Visiting Fein and Festool Power Tools in Germany
Day 3: Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first two "recreational" days of my visit to the Stuttgart area of Germany, today was the day Festool unveiled "the good stuff." Today I got to use their new Domino DF500Q joinery machine, and it is just incredible. It won't be available in the U.S. until April 1, 2007, but here's what you can look forward to when it does arrive: a precision tool that mills multiple-sized mortises for almost any size joint you've got, and then you plug in a solid beech "domino" that is essentially a floating tenon. The dominoes are available in five sizes (from 5x30mm to 10x50mm) and feature grooved edges and faces to allow for glue displacement.
These beauties could make you forget about dowels and biscuits altogether. They combine the strength of dowels and the machining ease of a biscuit joiner, without the alignment issues that plague dowel jigs and the joint weakness of biscuits.
I had a 15-minute instruction on it from a Festool product technician, then went to work on it. Because it's similar in style to a biscuit joiner (it plunges similarly, it has fences and depth stops that are more detailed and precise but similar), it proved very intuitive to me. It works like this: The cutter is actually a specialized spiral router bit that oscillates side to side as you plunge it slowly into the workpiece. The result is a mortise rounded on the ends like you'd get with a plunge router. But setup is so much quicker than a router because of the preset stops and detents that are made to match the dominoes. The best feature on this tool is two independently retractable alignment pins on the front face. With these you can use one as an edge stop and the other just slips back inside the housing as you line up on the workpiece. (Or both retract if you don't need them.)
Using these on mating pieces proved so precise that I did not need to adjust the mortise length, which you can do ever so slightly if you feel you need just a little play for aligning multiple dominoes. Like all Festool tools, the DF500Q attaches to Festool's tool-triggered dust extractor, and it sucks up all the chips and dust. It's a very impressive tool.
Festool officials have not established a retail price for the U.S. market yet, but Christian Oltzscher, president of Festool USA, said the tool alone should be in the ballpark of $700, with the accessories and dominoes extra. He did not venture a guess for the whole system.
While building my small footstool "project" with the DF500Q I also got to try out Festool's two tablesaws that are so unique you can't—and likely never will—get them in the states. These saws are essentially their circular plunge saws mounted to the underside of a table, but with a mechanism that allows you to pull the sawblade toward your workpiece.
I've got to admit it's a pretty scary tool to operate the first time because it's not natural for us American woodworkers to bring the blade toward our bodies. Now you don't have to do that; you can lock the saw in place and push your boards through like usual. But it's this pull feature that scares the puddin' out of the UL folks who decide on what tools can hit the market.
In fact, it's been small, since resolved UL issues that have helped limit the Domino's availability for the last year. Another great idea that Festool has resolved is running their electric cords inside the dust extraction hose, which eliminates the impending tangles and catches you get around workbenches and various corners. But, once again, Festool says the UL won't allow that for risk of troubles with the cord that can't be seen. Still, safety is nothing to just shrug off.
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