Using a Vacuum Press

Every once in a while I pull out a tool that I haven’t used in long time. I bought this vacuum press about ten years ago figuring I would use it all the time making custom plywoods out of exotic veneer but that’s never been the case. I think originally I saw David Marks use one on Woodworks and thought to myself that I had to have one. Even though I’ve only used this vacuum press about four times since I bought it, I’m still glad I did because now I need it.

I make thick wooden letters for my wife Anita. She paints them different colors and sells them in her booth. I usually make EAT which women display on their kitchen tables. The letters are made from 1 1/4″ MDF however, I can’t find a local supplier for 1 1/4″ thick MDF so I buy 1/2″ and 3/4″ MDF and laminated them together. Next month Anita is going to have a booth at a local Shabby Chic design show called Over The Moon in Lawrenceburg, IN. I figured I’d help her out and make more EATs and a few NOELs for Christmas. She sells them for $5 – $6 a letter which isn’t much but they are super easy and quick to make. Plus everyone she sells will help pay for the cost of the booth.

In order to laminate the two boards of MDF, I need the ability to properly clamp the boards together so that they press against each other equally. That’s where my vacuum press comes in handy. In order to maximize the torque of my vacuum press I built a clamping box for it. The box is nothing more than two 3/4″ MDF boards with grids cut on one side and glossy laminate on the other with the bottom board wrapped in a frame. The grids on the top help with air flow as the vacuum is working, and the laminate helps any glue squeeze out from sticking to the inside of the box.

Using the press is quite simple. I spread glue all over ope of the pieces I want to laminate making sure I get a 100% coverage. I get better results only spreading glue over one of the pieces and not both. When both pieces have glue on them, they tend to slide around when I put them in the box.  Once both pieces are stuck together, I place the top half of the box on top of them to act as the press when the air is removed.

I slide the entire box into the an industrial plastic bag with a nozzle on top and use a couple of wooden cauls to close the end of the bag. I then use as many clamps as needed to seal the bag so that it’s air tight.

I then hook up my vacuum press and turn it on for a few minutes to suck out all the air like a gigantic Food Saver machine.

 

You can see how tight the bag becomes once the vacuum starts working. After I’m satisfied with the pressure, I leave the boards to cook for a couple of hours. It’s important to turn off the vacuum and listen carefully for any air leaks that may be present. Notice the orange Jorgensen clamp at the bottom where I had to fold the plastic on top of itself in order to stop a leak. 

After a couple of hours, the boards come out perfectly laminated together. If you’re interested in learning more about vacuum presses, go to www.joewoodworker.com. It’s where I bought my vacuum and all the necessary accessories.

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