In our Introduction to the Festool Domino piece, we discussed the tool's design and listed some examples of the public response to it. But in this piece, we wanted to do a deep-dive with an experienced designer/builder who knows, and uses, this tool intimately. Mere product hype doesn't last long in a production environment, and if the Domino lives up to it over the long term, we wanted to hear it first-hand from a fellow designer—particularly one with a deep stable of tools from a variety of brands.
Jory Brigham is a California-based furniture designer/builder, and you may recognize him from "Framework," Spike TV's furniture design competition show. We first spotted Brigham's work in 2011, and we certainly weren't the only ones: After making a splash at that year's Dwell on Design, his pieces began steadily making the blog rounds.
A woodworker since childhood, Brigham first hung out the shingle for Jory Brigham Designs back in 2008 and began producing furniture, built-ins, retail displays and custom woodwork for customers as far away as Florida and Australia.
The year before, Festool had come out with the Domino amid much fanfare; Brigham, often up to his ears in sawdust trying to meet orders and with no time to sit in front of a computer reading websites about woodworking, had heard of neither the company nor the tool. Then he spied the Domino on a jobsite being toted around by a fellow builder.
"I didn't even know what it was, at first," says Jory. "But as soon as I saw what it did, it made total sense. And then I was like, 'Oh man—I gotta have this.'"
He picked one up later that week. To say it then found a permanent place in his shop is an understatement; and ironically, over the years this designer/builder who had never heard of Festool subsequently amassed so many of their products—often visible in the background of shop videos he used to post to his blog—that five years later, Festool contacted him and asked if they could feature him in their marketing materials.
(Editorial Note: Brigham is not a paid employee of Festool and has no official affiliation with the company, beyond being one of many American craftsmen they have featured over the years.)
Here's our interview with Brigham:
Jory Brigham: Well for what I do in furniture, there's just so many times you need to join wood together. I mean it's every day, ten times a day. So I really had an excuse to spend the money.
At that point, all I had was a biscuit joiner. I was using it for glue-ups and face frames and picture frames, stuff like that. And picture frames are just such a pain to make with the 45's, so I had initially bought a biscuit joiner figuring "Hey, this'll come in handy!"
No. It's like this—the biscuit joiner was so bad, you try to find ways around using it. There's so much slop in it. Let's take a glue-up—you'd cut the biscuit slots and put the biscuits in there, you'd clamp it up—and it would slide on you. The biscuits gave you that false sense of safety that it would be fine. Then you take the clamps off and find out it had slipped, and it's just not all flush.
Like let's say you're joining a bunch of large stock to make a wider piece, a slab. So with the biscuits you'd glue these pieces up and one would slip up, one would slip down. You run your finger over that seam, that joint, and find it wasn't flush—so you'd have to take a belt sander to the top to get it level, then flip the piece over and sand the bottom to do the same thing. You're losing time and now you're losing material, the piece is no longer as thick as what you had planned for.
Oh, man—now I don't even dry-fit it. With the Domino the glue-ups come out perfectly flush. You don't have to sand that material down to even it out. It ends up thicker and it's way less labor. You just do it, and it works, and you don't have to worry about it. You can worry about other things on the project.
Gosh, no, I don't. I remember at first, using it on material that I wasn't going to use, just to try it out and test it—you know, with any new tool you sometimes get a little leery, so you want to try it on something that you won't ruin.
Probably two weeks. At first I still had that paranoia from the biscuits and I was still doing a lot of dry-fitting before a glue-up—you know, putting the Dominos in there and joining it to the next board with no glue, making sure it all fits, and then pulling it out, and then gluing it up. But as I used the Domino more and more, I started to realize that I didn't have to worry about that anymore. And at this point, today, 95 percent of the time I just glue it up without dry-fitting it first because I trust it so much.
I mean it's pretty much a no-brainer. If you hold it tight to the board, then you're good. There is no slop, so less clamping is necessary. And when the boards are joined properly that takes the majority of sanding out of the equation. The bottom line is that it saves me time and saves me work. And less labor equals more profit.
Anything from joining miters to make a box, all the way to making petite, but strong, joints in a chair. And with a lot of my pieces the Domino has allowed me to minimize material around the joint. That means I can now make more delicate-looking joinery without compromising strength. That capability has opened the doors to a lot of possibilities within my designs.
Oh, and another thing: It's even changed the way I shop for wood.
Well, I'm pretty picky about wood. When I go to the lumber yard or the hardwood place, I really want to make sure that the face grain on this board matches up with the face grain on that board perfectly. And a lot of that comes down to if you can join the boards really well.
But when I was still using the biscuit joiner, the tool actually influenced what wood I would buy—I would subconsciously just try to find the widest piece possible. I was like "I don't care how it looks, I just want a wide one" because I didn't want to mess with gluing it up and [the problems I mentioned earlier].
But now when I'm looking at boards, the confidence I have with the Domino opens up these new doors: Thick ones, thinner ones that I wouldn't have touched before, I can buy all these things because I know I can join them easily.
No, that's one thing I'm never worried about. I love what I do, and I love talking about it! Yeah, I'm not worried about that.
I mean I'll be honest with you—on most of my pieces, I don't use any nails, no screws, so I rely just about 100 percent on the joinery. I'm sitting in my bedroom right now looking at this piece I made a long time ago—there's got to be 100 Dominos in it. At every joint, on the legs, the body, the top, the sides, and a lot of times I'll do drawers with little wrap-around on the edge, so I'll use the Domino to join the drawer faces. It's so easy and precise that I just rely on it.
I've even used the Domino for stuff like doing spindles on chair backs.
Or let's take—I'll give you some specific examples—are you still on my website right now?
Can you see [the credenza called] Mack?
Okay, so for that door, it starts off all in pieces, and then I cut out each of the little slits, and then I put it all back together. And of course, that's all Domino. The legs on that, those four-by-fours, all those angles that come up to the 45s—that whole entire leg assembly, I could not do that without the Domino. Then there's the drawer faces, you know, how it has the wrap-around drawer I mentioned before, and of course, the whole body. The inch-and-a-quarter-thick walnut top that wraps around, that's all fused by the Domino.
Let me think. Probably about six years.
Man, not that I can think of. I don't think I could out-think those Germans!
Below is more of Jory's Domino-joined work:
You can see more of Jory's work here.
By the bye, we're pleased to report we've got a full profile piece on Jory in the works: The story of how he got into furniture design in the first place, what prompted him to start his own business, his design process, a combination of lucky and unlucky breaks, and what really went on behind-the-scenes on "Framework." (Hint: TV editors are sneaky with what they do and don't show you.) We'll air the profile after the show completes its run this year.
This article is part of the Core77 Tech-tacular, an editorial series exploring the myriad ways that technologies are shaping the future of design.
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Love this. Jory has been a long time inspiration and it's good to see him getting some exposure here. Love all the work!