Biscuits: Like ‘Em or Lump ‘Em?

Biscuits: Like ‘Em or Lump ‘Em?

In the last issue, Rob wondered if it’s true that biscuit joinery is declining in popularity – and asked for your opinions.

Some people had some philosophical thoughts on the different joinery options. – Editor

“Did you ever think what it might be like to have the cars of today if we didn’t have the first Model A’s and Model T’s and build on that and improve each year’s models and get the cars we have today? It just seems like, to me, that we put down biscuit joiners when that product gave us what we have today by refining and bringing us different ideas that help us to do something better. Maybe it was not the greatest product in the world and some people didn’t like it. That didn’t make a difference in other people refining that product or bringing along something that we could get that was a better product for joining wood. Did we have the table saws and drill presses 50 years ago or even a few years ago that we have now? No, we didn’t, but the improvements come along with time. So biscuit joiners were great for what they did when they came around.” – Ron Davis

“I think we are a nation that follows fads.  When I started woodworking, the way to join two boards on edge was on the shaper with the interlocking joint.  Then the new thing was dowels, then biscuits, and now the Domino cutter with floating tenons. Norm [Abram] introduced  many people to the joy of woodworking, which was wonderful as schools were dropping woodwork in droves.  It’s like the county newspaper editor told me years ago, ‘but it sells papers.’ Seems everyone at the bottom of it is selling something. That’s what keeps the show on or the magazine in business. Even you are always selling something. But let’s all enjoy the show or the read and learn together.

“For me, there are times that the biscuit makes sense, but if I can use a mortise-and-tenon or a floating tenon made with the matchmaker (or the vertical router table), that is the way I go. I still think the interlocking shaper joint is my choice for joining two boards edge to edge. But, after all that, sometimes I just joint the edges and glue them together edge to edge. I looked at the Domino machine, but decided against it as it is just too expensive for me and I wonder how long it will last and if it is then too expensive to repair.” – Charles Grauer

“I have been wondering about biscuit joinery and if it has been supplanted by something, too. I like the technique and I have used it. Recently, I have been using Kreg pocket joinery simply because it is fast and can be strong. The type of projects I am building are not really suited to biscuits. I have also seen the Domino technology on several TV shows. I am personally disinclined to make that investment at this point in my woodworking, but I do like the idea of floating tenons. Easy-peasy.

“What I see in the biscuit is that it may not be as robust as the Domino or other joint. Is it suited to use as the main connection for a table apron, for example? I also think that the magazines that we all use have emphasized other methods. I still think it is quick and excellent for building up a table top. If you have a biscuit joiner, why buy a Domino for this kind of task? I have also used biscuits to strengthen the banding on bookshelves. After more than 15 years, I see no sag in those shelves.

“I just think that Kreg and Festool are promoting their tools and technology more than Porter-Cable, for example.” – John Walters

“Biscuits aren’t in decline, they are just a different shape these days. The Domino joiner has become the biscuit joiner du jour. It is a different shape and may or may not be stronger, but they are basically loose tenon joints. When I first got serious about fine woodworking, the biscuit joiner was the latest and greatest thing. If you owned a Lamello biscuit joiner, you were top dog. The rest of us had to settle for something else. Now, the Domino is just this generation’s biscuit joiner.” – Robby Wright

Some are big fans of the Domino jointer. – Editor

“I switched to Dominoes. Better alignment and stronger joint.” – James Denford

“Dominos for me.” – Don Grant

“I can speak as one that has a biscuit machine and a Domino. Since buying the Domino, I have used the biscuit machine less and less. I originally bought the Domino DF 700 for the very large Dominos as I was building a dining table for my cabin out of 12-in. logs and needed the largest size they made. I liked it so well that I bought the DF 500 as well and use it on most projects. I’m 62 years old and the 700 is a little heavy to
be using all day.” – Kris Jones

“I use biscuits, but it has become more and more seldom, especially since I have the Domino jointer system. It’s not that they are any less accurate since that is a function of the user, but they take a larger entry point. As for dowels, they are far more difficult to get done accurately and they just don’t provide the accuracy of Dominos or biscuits. I feel that the Domino joiner has a lot more to offer in ease of use and accuracy that either of the other two. Yes, it has a greater startup cost, but the quality of the joint is significantly better. The equipment also offers a better way to do the cutting process as well, and I can get that much closer to the edge without fear of having the cut exposed as happens at times with the biscuit.” – R.L. Hoyle

While others prefer other methods of joinery – or mixing it up. – Editor

“Dowelmax produces precise alignment of joints and strong, stable and durable unions at a cost far lower than competing doweling tools. Biscuits getting stale. Thanks for another useful survey.” – Steve Schwid

“Several years ago, I purchased a biscuit jointer but rarely use it. Apparently, it was more of an impulse buy for me… I feel like other methods seem to work just fine and push me to use more of the skill levels I have learned over the years. My biscuit use will now be limited to times when my wife and I make up a batch of country gravy in the kitchen.” – Greg Little

“Biscuits vs. dowels: I look to the wood industry, I see dowels used almost totally. I felt from the get-go they were inferior, if not maybe just a lark. I know that some people like them, but my 70-plus years of woodworking has always favored the ‘old standard,” and I’m sure that will not change. Why chance it?” – John Schmitt

“I’m using pocket-hole, clamps, screws and glue. I know that the pocket-hole people say that glue isn’t necessary but, what the heck, glue’s cheap.” – Larry Taylor

“I prefer ‘real joinery’ like dovetails or mortise-and-tenon. Dowels, I don’t care for, because you’re adding a dissimilar material to the joint that will react to conditions differently. Think of any old piece of furniture you may have seen; they usually fail at the doweled joint. That being said, my main use for biscuits is to reinforce miter joints on picture frames. Since it’s engineered to expand to fit the slot, it eliminates the problem with cutting for splines and is a much easier process. There’s my two cents!” – John G. Eugster

“It seems to me as if different joinery methods go in and out of vogue. I, for one, cannot imagine spending the money it costs for a Domino machine. I use biscuits, but I often use splines for long joints because they can make a very solid joint I can depend on (usually out of 1/8 -1/4 inch ply). I also use a doweling jig from time to time if I am doing a join that benefits from everything being centered (happens in cribs and other furniture items). So, for me, it just depends on the application. I try to think my way through the problem and often use what looks best. On a door frame, I may use biscuits with a mitered corner, but on the door, especially if it needs a ‘country’ look, I may use a mortise-and-tenon on the corners just to ‘break it up a little’ (my wife would say just to show off a little or prove I am not a one-trick pony). It’s all good.” – Dr. Steve Gardner

“I have a biscuit cutter and have used it on a couple of occasions with limited success (a large mitered frame with biscuits in the corners ‘let go’). No doubt my technique may be to blame. Most recently, I opted for a spline in a shelf-top glue-up and was very pleased.” – Jayme Johnson

“In my humble opinion, pocket-hole joinery has taken over. I do use biscuits occasionally, but a lot more pocket holes, in particular Kreg.” – Patrick Darrigan

“Like you, I like biscuits in the morning, and sometimes supper, too. That said, as a method of joinery, I like it when constructing boxes from plywood material, like cabinet carcasses. Otherwise, I often find it less convenient than other methods for most of my uses.” – Christopher MacDonald

A couple of people were definitely anti-biscuit. – Editor

“I think that the one thing more than others that has scared me from using biscuits when I could have is that I heard that they swell. That certainly can cause a problem in joining.” – Jack Abbott

“The answer to that starts with ‘Duh!’ Well-known fact: biscuits have little or no strength, and their sole use is to keep edge-joined boards aligned. Therefore, there is almost no such thing as a biscuit joint. It’s an edge joint.” – Barry Saltsberg

While, for others, the love affair with biscuits continues. – Editor

“I think biscuits are a great idea. I especially find them useful when aligning and gluing boards edge to edge for tabletops. I’m currently finishing a small bedside table commissioned by my granddaughter, and I used biscuits in assembling this piece of furniture. The alternative would be doweling which, to me, is inherently inferior as a method, although they have their place. I do like dowels for certain applications, such as joining tabletops to the base for their decorative appeal when using contrasting wood. In this table, the wood is white oak and Siberian elm, lighter colored woods per her request. The dowels are walnut.” – Sim Galazka

“I still use biscuits, especially for long pieces, seems much easier to line up during joining. Bought a cheap cutter some years back for one project; I have found a number of items that I use them for and am waiting for the cheap cutter to wear out.” – Dave Meggers

“I have a standard biscuit jointer and a mini-jointer. I use biscuit joints often, mostly when edge gluing boards and when I need to strengthen miter joints. I also use them to pre-assemble face frames for cabinet work because I can make the face frame square before I attach it to the cabinet carcass, which may be slightly out of square. I find them to be easy, reliable and inexpensive. I would not use them as a substitute for a mortise-and-tenon joint. I think we sometimes get caught up in the enthusiasm of a new ‘toy,’ usually at some expense and little advantage.” –  Bob Lane

“I love biscuit joints – to me, they are easy and fast.” – Dwight Doane

“I still use biscuits, not only for the joint strength, but also for keeping the boards aligned.” – Tom Boland

“ I have a biscuit jointer and have been using one for many years with very satisfactory results. I have no reason to go out and buy another type of jointer and discard a perfectly good biscuit jointer. I see the new Domino type jointers being used on the woodworking shows that I watch, it would be interesting to see a side by side comparison test on the strength of each joint. Also, I am a senior woodworker and can’t justify the cost or the change of a tool that is perfectly good at doing the task.” – Jim Whip

“Biscuit joinery may be on the decline; however, I have not noticed it in my shop. I have used a biscuit joiner in my shop for over 15 years. I have found
joints I have constructed intact and very much successful. I find them much more successful than standard or dowel glue joint construction.” – Edwin D. Henry

“Biscuits are very helpful in leveling a multi-board glue-up. They may even add strength to the joint, which really is not required. Their use is limited so why spend the dollars.” – Michael Luciano

“I still use biscuits as they offer more versatility for my projects.” – Elvin G Miali

“I guess I am old-school. I still use biscuits for keeping boards aligned when gluing panels and anywhere needed to hold parts.” – Ed Eldridge

“I’m just a hobbyist woodworker. I love my biscuit joiner and will continue to use it without hesitation. The other systems may be very good, and I may try some of them someday, but I can wait.” – David Wheat

“Still using [biscuits] with a 15-year old DeWALT joiner. Works well, except for the rare moments when I go ‘biscuit blind’ and insert them in both sides of a joint. Go ahead, tell me you’ve never done that!” – Bob Adler

“I use them when making barnwood picture frames. The wood is heavy and the frames are large, so biscuit joinery is really important.” – Terry Chalk

“I still use [biscuits] on all my edge gluing projects. They work fine and I am not going to buy another tool to do essentially the same thing.” – Ralph Cosh

“Love ‘em’! I own a Porter-Cable plate jointer with small FF biscuit feature and use all sizes of biscuits, especially the 20s. In fact, I just recently purchased a bag of 1000 after the bag I had for a couple years ran out. I use them for everything from cabinet making to picture frames to small kids’ chairs. Never had one fail yet, as far as I know.” – Dennis Grant

“I use these to help in the alignment of long pieces of material. I also use them when I don’t want visible fasteners. Mitered corners can easily be reinforced with a biscuit. Do they do everything? Heck, no. However, they are a fast and inexpensive way to solve problems and situations in the shop. You will have to pry my biscuit joiner from my cold, dead hands.” – Ron Popp

Posted in: