There are only a handful of tools available to the average woodworker that can make an immediate and substantial difference in the quality of a finished project. A good miter saw, a classic router bit, or a fine hand plane; each of these tools can help turn a pile of lumber into a better display of craftsmanship. A vacuum press is no exception.
A vacuum press gives you the opportunity to use some of the finest woods available. Many of these species are so rare and valuable that they are unaffordable in solid lumber. In other cases, the wood may be too unstable to use in lumber form. By veneering those types of logs and burls, wood movement is controlled by the adhesive and a substrate like plywood or particle board.
Ultimately, the question is how to get the wood veneer to cure flat on the project panel. A vacuum press does the trick and now it does it easily and affordably.
After a year and a half of serious trial and error, and another year of updating and improving, I offer this free plan for building a vacuum veneer press. Make no mistake... this is a heavy duty, durable, and reliable piece of equipment. If you follow the instructions carefully, the press will last for as long as you enjoy the art of veneering.
Most of the veneering books and articles I have read are just too complicated and are geared toward proprietary materials and equipment. The construction method found in the JWW vacuum press article uses standardized parts that can be found on the Internet and at your local hardware store.
I wrote this article to show that you don't need a mega-buck setup to build a professional-level veneer press. I hope you'll agree. I'm always looking for a way to simplify and improve the system which is why it's under continuous revision. As always, you are most welcome to send me email with your suggestions for improvement.
The Basic Idea
Imagine a giant Zip-Lock bag with a piece of plywood and an exotic wood veneer inside. To adhere the veneer to the plywood you need two things... glue and clamping pressure. The glue is placed on the plywood and the veneer is set on top. The panel is then placed inside the bag and the air from within the bag is removed with a vacuum system.
Vacuum can be achieved in either through the use of an electric vacuum pump (diaphragm, piston, rotary vane, etc.) or with a pneumatic device called a venturi. On the following pages, you learn how the differences between these pumps affect their use in vacuum veneering.
In either case, a pump or venturi is rated by its air flow (CFM or cubic feet per minute) and the maximum achievable vacuum level which is usually referenced as a measurement of "inches of Mercury" or "inches of Hg".
A vacuum press is a very powerful tool that is capable of producing over 1700 pounds per square foot of pressure at full capacity. The actual formula is 1" of Hg equals 70.56 lbs per square foot.
Atmospheric pressure is what makes a vacuum veneer press capable of such incredible strength. When vacuum is applied, atmospheric pressure bears down with exponential force. Not only does this press the veneer onto the substrate, it also compresses the fibers of the materials being glued. As the fibers are compressed, the air inside of the materials is displaced with glue and within an hour, a bond is made.
Three Vacuum Press Options
There are three different types of vacuum press kits/plans that I offer. The first is a system that cycles on and off and creates vacuum by using your air compressor. The specific requirements for the air compressor can be found by clicking here. This kit includes the core parts of the vacuum press that can be difficult to find. The rest of the system is built from parts that you can find at your local hardware store. This kit is known as the Project: V2 vacuum press. These plans are absolutely free and can be viewed with your web browser or downloaded and printed from a PDF file.
The second type of kit is the Project: EVS vacuum press. This version also cycles on and off as vacuum pressure is needed. This kit uses an electric vacuum pump to generate vacuum pressure. The kit does not include the pump but we several affordable models for sale. You might also be able to find a very reasonably priced pump here on Ebay. The Project: EVS kit includes 31 hard to find parts and also requires some additional items from the hardware store. These plans are also free and can be viewed with your web browser or downloaded and printed from a PDF file.
Lastly, we offer two models of "ready to run" vacuum presses which include all of the parts needed to put together a simple yet advanced vacuum pressing system. This kit includes everything you need to assemble the system and takes less than 20 minutes to assemble. We call these kits "Excel 1 and Excel 5" vacuum press systems. These two continuous-run systems are capable of handling several types of vacuum-assisted woodworking tasks including vacuum pressing veneer, vacuum clamping, and vacuum chucking.
Each of these kits are available now through our Ebay store.