Civilization: a thin veneer over barbarianism

John M. Shanahan

And there is one truth with all veneers: the last thing you want, is a veneer to be painfully obvious. And that means how the veneer is attached is vitally important.

So why use a veneer at all? Isn’t it just a huge cheat, for the woodworker, and for the recipient?

That really comes down to what is done, where and why. There are many reasons why a veneer is a good choice. Sometimes where a timber is in too short a supply to do the job otherwise, or so vastly expensive as to be prohibitive otherwise. If you are doing a large pattern -bookmatched tabletop for example with multiple leaves, then veneer is a definite way to achieve the multiple bookmatches required to achieve it.

Some items only come in a form that must be attached to a substrate to use it, and again, they have to be attached well.

So how do you clamp down a veneer when you are gluing it?

Some people use a pile of bricks, some a screw-press arrangement (similar to a flower press). Me? I intend to use the significant weight of air. And a significant weight it is too, yet surprisingly easy to harness, and manipulate to create an even distribution of pressure over a whole surface, even complex shapes, perfect for gluing a veneer.

It is harnessed by drawing a vacuum – nature abhores a vacuum as they say, and even by creating a partial vacuum, nature attempts to crush it out of existance.

Carbatec sell a simple vacuum press kit, by Roarockit. You may have seen the kit on numerous occasions without realising what was hidden in a plain box – the veneer of cardboard hiding the power of the contents.

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Inside is a strong plastic bag, that can be closed at one edge with a very sticky seal. There are two sized bags available in a kit form (which contains the sealing tape, pump etc), and can also be purchased as additional or replacement bags as required. I preferred the square version- still significantly sized at 26″ x 28″. There are much bigger as well – 36″ x 52″

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Veneers are not just for gluing a flat piece of figured timber to a plain core stock. It can also be used to create bent forms, by gluing multiple veneer layers together, and bent over a form.

In this example, it is the simplest version: a flat veneer glued to a core of MDF. I didn’t actually use any glue, or softening agent for these photos. (Veneers buckle easily, especially veneers from burls)

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A plasic netting is laid over the top of the veneer, inside the bag. This prevents any pockets of air from preventing a full even pressure over the whole surface.

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With the bag sealed shut, a simple hand pump is used to evacuate the bag. You won’t get all the air out- machines that can achieve a near perfect vacuum cost 10s of 1000s more than the $99 this kit cost, but that is not necessary. Even pumping out a small amount of air quickly results in the external air pressure crushing in, squashing the contents together.

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For a small investment, this kit is a real asset in the workshop, and can be used to make easy work of what can be very complicated clamping situations. Create a vacuum, and let nature do the rest.

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