traditional staircase with wedges

How to build a staircase with a Festool

Building a staircase with a Festool Domino Joiner is something I have been criticized for as a mad Idea. But I thought it could be done with good results so I went ahead and built one. Read and find how that went.

A traditionally built staircase is best!

Traditionally a staircase would have treads housed into a stringer with wedges and glut blocks at the back. Personally, for a traditional staircase, I feel the old method is better.  You can’t argue the traditional method is very substantial but equally, it does take a lot longer to build a stair than a domino doweller.

The Domino is a Compromise

I think the key thing to remember is that a domino is a great machine when you want to build a staircase quickly. This machine can produce a staircase and a very short period of time.

A basic staircase

A staircase is a simple thing made up of wooden components. A basic staircase would comprise of two strings which contain timber treads that we step on and risers that prevent our feet from sliding through.

The tread and the rise are housed in the string. Traditionally the housing would be cut with a mallet and chisel. Some of the material is first removed with a brace and bit.

These days we use a jig and a router with a straight flute cutter bit.   The woodworking brand trend makes a nice staircase router jig for cutting the housings in the string.

I hope you enjoy our blog but if you decide to purchase this machine with very much appreciate if you could click on the link below to purchase  Via Amazon. We receive a small commission and it doesn’t cost you any more. We have a lot of faith in the Festool Domino and use it for many projects, we are sure that you will find the Festool Domino machine to be a great addition to your tool Arsenal.

festool domino xl df 700 top-1200-678The Festool domino vs traditional method

I’m not here to try and persuade you to invest in a  Festool Domino DF 700 or it’s baby brother df 500. But just to explain what the machine can actually do and how good it is for this purpose. I hope the information here we’ll help guide you in making a good decision.


Stair backs and the domino

Where the domino comes into its own is when you want to create an open back set stairs or a set of stairs which are viewable from the back.

I’m not going to say that this is the replacement for traditional staircase construction but is something you could consider for simple flights of stairs. I feel it does lend itself to open back staircases because the back of the staircase looks as good as the front.

It is possible to make staircases with risers and treads. But the assembly of the staircase is more complicated as you’re trying to align up so many dominoes it comes difficult.

Sometimes traditional Joinery works out for the best.

Alignment of the Domino’s there’s another reason why in some cases you will be better off using a traditional housed string because although it might take longer to make the housings it’ll be a lot quicker to put together.

Assembly can greatly be improved if your timber is machined well and you’ll string are perfectly straight.

This might sound odd but If your strings are not perfectly straight assemble the string and the treads so the string is bending outwards. The reason for this is that you can work from one end and because it’s a curve there will be a natural distance between the string and the treads. You will have to force and to  use more clamps but this will give you the clearance but you need to be able to align a Domino’s tread by tread.

CNC staircase construction

I speak of building traditional staircases with jigs and routers but there is another way. Like the big staircase manufacturers, we too can utilise the benefits of Computer technology. CNC is the modern, way of manufacturing staircases designed on the computer. Dedicated CAD software is used to make the design which is sent to the CNC Machine.

You can purchase CNC machines for little money from china. Serious stair production will require substantial equipment as material removal from the string housing is a lot. For the occasional staircase, the Domino or a stair jig is a good compromise.

We make our own  Festool dominos

Please note that I make my staircases with Domino’s that I have made in the workshop, not the Festool dominos which you can buy off the shelf. I choose to make my own because I can choose the correct timber for the job. I’m not keen on beech domino jointing or beech dowel jointing. I feel that they rot very easily as I’ve a very short grain so it’s lateral strength is not as good as Oak.

Glue for staircase joinery

I recommend you use hardwood glue such as Cascamite powdered resin wood glue. I have a video on how to mix it.

PVA glue, in my opinion, would be too soft and flexible. With the movement of the stairs in use, the treads could move away from the string causing a gappy joint.

If the function is more important than athletics or then this problem doesn’t really matter.

A traditional glue that is used for the glut blocks on a traditional stair is animal glue.

Choosing the right glue for making a staircase

As you know cascamite would be my glue of choice period I used this powdered resin wood glue for the majority of my woodworking projects. but I do understand that this clue is not always available in all countries. you may have to use PVA, animal glues or polyurethane glue. There are others but they are a little Obscure.

Here are some Glues that are suitable for staircase construction that you can buy on Amazon.

Butt joining threads too strings

If I did have one gripe the festival domino df 700 order df500 is that it is designed for butt Joinery. Butt joining is ok provided that both mating surfaces are a perfect fit with each other. What I mean by this is that both surfaces meet 100% parallel, also that the timber used is stable and not twisted.

Stable timber for staircase construction are timbers that do not change much with the environment. Beech is a very stable timber.

If all these criteria are good then there’s no reason why your staircase should not be joined perfectly. The butt joining method should not be noticeable. The only problem is if it does not meet the criteria above the likelihood of the joint between the Tread and the string being perfect is unlikely.

If you except this criteria then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t build a staircase using the Festool domino machine.

Better suits the workshop

In a workshop environment building a staircase in a traditional fashion is reasonably quick and easy. Especially if you own a large router and jig system.

Festool if building a rapid staircase

If you are on-site and need to build a flight of stairs then the domino is a quick solution. I have built a few staircases using the domino DF 700. In all cases, it has been a good strong job.

The Festool domino jointing system.

If you’re looking for a timber jointing system that is quick to set up and use. The Festool domino jointing machines are ideal for many tasks.

I loved it so much I bought the company!

I own the Festool domino df700 the large one and I use it for most of my jointing tasks. when I first bought this machine I really didn’t realise how versatile it is.

What is the domino jointing system?

I like to think of my Festool domino df700 as a biscuit joiner on steroids. The concept of the carriage is similar to the biscuit joiner. This machine is revolutionary and has changed the way that I work.  Unfortunately, the Festool domino has dominated the market. This is because the machine has strong patents. Sadly the machine is too expensive but what choice do we have if we are to benefit from its design.  I bit the bullet and bought my Festool Domino DF  700 over two years ago. Actually it has been over four years now so that’s another two years of experience with the Festool.

Festool accurate alignment pins

The Festool domino has some nice alignment pins which are retractable. These pins help to position the machine without even putting the pencil to the timber. Providing that you position the machine on each piece of material at the same point you can guarantee that the domino mortises will align.

The ease of use of the domino system has made the production of mating mortises extremely easy.

In the past, if I was to choose to make a joint  I would have to spend some time marking each piece of timber. It may sound trivial but as an accumulative time costing on repetitive tasks, the domino jointing system is efficient.

It is so simple to use you just have to align the pin against the edge of One Piece of timber and do the same on the other.

Well, it is Festool!

Sadly it is very expensive for an electric hand tool. There are some alternatives to creating the same kind of joint. But they are not quick in comparison.

The Festool quality says it all

Festool maybe a little bit pricey but the quality of these machines is second to none. I can’t deny that my domino is very well machined and designed.

Germany is known for quality engineering

Festool electric tools which include the domino joiner DF 700 is built in Germany and the quality of build reflects it’s origin. I don’t own any other footstool products other than a pencil but that is my girl to increase my Arsenal offers till machines.

Festool Domino is easy to maintain

All moving parts are bushed. The machine easily comes apart for maintenance and lubrication.

Building a staircase with the Festool Domino Joiner

Some carpenters and joiners May dismayed by the idea of building a staircase with a dowelling system. but I have to disagree because I have already built a few staircases using this machine and they are very very strong if done correctly.

Setting out a staircase for the domino Jointer

Measuring for a staircase

like any staircase you want me to take measurements of your rise and you’re going. The rise is the distance between floor to floor. the going is the distance horizontally that you will travel.

stair rise and going festool
stair rise and going Festool

A staircase is only a triangle

When visualising your staircase think about it as a triangle. the going and the rise when placed at 90 degrees to each other we will form a triangle

This is the basis of a simple staircase or the basis for stairs going to or from a  half landing.

How tall should my individual rise be?

As a rule of thumb try to maintain a rise of around 200 mm or 8 inches. this is a good all-round average but try not to go over 210.

Elementary Stair  Rise

So logically to find out how many risers you’re required for your rise measurement. it is clear that dividing The Rise by 200 millimetres will give you the number of risers. Once you know how many risers you are likely to need to divide that into your total rise. this will give you your ride height for each individual step.

Total Rise: Total distance between each floor.

Total going: Total distance travelled from start to end.

This may seem a little long-winded but it does get you there in the end.

Dog leg Staircase

Staircases come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes and no less popular is the Dogleg stair. The dogleg is a stair pattern that can be the answer to a limited stair going. The name Doglegged comes from a visual representation of a dog cocking a leg. The dog leg stair does not need to be a simple right angle but can also leave the landing from any available face. 

Using a jig

There are many jigs available for making staircases often made by trend tools. I do not know of any jig that is designed for use with the domino joiner DF 700.  This is why I make my own Festool domino staircase jig. It’s not difficult it’s nearly a guide to aid with the machining of the mortises.

Building a staircase that is against a wall

If your staircase is to be mounted against a wall then your job is much easier. The reason for this is because one string the one that goes against the wall doesn’t have to be cosmetically pretty because it will be hidden against the wall.

Easy staircase assembly

In the example video, you will see that is exactly how I built the staircase. It was really easy as my first stage was to cut all the Morrisons in one string and then glued and clamped each tread with the Domino’s in place so basically, we had a single string with all the threads attached.

The opposing string was simply because I could go from the outside of the string straight into the Festool domino machine. The tread on each and every rise I could drive along domino from the outside straight through into the tread. This made the alignment much easier. The excess length of the domino was sawn off afterwards.

Building a staircase where the strings are both visible.

If you have a staircase that is not against the wall. So you can see the string on both sides of the staircase. Then you will require stopped mortises so that side of the string has no visual jointing.

Domino size?

They should be a minimum of 12 mm if not 14 mm in thickness another round 25 to 28 millimetres wide.

String and tread alignment can be difficult.

This can be a challenge because there are so many Domino mortises. If you consider that every standard tread is of around 9 to 10 inches in length! so each tread can be 230 mm to 250 mm you’re going to need 4 Mortices per end of the tread.

But is still possible

But although I have built one before, building a full staircase using the domino it is tricky. Because the alignment of all those dowels it’s not easy.

If you could consider an average staircase has around 12 treads. On each string there will be many dominos. 4 Dominos X 12 equals 48 Dominos that you will have to align at any one time. That is not including if you have got a rise in place as well which will dictate another two dominos per tread end.

That is another 24 Domino’s on top of the 48 to align. This is not easy and working from one end to the next tapping as you go can be a little bit tedious.

Staircase conclusion

It is clear to me but a staircase construction has to suit its situation. if you are in the need for a fast simple flight of stairs prefer to be without backs. you’d be wise to choose construction via the domino Jointer machine buy Festool. The Festool df 700xl joiner works well with staircases but I do not recommend the df500 for this purpose.  if you have a complicated staircase to build. Such as it has a turn in the run of stairs then I would recommend that you choose a more traditional method of construction.

The domino down has St construction but equally traditional housed string staircase construction has its own place. the Festool domino Excel is a great machine but has its limitations. you as me joiner or DIY person has to make a clear and concise judgement what is the best method for you. We can only advise our own finding and experiences.

Concepts are great in some circumstances but not all.

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