Vacuum Frame Press/Assembly Table

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Blog entry by Ger21 posted 03-14-2012 03:21 AM 16772 reads 3 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Since it may be another 2 years before I finish this, I can’t really post it as a project, so it’s going here.
I’ve been using my Joe Woodworker vacuum bag and press for about 10 years on and off, and have done a lot of veneering with it. (See my kitchen in my Projects). But I’ve always wanted to build a frame press, to make it easier to do larger parts, and make sure my veneered panels were flat.
At the same time, I’ve also always wanted an assembly table, as I tend to build everything on my table saw (it does have a 4×8 outfeed table, but it’s hard to cut with parts on the saw).

I finally had the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I started with a torsion box in the fall, but didn’t take any pictures. It’s about 40”x90”, and about 4” thick. It’s all constructed from 1/2” MDF, with maple trim, and plastic laminate on both sides. I thought it was coming out pretty flat, building it on my Unisaw and extension table. But in the end, one corner had about 1/8” of twist in it.
Fortunately, I have access to a 5’x12’ cnc router at work, so I took it in and surfaced both sides perfectly flat. Well, not perfect, but within about .005” anywhere I set a level on it.

Once the top was ready, I started on the base (probably backwards to most). I started with a stack of 2×4’s, and resawed them all into 3/8”x3-1/2” strips. Then laminated them into thicker, flatter, and more stable pieces, clamping them to the torsion box to get 1 face very flat to start.
Everything is assembled with loose tenons.
I don’t like building simple “square” stuff, so I came up with this design, with tapered legs. I cut the tapers and some of the mortises on my homebuilt CNC, but the angled mortises on the inside of the legs were done with a drill press, and cleaned up a little with a chisel.

Now, the beauty of building the torsion box first, allowed me to glue up the base on a perfectly flat surface. It was assembled with epoxy, which gave me a nice long working time. Since it was being painted, all the joints were smoothed with a thickened epoxy mix. Base paint is Rustoleum hammered silver.

I made leveling feet using hockey picks and carriage bolts, with coupling nuts epoxied into the legs. These let me level the table on my terrible garage floor.

The frame is made of laminated Bubinga, sealed with shellac, then lacquer. Joe Woodworker supplied the polyurethane sheet. I used a single gasket in a dado in the frame, 1/4” thick and 1/2” wide. It only extends about 1/16” below the frame, so it won’t get crushed flat during use.
My garage is a mess, so this is the best pic I could get. I haven’t even finished it, and I’m already storing things under it.

Now, my plan is to have cabinets inside the base. But I wanted something you don’t see every day. I had an idea to make the drawer front on the CNC, carved to look like rippled water.
I needed a place to mount the new vacuum venturi pump, so I figured I’d make a sample panel for the end, and mount the pump to it. Here’s what I came up with. The panel is 20”x30”, btw.

It’s 3/4” MDF. I roughed it out, and sealed the whole thing with epoxy before the finish routing. The epoxy eliminated the need for any sanding. It was ready for paint, right off the CNC. Paint is blue Hammered.

Now, I was using a harbor freight venturi with my bag, as it was only $10 when I originally built it.
I was going to upgrade to one of the better JWW venturis, but as luck would have it, he was out of stock last month. Some Googling and Ebay searching found me a pair of Vaccon venturis for $25 each, and a pair of MAC valves for $10 more. For the price of the JWW venturi, I now had the components for a dual venturi system. With dual venturis, I figured I might as well go for dual reservoirs too. I used two switches so I can turn one venturi off if I’m using the pump with a small bag.

I used instant fittings for their clean appearance, and tried to build everything as compact as possible. This is the end result.

I just got it working tonight, and so far so good. I think I need to get a new gauge, though, as I salvaged this one from my old pump. The venturis are supposed to be good to 28”Hg, but I can only get about 24 in the reservoirs (with no leaks), and about 23” attached to the frame. I think I’m actually getting more, and my gauge isn’t accurate.
These venturis are so much more efficient than the old harbor freight one, that the two together use less air, and are about half as loud as the old single one.

I still have to mount the panel to the base. To keep the clean look, I’m going to screw some cleats to the base, and attach the panel with 3M vxb tape. It’s very sticky, and very permanent. It’s expensive, but I got some for a decent price on Ebay a while ago.

When I have some time, the front of the base will have about 16 drawers, with the fronts making up a large rippled panel. I’ll be making a duplicate end panel at the same time.

I can now veneer panels up to 36”x84”, and when I’m not veneering, the hinged frame leans against the wall and gives me a nice big assembly table.

-- Gerry,

4 comments so far

View 559dustdesigns's profile


633 posts in 4663 days

#1 posted 03-14-2012 10:04 AM

Wow this is one sweat setup man, thanks for sharing I love the rippled panel that’s just too cool.

-- Aaron - central California "If you haven't got the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?"

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 5377 days

#2 posted 03-14-2012 12:17 PM

Show off.

Wow Gerry, this is an incredible build. I really like the flair that you have used. I never seem to do that. Sharing the table with storage and assembly is a fantastic idea.

I hope you are able to increase the vacuum – a better guage would be an ideal solution. I am sure you will be able to solve it.

That is really nice. I am looking forward to the next installment.

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Ger21's profile


1100 posts in 4626 days

#3 posted 03-15-2012 02:27 AM

Thanks, Steve.

The gauge is definitely bad. I attached the panel to the base tonight, and set the switch to 22”hg. Turned it on, and let it cycle a few times, then turned it off. When the gauge read 1”hg, I still couldn’t pull the frame up. At that time, I pulled a line from one of the venturi’s, and air was still rushing into the cylinders for several seconds after the gauge read zero.

I do have some minor leakage, but it may just be leaking through the wood frame. I sealed it with 3 coats of shellac, followed by 3 coats of lacquer, but it’s hard to tell. One last thing to try is to seal the screw holes at the 4 hinges in the back. That’s the only thing I haven’t done, and I’ve been crawling all over it listening for leaks, and can’t here a sound anywhere.
I’ll post an update when I get a new gauge. I better get it quick, as I’ve got some veneering to do. :-)

-- Gerry,

View Ger21's profile


1100 posts in 4626 days

#4 posted 03-16-2012 01:42 AM

I got the panel mounted to the base. I might even do some test veneering this weekend.

-- Gerry,

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