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Tool review: Biscuit Joiners

These handy tools make joining boards a snap, but only a select few do the job with maximum accuracy and minimum fuss.

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Shop Test: Biscuit Joiners

If you're looking for a power tool that quickly and accurately joins two pieces of wood, get a biscuit joiner. Among the many joints these machines help you tackle: edge-to-edge, end-to-edge, and miter-to-miter. Biscuit joiners have been around since the late 1960s and continue to help craftsmen create strong joints held with pressed-wood biscuits and glue. We tested six popular machines, and here's what we found.

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Craftsman 17539/ Ryobi JM82K

These tools are nearly identical except for the shape and position of the front bale (handle) on the fence. Both models performed about equally in all aspects. Plastic inserts in the center of the fences have helpful alignment markings, but these inserts seem flimsy and could easily break. Both machines feature a vertical motor that places the pistol-grip trigger about 4" above the blade--elevating the point where you control the tool--and makes plunging the blade awkward. It's too easy to tilt the machine when plunging and accidentally widen the slot. And the 8-tooth blades prove a little harder to plunge into wood than the 6-tooth blades on the other models. They're also the heaviest tools in the test at nearly 8-12 pounds. Dust collection proved among the best with both models.

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DeWalt DW682K

The DW682K proved accurate in every cut we made, with spot-on slot placement and biscuit fit. And it has a smooth plunge action. The lightest tool in the test at just under 7 pounds, it feels nicely balanced with a comfortable grip. Still, it has a few issues. Mitered cuts require the auxiliary fence spacer, and two retractable antislip bumpers on the nose add little grip to a board, letting the tool slip sideways during a cut if you're not careful. Dust collection proved good, but a square port on the base would be tough to hook up to if you lose or break the included plastic adapters for the dust bag and a shop vacuum.

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Makita 3901

This lightweight, nimble tool works great for cutting slots when referencing from its base, and it has a smooth plunge action. But the fence's cam-action locking lever moves the fence out of parallel with the blade when you lock it down. As a result, we had a tough time making accurate cuts when referencing from the fence, regardless of the angle. The turret depth stop spins so loosely we accidentally bumped it to the "max" setting when making a vertical cut, and cut slots through our test board and into the benchtop. You'll get better dust collection using a shop vacuum than the bag. Finally, the slide-style power switch proves less comfortable than triggers on the other barrel-grip machines.

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Porter-Cable 557

With the most comprehensive depth-stop settings, this machine cuts slots for multiple biscuit sizes as well as for metal knockdown fasteners and specialty hinges. It makes accurate cuts whether using the base or the fence for reference, and it's easy to quickly set the fence angle and height. Coarse sandpaper across the full width of the nose prevents any slippage when making cuts. If you want to use face-frame biscuits, switching to the smaller blade is a breeze, and there's a molded storage spot in the case for the blade you're not using. Because the 557's fence has no support in its center cutout, you have to clip on a plastic adapter when working with boards narrower than 3-34 ". Dust collection proved its only (minor) setback because of a too-small chute that clogged with chips when using the included bag.

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Triton TC9BJM

Another tool with a smooth plunge and dead-on alignment when referencing from its base, the Triton also has a comfortable grip. But the powerful 9-amp motor is overkill; its bulk makes this tool feel clumsy. We found the right-angle fixed fence cumbersome to set, and the scale inaccurate, and if you want to store the tool in its plastic case, you have to remove the fence--losing any accurate setup you had gained. Its blade cut sloppy slots with burnt walls; that leads to poor glue bonds. And the antislip nose bumpers do little good. A tight dust chute impaired debris collection, even with a shop vacuum attached.

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