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.

A resaw to put meer mortal efforts to shame

Check out this picture of Chris Vesper with a veneer resawn from a plank of Australian Red Cedar.  The veneer is between 1mm and 1.2mm thick, so also very accurate.  The resulting flexibility gives one all sorts of ideas for potential products. Read the original article here.

Resaw!

The blade in this case was apparently a 2TPI Tungsten Carbide Tipped blade. Unfortunately, according to Chris, you need a bandsaw with good diameter wheels (>2′) to minimise fatigue-initiated breakages.

Thanks to Chris for permission to use this photo – it was too impressive a resaw not to feature it here as well!

Laminates and Veneers

A few years ago when I was making my entertainment unit using pine veneered onto MDF (at the time it was what I could afford, and meant I didn’t have to do massive amounts of joinery to get the large panels I needed).  At that stage, the company I used (Australian Wood Panels) had an impressive array of veneered panels you could choose from – jarrah, blackwood, walnut, pine etc etc – about 10-15 different timbers.

It seems in recent times they are now primarily limited to raw MDF and ply (and melamine), and you have to order in the veneered panels (I’m talking about 1200×2400 veneers, not something you can do in the shed with a vacuum bag, or an iron!)

If anyone knows where a decent range of veneered panels on different cores can still be sourced, I’m sure there will be people interested in knowing.

Entertainment Unit

An old photo of the entertainment unit from years ago – at least 6 years ago, if not more.  The unit wasn’t completed in this photo – still had the doors to go (all raised panel for the 4 lower ones, and glass for the 2 display cabinets) (and I don’t think I ever took a photo of the unit completed).  It is now scattered around the house – the two side modules are still there, but the TV when upgraded to a plasma no longer fitted, so the central module is now in a different room, and the TV itself is now in the shed!  (Even the digital camera used is ancient – 0.3MP)

In the (old) shed, during the build

Boy, some of these photos go back!  Back to the old shed days when I still had plenty of room in it! Triton Workcentre there in the foreground, GMC lathe in the background.

Assembly and finishing

Back in the days before I had grass – the back yard was sand, and that’s my dingo asleep beside the blue rubbish bin.  As you can see from this photo, I finished as I went, so areas that were going to be hard to get a decent finish on after assembly were pre-done.  All finished with a jarrah stain and Ubeaut traditional wax. The sides, and shelves are pine veneered MDF, the fronts are solid pine (so I could rout detail into them, and for added strength for hinges etc.  I mush have done a pretty good job of the build as the cabinets are still going strong.

Ideal Tools Furniture Making Courses

I’m now booked onto a Furniture Making course at Ideal Tools over in Williamstown – the Hall Table course.

Hall Table, Example from Course

Hall Table, Example from Course

I’d have liked to have done the chair course, but I am committed on (most) Saturdays, and I could make good use of a good looking hall table. Given some of the masterpieces that come out of that course, I’m a bit nervous that my woodworking just isn’t at the same standard, but I think it is more a reflection on Terry who runs the course (and has some fine woodworking quals under his belt to boot) that such awesome tables get made on the course. Ideal Tools and Terry also source real quality materials based on the requirements of the course attendees, and you obviously have extra motivation to make something stunning, when working with quality, beautifully featured timbers.

Example of a chair from the course - Terry's Exploded Demo Chair!

Example of a chair from the course - Terry's Exploded Demo Chair!

The chair making course results in one chair being made, and all the jigs needed so that you then have the necessary knowledge and skills (and jigs) to build additional chairs needed at home. Imagine having guests around for dinner, all seated in your stunning, handmade chairs.  And that you know they have been made to your standard, with superior joints and materials in stark contrast to many commercial chairs out there that look ok, but are made from cleverly stained pine, and have dodgy (simple and cheap) joinery methods.

The other course I am booked onto is the Domino Techniques course – sounds like a lot of fun!

Festool Domino

Festool Domino

The Krenov-inspired cabinet course is being developed, but will be late this year/early next year to make sure that it is fully ready, so that is something to look forward to. I’m hoping that a workbench course will get developed at some stage too – I’d queue up for that one!  It would be a pleasure to have a beautiful, yet completely functional workbench in the shed.  Irrespective, I am definitely keen to try the Krenov cabinet course.  Krenov’s furniture style may not suit everyone, (if I build one it will be finding a home, probably in the shed where it would become the home for my HNT Gordon Planes, Colen Clenton square, and Chris Vesper tools), but there is no question that it is fine-furniture, and that many techniques and lessons in furniture design can be gained from creating such a cabinet.  Personally, I think my collection of Australian handcrafted handtools would be ideally displayed (and used of course) in such a cabinet!

Krenov-Style Cabinet by Terry Forgarty

Krenov-Style Cabinet by Terry Forgarty

Perhaps most spectacularly, is the courses are run in Ideal Tools stunning Festool showroom/workshop, which I am REALLY looking forward to getting into (and I’m going to hide all their crowbars, as once in they will find it bloody hard to pry me out of there!)

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A bit of resawing

For the wood show, I wanted to demonstrate what having a good resaw fence can do for your bandsaw.

Single Roller MagFence

Single Roller MagFence

Using the single roller MagFence, set less than 1mm from the blade (a lot closer than you see in the photo, and I also used a different blade to the one shown), I tried cutting a veneer from Tasmanian Blackwood.

Cutting a veneer

Cutting a veneer

Think I got a pretty good result.  The match is included just for a sense of scale.  I used to do it by eye only, and getting a 3-4mm thick veneer I felt was a pretty impressive result.  Being able to easily resaw a veneer as thin as the one seen here is pretty startling!  And it was simple to maintain the cut width because of the fence.  It is not just veneers that can be cut either – splitting boards in half to have bookmatched panels is as easy.

The single roller is particularly useful because of the bandsaw’s tendency to track, so the operator needs to guide and steer the workpiece to compensate.  Having a fence controlling the width of cut makes this significantly easier.  The other secret is to ensure your blade has good tension.  Running the blades too loose is a very common fault, and results in a poor cut, wandering, and bowing of the blade causing a curved cut.

Gettin’ Ready to Fly

Just been putting together the bits n pieces I will need in Brisbane over the weekend for the Timber and Working with Wood Show.

Spent about 1/2 the day in the shed making some jigs to take, and got most of what I wanted done.  Got to try out the single roller MagFence on the bandsaw for resawing, and I was very impressed.  Not only with the MagFence itself which worked perfectly, but also how much easier having a single point of contact fence made resawing.  I was slicing veneers that were under 1mm without any problem at all.

Also got to give coving a try for the first time (actually, it is probably the second time, but when I tried it on the Triton many years ago, I got so much flex out of the blade that I widened the aluminium track significantly!)  Always interesting to try out new techniques, and it went without a hitch (with my new jig of course!)

In building that jig, I also used a dado blade to create the um – what is that slot called – oh yeah, a dado! that takes the track.  This time it was the economy Carbatec set, and despite its weight (being solid disks), the 15A power supply for the saw did what was required and it ran without a problem (last time I tried before I got some decent power to the shed, I was left in the dark with the circuit breakers all popping!)

So a successful day, and plenty of new things tried as well.

One slight hiccup – I contacted the airline because their documentation said something about magnets, and despite these not being strong (relative to a magnetron, or what they quote as “a strong magnet”), I can’t take any MagSwitches with me, even if they are switched off.  You can post them (airmail), but not fly with them yourself, even in checked baggage.

Anyway, I best stop mucking around on the computer and get some rest – have to be up at 4am to get to the airport!

Edgebanding Melamine

I’ve been working on a drawer unit for the drillpress (from an idea I got from Professional Woodworkers Supplies).  The basic plan can be seen in a podcast/video recently (the sketch), and I have since completed the unit (the subject of another video around here somewhere – coming to an iTunes store near you shortly).

I’ll have another post with more details tomorrow.

As part of the construction, I decided to use melamine (to fit in with the Pro Drill Press Table). Of course, once you cut melamine, you are left with the core showing (either particle board or MDF, depending on the cost), so covering that is definitely required.

You can buy iron-on melamine edging typically from where you buy the melamine itself, and it isn’t particularly expensive.  It has a heat-activated glue on the back, and that is where the household iron comes into play.

Iron-on Melamine Edging

Iron-on Melamine Edging

FWIW, the same technique is used when using veneered sheets – edge banding in all sorts of different timbers can be purchased.

Here I have cut the edging slightly oversized (lengthwise).  The banding is already wider than required for the project, so that makes ironing it down easy (when hot, the banding can slip and move easily, so it would be easy to end up with the banding not matching on an edge if you were not careful).  Once stuck down (I use the iron up pretty hot, with steam turned off), it sets in a few seconds.  You are then able to trim the banding to the final size.

First, I trim the ends to length, using a sharp hand-plane blade.  Next, I run the same blade down both sides of the melamine to cut the banding to the right width.

Plane Blade

Plane Blade

I use a slight shearing action, so rather than chipping at the banding, the action is slicing.  I also always do the stroke towards the body of the melamine (rather than up towards the edge), to prevent any tendency of the banding to break out.

Slicing Action Along the Edge

Slicing Action Along the Edge

This I find produces a very clean cut, and flush finish.  There are actual edgebanding trimmers available commercially, but I find this process very quick and easy anyway, and produces a finish that would rival the commercial version.  I tend to hold the blade flat against the side (as seen here), but have, on occasions, held it at 45 degrees to produce a chamfer on the edge.

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