Should I invest in a Biscuit Joiner?

avadooneMarch 15, 2011

I a young lady, artist, and hobby collector. In my daydreams I am a master carpenter, among other things. I have built a few things that I am very proud of. For right now I'm just a wanna-be.

Most of the tools I own are either my grandfather's (circa 1950-70s) or used tools I got off Craigslist or yard sales. So this is what I am currently working with: Circular saw, mitre box and hand saw, handheld jig saw, a power drill, and a dremel.

I currently do the best I can with the few tools I can afford. I would like improve on my craftsmanship. I have been watching tutorial videos and things like that. I have seen a lot of use of biscuits. I was thinking about investing in one.

So what do you guys think? Could I use one? Should I use one? Is there a better alternative? Can it be done with a cheap tool or one I already have?

I would love to hear any suggestions :) Thanks

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avadoone

how is it different than a plane joiner?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2011 at 9:39PM
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bobismyuncle

It's technically called a plate joiner. You get a compressed football-shape disk that fits in matching kerfs cut by the machine.

People love them or hate them. I have four machines, so you decide.

I do not use them for edge-to-edge joints. These need no reinforcement and so are used for alignment only. But if you don't get it right, it prevents proper alignment.

I use them most often for T-joints, or what I call "butt and biscuits." I think they make incredibly strong joints for these type of applications. Better than about anything but sliding dovetail or through tenons, both harder to make. I also use them to reinforce mitered joints.

I've made about 40 bookcases using them as well as a number of utility items for the shop, tool boxes, etc. I've yet to have any failures.

I'd recommend reading the book below to assess the capabilities, then decide if it's for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: book

    Bookmark   March 15, 2011 at 10:29PM
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mike_kaiser_gw

Biscuits certainly have their uses but only you can answer the question as to if you're going to make projects that require that kind of joint. They do require the use of a dedicated tool so it can be an expensive investment if you find you're not making those kinds of joints. It's also a tool that can't be used for anything else. There's an old adage that says, "Buy cheap, buy twice." Despite their appearance, there is some precision required when using biscuits. I wouldn't suggest buying a cheap biscuit jointer.

Depending on the kind of work you do, you might consider pocket screws. They can be quite useful in a variety of situations and have the advantage of a lower entry cost and are self clamping. Kreg makes very nice jigs (again, I'd caution you against buying cheap).

    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 9:09AM
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bobismyuncle

Watching too much New Yankee Workshop can be hazardous to your technique. (IMO). Old Norm loves his biscuits.

I know the people at Popular Woodworking Magazine very well. I think they have a good balanced approach to woodworking. Possible exception is they have gotten hung up on Mission furniture and workbenches from time to time. Their recurring column "I Can Do That" is a good tutorial for a beginner. It's designed to be:
- Aimed at the beginner
- Using a few common tools
- Using materials from a home center (Home Depot, Lowe's, Menards, etc.)
- Completed in a weekend

Here is a link that might be useful: ICDT

    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 10:19PM
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HandyMac

I have a big biscuit joiner(#10, #20, and #30 size biscuits)

I also have a mini biscuit joiner(#1, #2, and #3 sizes)

#1 biscuit is about 1/2" long.

I use the heck out of both for one basic job. Aiding is holding boxes and picture frames with miter joints together while I apply strap or band clamps.

Otherwise, there is nothing to hold the pieces together and they slip and slide all over, getting glue all over and making clamping almost impossible.

But, I have a $600 table saw with aftermarket miter guages and home made miter sleds and a digital angle setting guage to set the blade tilt in order to cut the miters. And I make my own picture frame stock with a router table and table saw mounted shaper. And process the wood with a jointer and planer. And then have a oscillating belt/spindle sander to 'sweeten' any angle that is off a smidge.

That means there are several tools you could use much more than a biscuit joiner.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 1:47AM
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Karen99123

When I built furniture years ago, I used a hand held rotator that also had a biscuit attachment you could add to it. I bought it at Sears, other than that I basically had the same type of tools as you. I used the biscuit cutter only on T joints (for face fronts of furniture that used drawers or doors.) I would cut the biscuits a little smaller if the holes did not line up perfectly, but after you cut a few pockets for them it gets easier to be percise.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 10:44AM
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avadoone

I am very nervous about getting a table saw. I ask tool questions and everyone always bring up a table saw! I think I may have to save up for a saw stop. It's the only way I would own one. I am accident prone.

I may try to find a used one cheap and see what kind of use I can get out of it.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 12:16PM
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brickeyee

If you are that scared of a table saw get a band saw.

While they are harder to get perfectly straight cuts on, they are far safer to use.

A biscuit joiner is not a 'getting started' tool.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 10:25AM
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brickeyee

The 'saw stop' is a saw designed for folks who do not want to be safe and use push sticks and pay attention to what they are doing.

It does NOT reduce kick-back, just sticking your hand into the blade.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 10:26AM
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Karen99123

For bigger pieces of wood to cut or cross cuts of boards I use use a straight oAk board for a straight edge and cut with either a skill saw or good jig saw depending if the edge showed or covered with trim. I am scared of a table saw, too. Kick backs are no fun.
Karen

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 2:32AM
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aidan_m

"The 'saw stop' is a saw designed for folks who do not want to be safe and use push sticks and pay attention to what they are doing."

Including myself, I am responsible for a crew of 9 carpenters. We have a total of 87 1/2 fingers.

You must have all of yours

As the boss, it is my legal responsibility to ensure the safety of my workers. Tablesaw kickback can cause serious injury, but most times the person walks it off with a bruise. Hand into the blade, forget it. The medical bills are over $100K for a finger. Times 5 for a hand. A single accident can ruin a company.

Even if I had the arrogant belief that accidents happen to other people who don't care about safety, it is still my job (and state law) to provide a safe work environment.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 8:20AM
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brickeyee

"Even if I had the arrogant belief that accidents happen to other people who don't care about safety, it is still my job (and state law) to provide a safe work environment. "

It is hardly arrogant to think that most of the circular saw accidents happen form carelessness.

No one is putting there hand into the blade on purpose, or is that what you think?

Correct use of push sticks, a kick back presenter (there are plenty of models out there besides the simple spring pawl system) and your hands should not be anywhere near the blade.

The only time I have even had the kick back preventer operate was on some case hardened wood that shifted as soon as it left the blade.
I relegated it to secondary use and even ended up burning some of it.

Folks have used circular saws for how long now?

Do not rush, use ALL the safety attachments.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 10:16AM
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HandyMac

I've spent most of my life using tools of all kinds, from guns to screwdrivers. Jacks that lifted several tons, foreceps that held skin for stitching, table saws, hand saws, power drills---hundreds of tools.

I am scared of one tool---a radial arm saw.

So, I don't use one. Silly to use a tool of which you are scared.

Why? Because your mind is more on your fear than on how to use the tool safely.

Do I need a SawStop? No. Do I want a SawStop? No. Are SawStops a good tool? Certainly.

Safety is as much understanding the tool--how it is made/what it is designed to do/how it can react if misused---as it is about proper use habits and paying attention to what is being done.

I have been hurt by a simple utility knife much worse than by any power saw I have ever used. Inattention.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 4:37PM
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TheoryOfGravity

I'm kind of surprised by all the circular saw fear (other than the guy concerned about liability).

Just be safe and use the trepidation to your advantage: You're not on the clock, you're not distracted by other workers, so just pay attention and act like each cut is one your shop teacher is watching.

I took wood shop in high school. It was an overseas school for military kids, and so many of us took it: guys, girls, officers' kids, enlisted family kids, tall, short, preppy, jocky. Heck, we even had the class salutatorian in there and she was a small band-geek--played the flute. Now that I think about it, a lot of us military kids were band geeks. Anyway... rules:

We had two people on the saw on either end.
Goggles on.
Rip with your hands.
Push-sticks with small pieces.
Keep your eye on your hands.
Keep the pressure on the fence.
All pieces cleared the blade before shutting off.
No pieces were taken off the table until the blade stopped.
Remove your scraps and brush it off for the next user.

That was 23 years ago, and I still remember all that. And not one accident. Not one kickback.

One kid got his finger on the bandsaw and had to go to the hospital, but he was not observing common sense practices.

But really, if you're patient and think with safety in mind, what's the big deal? Once you're wearing ear and eye safety, the loud scariness is not so pronounced.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 2:44AM
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Loose_Screw

avadoone, another option if you are bound and determined to have a biscuit joiner is to get a router with a slot cutting bit. A router is a very useful shop tool and can be used for may purposes. Whereas, a biscuit joiner can only do one thing. Cutting biscuit slots with the router is not as convenient as with a dedicated joiner, but it is do-able, and you will have a tool that you can use for many other purposes!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 1:26PM
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bobismyuncle

A big disadvantage with the router bits wannabe biscuit joiner is they only work for edge-to-edge joinery. There is no way to get a T joint (such as a bookcase shelf), or, unless you make some fancy jigs, a miter joint.

So, as I said before, since I don't use them for that, they would be worthless for me. And yes, I have used one. I helped my BIL do some work on his boat using one and found it extremely frustrating.

Perhaps a better approach would be to buy a used one from a woodworker that got one, never found it useful, hates it, and would gladly get rid of that box of lightly used tool.

>>avadoone, another option if you are bound and determined to have a biscuit joiner is to get a router with a slot cutting bit. A router is a very useful shop tool and can be used for may purposes. Whereas, a biscuit joiner can only do one thing. Cutting biscuit slots with the router is not as convenient as with a dedicated joiner, but it is do-able, and you will have a tool that you can use for many other purposes!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 2:55PM
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