Sometimes craigslist.org is a breeding ground for grifters and over-priced used products, but every now and then an amazing opportunity comes along. That was the case last weekend when I searched the For Sale section on the hunt for a vacuum veneer press.
There isn’t much to a vacuum veneer press, but a good one with high-quality parts and features can costs a lot of money. It’s comprised of a motorized pump that attaches to a thick plastic bag with a hose. Turn on the pump and its sucks the air from the bag. Whatever’s inside – typically layers of wood ready for lamination – compresses as the pump pulls all the air from the bag. In woodworking this tool is most-often used to adhere decorative veneer to curved or flat surfaces with glue. The sealed bag holds the veneer tight to the surface of your substrate as the glue dries.
Before I drove off with my new tools I talked with the shop owner for nearly an hour. He gave me a tour of the 30,000-square-foot cabinet shop where he spent the better part of his life creating magnificent furniture and interiors. At one time, he said, there were 40 people working there. He told me about his first big job – a billionaire’s media room in Aspen – which he charged $1.3 million to complete. I heard a story of back in 1974 when he invented the first-ever automated TV-lift; that’s the thing that makes a TV rise and retract from a media cabinet. He charged $500 for it, but it cost him $7,000 to engineer and build. Didn’t matter though because it got him bigger and better jobs and allowed him to acquire more and more tools, like the one I was buying.
The kit that I purchased was the smallest of nine vacuum veneer press kits he was selling off. And those were just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment that would soon be plugged in at someone else’s shop.
It was hard to miss the sadness in the owner’s eyes as he said goodbye to his lifetime of work. But as I talked with him that morning and told him about what I planned to use it for – making decorative skateboards and mousepads with highly figured veneer and marquetry – I could tell he was a small bit satisfied that at least this tool would live through another interesting adventure.
This weekend I get started putting it to good use with a colorful batch of veneer I recently acquired. Have a look at some of the patterns I assembled for my next batch of projects.