In my last blog entry I describe how as a hobby woodworker I use commercial veneers instead of resawing my own. In this post I wanted to describe my setup.
Veneering is remarkably easy as you only need a few things
- your veneer
- a vacuum pump
- a vacuum bag
- a bottom platen and mesh
I bought my pump, bag and mesh from VenneringSupplies (http://www.veneersupplies.com/). They are also my main source of veneers.
Here is my setup in operation:
For a pump there are suppliers that sell commercial pumps but they are fairly expensive and for a hobby woodworker they are overkill. I bought the Excel 5™ Continuous Run Vacuum Press System. It is the larger sized pump which means it can handle bigger bags and is quicker at the initial extraction of the air. The continuous run part means the pump runs continuously during the pressing process. Other models use extra components that allow them to hold the vacuum and cycle on and off. I was initially concerned about the noise of running the pump for the hour it takes for the glue to cure but they are not really that noisy and with modern veneer glues they set in an hour. The pump comes as a pump and a bunch of tubes and connectors in pieces along with instructions. It took me only about 30 minutes to put it together. Also this model can be upgraded to a cycling system but I haven’t found a need to do that. The pump kit currently costs $424 on sale.
Bags come in vinyl or polyurethane. Vinyl bags are less expensive but stiffer and in theory have greater potential to puncture. Polyurethane bags are very flexible and highly puncture resistant. I decided a 4’ x 6’ bag would suit me as a general purpose bag and the vinyl one was $142 and the polyurethane and was $245 at the time. I bought the vinyl and it does the job for me (I only use my press about 4-5 times a year). However the polyurethane bag is now on sale for $199 and I was buying again that’s the one I’d get. I see David Marks using polyurethane bags and they are much more flexible and easier to work with than my vinyl bag.
Finally there is the platen and mesh. Older videos of veneering show the bag having its inlet on or near the side or underneath. You need to make a platen with rounded edges and then cut kerfs in a checkerboard pattern to withdraw the air. You also need to make a hole in the platen for the valve stem. The kerfs allow the air to be drawn out. For each project you then need to cut top and bottom platens the size of your project. The new vacuum breather mesh makes all this much, much simpler. You use a base platen (I use masonite) but you don’t need to cut a hole for the valve stem and you don’t need the checkerboard kerfs. You then place your project right on it and then place a piece of breather mesh right over your project. The breather mesh then extends a bit off your project to the valve stem which is now on the top of the bags. The mesh allows the vacuum to draw the air out of the bag and acts as a top platen to your project. It is much quicker. I bought one large piece of mech and cut it down a few common sizes. It stretches a bit each time you use it but then when you set it aside when you’re done it goes back to shape.
The new veneering glues are now non-toxic, don’t need to be mixed, come in three base colours and set completely in 45-60 minutes.
As you can see from the picture above, my table saw and its extension table do double duty as my veneering press location. One of the reasons I chose the 4’ x 6’ bag is that its biggest size I can handle. You can of course do a smaller project in a bigger bag. I keep 3 – 2×4 sheets of 3/4” MDF handy and set them up on my saw as a base. then I unroll the bag and then insert a Masonite platen. I made two – a 3’ x 5’ one for big projects and a 3’ x 3’ one for smaller projects.
This setup works great for me. It was cost-effective (total cost was under $600 before glues and veneers) and works great. I’ve been extremely happy with it.