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Adventures in Vacuum Veneering #1: Starting Out

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Blog entry by SPalm posted 1681 days ago 3934 reads 3 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Adventures in Vacuum Veneering series Part 2: Pimpin’ the Pump »

Funny how things happen. I was cruising Craig’s List and spotted a guy selling a laboratory grade vacuum pump. I contacted him about it, and could it work for woodworking. He said no, but that he had some pumps that would work. I went over to his house which was only 4 miles away. He had four brand new pumps that he sold to me for $15 each. I found them on the web for $285 each. Woo Hoo. I sold two of them to guys at work, and kept two for myself.

So I had to do a crash course in vacuum pressing. These pumps have two main specs: 27 IN HG which is how much vacuum it can pull, and 3.15 CFM which is cubic feet per minute or how fast it can move air. It turns out that the 27 IN HG is a bit too strong, so I ordered some parts from JoeWoodWorker to add some regulation. I will blog about that when the parts arrive.

Photobucket!

Then I ordered some veneer from eBay. It turns out that there are a few places that will sell it for between $.50 and $1.00 a square foot. Not bad. I am not really looking for exotics right now so I ordered some curly cherry, some African rosewood (not sure why), and some quarter sawn cherry. This is how they arrived. Each flitch of the QS cherry is 6 feet long, beautiful stuff.

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Lacking any idea of what I was doing, I bought a heavy duty shower curtain liner from Bed Bath and Beyond and fashioned a vacuum bag. (It is 8mil thick, actually really nice stuff). I fed a hose from the air compressor through some rubber grommets and threaded it into a block of scrap with grooves in the bottom to let the vacuum disperse. I used a piece of marble as a flat reference, made up a sandwich of cherry+1/2”MDF+cherry topped off with a piece of MDF wrapped in wax paper for a platen. Stuck it in the ‘bag’ and turned on the pump. It worked quite handsomely. I left the pump running for about an hour and then removed it.

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Here is the result. Beautiful cherry and flat as can be.

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I decided to play a bit more. I read that you do not have to use a top platen every time if you use some ‘breather mesh’ so I fashioned some out of a rain gutter cover. I made up a sandwich of rosewood and 1/4”MDF and let the bag do its thing.

Photobucket!

But yikes! The pump was way too powerful and started pulling the glue right through the veneer.

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I removed the sandwich, and wiped down the veneer with a wet cloth. What a mess, the veneer started to buckle really badly.

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So I went back to the platen concept and just smushed it all back together inside the bag. After a while, I removed it and cleaned it up. Not bad.

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I have a lot to learn, but this is really cool.
Steve

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon



15 comments so far

View Blake's profile

Blake

3436 posts in 2476 days


#1 posted 1681 days ago

Yeah, it is!

-- Happy woodworking! http://www.openarmsphotography.com

View Drewskie's profile

Drewskie

53 posts in 1858 days


#2 posted 1681 days ago

Here is a good resource that i use for valves and parts for our pumps, and every thing is very reasonably priced. They also have plans and DIY how two’s for putting to gather auto cycling pumps, parts and vinyl for bags, glue’s, and just about everything veneer related for the beginner and professional. The guy is always adding to his site and inventory.

www.veneersupplies.com

-- I cut it three times and its still to short? www.work-in-wood.com

View SPalm's profile

SPalm

4760 posts in 2484 days


#3 posted 1681 days ago

Drewskie, thanks. That is where I ordered my stuff from. It is JoeWoodWorkers companion site. I ordered the EVS kit. No bag though. I really want to make a press instead.

Is it OK to leave the veneers rolled up like that?

Steve

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Drewskie's profile

Drewskie

53 posts in 1858 days


#4 posted 1681 days ago

I say if its a paper backed veneer yes. But for raw veneer i would store the peices between scraps of melamine or ply and then tape or plastic wrap, this will keep it flat and from self destruction. The veneer will dry out, crack and split. I have also made a fold in a thick cardboard and stored it that way.

-- I cut it three times and its still to short? www.work-in-wood.com

View Drewskie's profile

Drewskie

53 posts in 1858 days


#5 posted 1681 days ago

If your looking for vinyl for a bag most big fabric stores and some hardware stores sell 54” wide stuff by the yard. I think i made my first bag for $15.

-- I cut it three times and its still to short? www.work-in-wood.com

View Karson's profile

Karson

34860 posts in 3003 days


#6 posted 1681 days ago

Steve: I use the highest vacuum pressure that I can get. It sometimes depends upon the outside air pressure. Sometimes the pump will not turn off so I reduce the vacuum switch so that it will cycle on and off. But usually around the 27 LB range. I don’t like the mesh because I’ve found that it doesn’t press the veneer tight to the substrate.

What I do is I’ve covered a 2’ X 4’ piece of plywood with butcher paper that has a plastic coating to keep meat juices from running out of the package. I use the paper coverd plywood as the base of what I put in the bag. The veneer glue doesn’t stick to it very well. I then put the veneer on the lower caul and put my glued substrate on top of it. That way I don’t have to keep cutting cauls that match the size of what I’m veneering. The substrate acts as the caul.

I have most of my veneers laying flat on racks There is some that I’ve never unrolled.

I plan to make an open topped veneer press where I use only one side of a veneer bag because it sometimes becomes a hassle to get all of the pieces in the bag and not have them slide around on you..

Have fun and a great buy on your pump. I bought a 230 Volt printing press vacuum pump that I’ve not hocked up yet. It was new and I got it at a junk yard for $25.00 The current pump I use I got on ebay from a mechanic who was afraid to use it to vacuum the air conditioner lines prior to filling them with freon. he thought it might collapse the line. I didn’t want to tell him it wouldn’t so I could get the pump for a great price.

Have fun, give me a call if you have any questions.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Blake's profile

Blake

3436 posts in 2476 days


#7 posted 1681 days ago

I love that you used a shower curtain.

-- Happy woodworking! http://www.openarmsphotography.com

View SPalm's profile

SPalm

4760 posts in 2484 days


#8 posted 1681 days ago

Drewskie, I’ll check it out. Nice stuff on your website.

Blake :)

Thanks Karson. I really want to make an open topped press too. I have already had enough troubles with the ‘bag’, but we will see.

Do I read you right that you only veneer one side of the substrate? Can you get away with that? Or maybe one side at a time. (?) I do have an application where I want to use some of that cherry on 3/4” MDF, and I am thinking I might be able to get away with only one side. (?)

I’m pumped :)
Steve

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Drewskie's profile

Drewskie

53 posts in 1858 days


#9 posted 1681 days ago

Ya, you got make a “Balanced panel” that means both sides or you risk warpage and frustration, although it dose not necessarily mean have to be the same species. When i do lay ups i usually use a birch or maple backer because its cheaper and its what i’m using on the interior of the cab. On the VG teak kitchen in my projects the panels are sequenced Vertical Grain Teak on the face, un-sequenced flat cut teak on the back, and a supper refined MDF core because its supper stable. Although i must say we did not lay up the 20 some panels in our vacuum press, we had selected the sheet from a local dealer an then we set it all to a mill to have processed.
A frame press is an awesome idea. I suggest making your frame out of something non poris like tube aluminum or steel, fasten the corners and seal with silicone. As for the seal deftly closed cell foam available at most hard ware stores. And lastly make sure you tent up your vinyl so that there is not a lot of tension created by a stretching bag, you will either warp your frame or flex up your platen.

-- I cut it three times and its still to short? www.work-in-wood.com

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 2590 days


#10 posted 1681 days ago

You will enjoy playing with your press. You can also use it as a clamp

I am working on a project right now using my vacuum pump. It’s a lot of fun.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Karson's profile

Karson

34860 posts in 3003 days


#11 posted 1681 days ago

I veneer both sides, Usually, but I’ll do it in two passes of the veneer press, if it’s large. Drawer fronts where I’m going to screw it to a drawer only gets 1 side.

All 1/4” stuff for sure. If I’m putting it in a stile and rail I might only do i side (1/2” and above) I’ve never had any problems with thicker pieces, where they are locked into place.

I’ve only limitedly tried vacuum clamping, but I’ve seen it work at Lee Jesbergers shop. We picked up a piece of Elm 4X6 X 4’ and the vacuum clamp was about 6 Sq inches in size.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View blackcherry's profile

blackcherry

3148 posts in 2425 days


#12 posted 1681 days ago

Neat post Steve its peaking my interest as well. Going to put a search in soon on craigslist for a pump.

View degoose's profile

degoose

6976 posts in 1957 days


#13 posted 1681 days ago

I just use the Roarrockit Kit...

-- Drink twice... and don't bother to cut... @ lazylarrywoodworks.com.au For lovers of all things timber...

View BlankMan's profile

BlankMan

1487 posts in 1955 days


#14 posted 1681 days ago

I picked up one of those Thomas pumps a while ago on eBay. Picked up a compressor tank on eBay also. Mounted the pump on it and machined a manifold for all the plumbing, had it anodized and have the valves, quick disconnects, gauge, vacuum switch, and filter all nicely mounted on it. I pulled 25” Hg when I’m laminating something. I don’t think 27” Hg is too high, but obviously it was based on the glue pulling through. Never had that happen.

Using a tank allows me to get a head start, as I’m preparing the item I turn the pump on, when it hits 25” Hg it shuts off. Then when I’m ready I connect the hose and open the valve, sucks it down in no time. Then the pump cycles on and off to keep the vacuum at 25” Hg. That way I can leave it overnight and it’s not running constantly. The vacuum switch is also adjustable so I can set it to any level I want.

-- -Curt, Milwaukee, WI

View Ger21's profile

Ger21

619 posts in 1733 days


#15 posted 1680 days ago

Steve, great find on the pumps. Welcome to the wonderful world of vacuum veneering.

I personally have never used the mesh. I feel that a caul or platen on top is mandatory if you want to get good panels 100% of the time. You can use pretty much anything that’s flat. I sometimes use 1/8” masonite, and have even taped smaller pieces together to make larger cauls. One word of caution if you go that route. Don’t put duct tape against the veneer, as the thickness will leave a depression in the veneer.

You can get vinyl for bags from JoeWoodworker. I got mine from a marine canvas supplier for a little less. Here’s a source for 20 mil for $7 /yard. http://www.tapplastics.com/shop/product.php?pid=248&

Due to space limitations, I have all my veneer rolled up in boxes. Doesn’t hurt it, but makes it a bit harder to tape up due to the fact that when you bookmatch it, the curls direction alternates. Flat is better, if you have the room. And covering it with some MDF helps to keep it flat.

I’ve been working on some plans for a large frame press/ assembly table. I’ll probably be changing the design a little, but hope to start building it in the next few months.

-- Gerry, http://home.comcast.net/~cncwoodworker/CNC_Woodworker.html

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