Should I buy a good tool or a great tool?
February 18, 2008 7:45 PM   Subscribe

[WoodWorkingToolsFilter] Nice biscuit jointer, or really nice biscuit joiner?

So I have a little woodworking project lined up for our bedroom and for this project I'll need to pick up a biscuit joiner (or more accurately, a plate joiner). I'm a bit of a tool slut so I have no problem justifying purchasing another tool, especially one I don't have and can use again down the road. My problem (and the reason for this post) is that I have a fetish for nice tools. I am something of a dilettante with regards to tools, and I definitely appreciate the qualities that separate a great tool from the ranks of its perfectly-fine-but-not-distinguished brothers and sisters.

In this case, I am trying to decide between the DeWalt DW682K and a Lamello 101252 plate joiners.

The DeWalt seems like a decent tool, is well reviewed on Amazon, and is a reasonable $150 or so online.

The Lamello is $400, is supposed to be precise to .00000", and apparently people see Jesus when they use it.

This is a tool I will be using a few times a year, but for many years to come. The practical side of me says the DeWalt will be fine, but the tool fetishist in me says "buy the best damn tool you can afford, and it will be a pleasure to use every time you use it."

So...what to do? Does anyone have any experience with either tool? Or any opinions on the matter?
posted by mosk to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go for the gold. Ten years from now you will be glad. Always buy up on long term items like a tool you might use for decades. Even more so if you are a tool slut. I'm one; I know. I have a few awesome tools that I broke the bank on when it was tough, and now when I use them it is like sipping nectar, cuddling into a warm bosom.....
posted by caddis at 8:11 PM on February 18, 2008

I've used both of those (well not those models precisely, but a couple of DeWalts and one Lamello) and the Lamello is indeed much much nicer. In general I endorse buying the nicest tools you can get your hands on (I love my Inca jointer) and once you have a biscuit joiner you'll use it much more than you expected - they're great for carcass and face-frame cabinetry. On the other hand, I own a Porter-Cable biscuit joiner that was about $200, and use it often and with pleasure.
posted by nicwolff at 8:25 PM on February 18, 2008

maybe try to make it more objective: more powerful? more options? what's in the box? whose warranty is better?

that being said, a tool you will have for a decade or more.... the difference in cost is going to come down to a few tenths of a penny for each use, so throw cost out as an issue altogether and just buy the one you consider "right" or the best....
posted by chasles at 8:39 PM on February 18, 2008

If you don't get the Lamello, you'll have to turn in your Tool Slut Membership Card. I'd try to hang on to that membership, if I were you.
posted by jeanmari at 9:05 PM on February 18, 2008

Just as a word of caution. My father-in-law is a tool slut as well and he raved on and on about the Lamello. After purchase he used micrometers and all sorts of tools (he is an engineer by trade) to check the accuracy. He wasn't happy and claimed it didn't live up to his specifications and returned it. He was obviously disappointed in the quality of such an expensive tool. I don't know if he received a lemon or if he's just entirely too critical. I imagine it's more of the latter. That said, I think he is on to something. As long as you verify the tool is quality out of the box and maintain the tool properly over it's life, you should never have to purchase another (especially considering the limited use it will receive).
Good luck!
posted by mcarthey at 9:07 PM on February 18, 2008

I personally don't understand why you have the DeWalt at #2. You mentioned Amazon reviews. The DeWalt only gets 4 stars. Both the Porter Cable and the Makita get 4-1/2 stars. The one on my wish list is the Makita. I'm a "bang for the buck" guy, though - not just getting the one that will impress my neighbor the most.
posted by spock at 9:25 PM on February 18, 2008

The beauty of the biscuit system is that's so forgiving - that's why it's all but replaced doweling. I think a lot of tool accuracy with biscuit joiners goes wasted. Spend a little extra time at setup and a little less money on the tool.
posted by klarck at 10:38 PM on February 18, 2008

Well biscuiting is forgiving along the biscuits' axes, but if the plate moves while you're cutting slots so that they're different distances from the edges, then you end up with a lip and no easy way to fix it. It's not so important that the slots be, say, exactly .375 from the edge - but if they're .378 from the edge of one piece, they'd better be .378 from the edge of the other! So the machining and design of the plate transport actually matters a lot.
posted by nicwolff at 10:57 PM on February 18, 2008

Like spock, I wouldn't choose the DeWalt; I'd go for the Makita or PC. You already know that any of these will do the job you need to do, so this is really a question of how much the Lamello turns you on, and whether you can afford to indulge your fetish. I can tell you that the Lamello is considered a luxury tool even among professionals.
posted by jon1270 at 3:28 AM on February 19, 2008

I purchased the DeWalt or something that looks an awful lot like it in 1995 (I think). It is straightforward and has been rock solid reliable. The settings are fairly obvious so I haven't had to hunt around for the manual except in doing some oddball joints. My biggest complaint in 12 years of ownership is that it kicks a little bit on startup, so if you need to be aware of that and be sure that your piece is clamped down and you've got two hands on the saw.

I love plate joinery and end up using it to substitute for dadoes in a lot of my projects.
posted by plinth at 5:52 AM on February 19, 2008

I have not used those two tools, so can't help you compare between them. However, as a fellow tool-fetishist, my rule of thumb is that if it is a tool I will be using all the time, I buy the good stuff. Occasional use (like a few times a year), I get the cheapest option that will produce acceptable results. If things change and I start needing to use that tool all the time, I replace it with something better; that hasn't actually happened often.

So I have a nice Dewalt circular saw because I use it an awful lot, but my reciprocating saw was a cheap one that was on sale, and has given good service the few times I have needed to use it -- but if I had a big project where I would be using it all day, every day, I would go and buy a good one. Similarly I have nice pliers, but cheap bolt-cutters; a nice hammer, and cheap files. Where I have violated this rule of thump, I have usually regretted it -- I bought a cheap and crummy lawnmower, and regret that every time I use it, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:27 AM on February 19, 2008

mosk, I'm jumping forward a bit without reading all the other answers - but have you taken a look at Festool's Domino? It seems to be an improvement on the biscuit joiners of old: stronger, more adaptable. I came across Festool several years ago and just fell in love with the quality and interchangeability of the tools. It's an option you might want to consider. The only downside I see is that the "dominos" themselves are proprietary - I'm not aware of generic versions yet, so wandering down to your local Home Depot when you're just one short of the right piece will probably be out.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:50 AM on February 19, 2008

Thanks to everyone who has replied so far. I exchanged email with a friend last night who is also a wood worker, and I was surprised to learn that he had a Lamello plate joiner and was happy to let me borrow it for my immediate project, which should give me enough time to see if I want one for my own or if I can "get by" with a less expensive model.

Also, after reading more of the reviews, I am going to take a closer look at the Makita, which is rated a bit higher than the Dewalt. Still not sure I "need" the Lamello, just that I really, really appreciate working with a good quality tool.

Finally, Bora Horza Gobuchul, you opened a huge can of worms with that Festool joiner :-). What a sweet system...that's hundreds of dollars over my budget for this tool! Damn you! (Shakes fist...checks wallet, sighs...shakes fist again.)

Thanks, all. I'll update this topic with best answers and a conclusion once I finish my project, which will be in a couple of months. But I definitely appreciate the input.
posted by mosk at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2008

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