with the downside that there are no pre-set stops for material thickness.


While I haven't owned the Lamello for that long, it has become my go-to machine for cabinetry, and also for other aspects of the business - they are outstanding connectors for mitres, for example - and the longer I own it the more I'm sure I'll find other uses for it, including in combination with Dominos.


Again, this is not a perfect machine - you need special fittings to connect 12mm board to 18mm for example, and the fittings are physically large, so no good for narrow stock e.g. the serving tray I featured recently was too narrow at 80mm, for a clamex or tenso connector. But used within its capabilities, it's an extremely good solution, albeit to a relatively small set of tasks.


In conclusion

I said in the video that I'm not about to try and tell anyone which of these is 'best' - best for me isn't best for you, and you need to decide that - but I do have personal preferences, and having used all three of these machines extensively over the last few weeks in particular, I think the Domino offers a combination of versatility, ease of use, and yes, price of both the machine and consumables, that the others can't match. The only sticking point really is that what you buy today is essentially the same machine that I bought all those years ago - just at a higher price.


The Lamello is a fine machine, but expensive, and very specialised, and the cost of consumables is high and with no alternatives that's not likely to change. The Mafell is well made and versatile with cheap consumables, but a little more awkward to use, and some of the versatility (shelf pin holes etc...) may be lost on you if you already have systems in place for that.


And I have to say that working with/swapping between all three of these machines has really made me appreciate the Festool removable power chord - it's amazing that something so small can really make such a huge difference!


About those pre-set depths...

It does seem to be common amongst tool makers - German in particular - that they have a 'different' set of requirements for material thickness pre-sets; Festool was criticised when the Domino first came out for not including an 18mm preset- a situation that remains unchanged - and the Mafell has pre-sets at 9.5mm and 6.5mm. All three machines sat on their base put a hole or slot in a board at 10mm centres from the base. Perhaps 20mm boards are common in Germany, but it seems a little odd to the rest of us.