Adventures of the garage-shop veneer press

Sometimes 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.

Vacu Press

Craigslist score: VacuPress Hi-Flo vacuum veneer press with rolling table.

The custom made vacuum veneer press table shown here with two skateboard forms inside.

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.



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Weekndr Skateshop: Open for Business

Garage skateshop

Inside the workshop. A checkerboard skateboard takes shape one square at a time.

Shop doors open.

Shop doors open.

It doesn’t look like much yet, but the Weekndr Garage Skateshop opened for business this week as production on the first Checkerboard skateboard got underway. Seriously folks, we’re taking orders.

veneer marquetry

The veneer goes together using a old-timey technique known as marquetry. Kind of like building a puzzle.

Decked out in a checkerboard pattern of exotic veneers, this short board will become No. 53 in the long lineage of handmade skateboards I’ve sent out into the world. It was more than 12 years ago when No. 1 hit the street under the brand Bergerboard. It was a pin-striped longboard that emulated the woody longboard surfboards of the 1950s. The cash payment for sale went straight to the weekend beer budget, and also bought the materials for the next few boards I made and sold. Soon, Bergerboards were selling as fast as I could make them (which wasn’t very fast at all).

Over the years, I’ve evolved the construction process, tried new materials and designs, and finally settled on the current method, which is faster and results in a higher-quality skateboard. If you’re interested in No. 54 and up leave a comment.

marquetry tools

A Japanese carving knife and a straight edge make quick work of the veneer cutting.

My Smart Phone is Smarter Than Me

Google Droid by HTC via Gizmodo

Google Droid by HTC via Gizmodo

My new boss is a Droid, and he’s a real badass. During waking hours, he has me doing flips and scrolls and refreshes every 10 minutes. He goes almost everywhere with me. And I’ll do anything to keep him fed and energized.

Google Droid Eris by HTCOf course I’m talking about my new Smart Phone, a Droid Eris. Amid the plethora of iPod-like devices available these days, I chose to outfit myself with this little unit from lesser-known device maker HTC because it works on Verizon and the price was right. And I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the underdog, which oddly in this case is Google to Apple’s perfect little iPhone.

Are we getting dumber as our phones get smarter?
No matter what model smart phone you carry, it all begs the questions, what does it mean for the future of mankind?

We’ll be late to less meetings for one thing. And we’ll never fall behind on our Facebook News Feed. We’ll always know where we are on a map, even when we’re still lost. Empty moments can be filled with … video games. And we can take a blurry photo or video at any moment (and a sharp one sometimes).

In fact, we can or will be able to do just about anything with a smart phone in due time, from scanning bar codes at the grocery store to interacting with books and magazines to ordering a pizza. If you can think of it, there’s probably an app for it.

The only thing I can’t do so well with it is type; I just can’t get used to that finger pecking. So unless you’re interested in 5 word blog posts with every word misspelled, we’ll continue updating Weekndr on our trusty desktop iMac.

Oh, Christmas Tree

We went to the a local garden center to buy a fresh-cut Coniferious Christmacus, aka Christmas Tree, yesterday. They were neatly displayed in a unique way I’d never seen before: hung by their tips from the ceiling with rope. Dozens of fresh-cut tree stems hovered 6 in. above ground, a surreal sight when captured with our Canon Rebel T1i.

Once home, the kids quickly trimmed the tree up right.

Bitchin’ New Camera from B&H

A ghostly image. Experimenting with f-stops on our new Canon Rebel T1i.

A ghostly image. Experimenting with f-stops on our new Canon Rebel T1i.

The above photo was taken while trying out the new gift-to-self last night. We were without digital camera for nearly two months, and I’ve been wavering as to what to buy. So I finally went for it and invested in Canon Rebel T1i, a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) that also shoots HD-quality video.

If you’re willing to lug around a big camera with a big lens and suffer the fate of looking like a complete tourist, you can pick up a DSLR for less than $700. And if you can master your F-Stops Shutter Speeds, the photo quality is worth the price.

The Amazing B&H Photo and Video

01-bh-canonI bought this one used from the most awesome photo store in the world: B&H Photo and Video in New York City.

The place is packed with every model camera and accessory known to man. And it features one of the most amazing shopping experiences I’ve ever been in. The store displays all of its inventory as floor samples that you can interact with. When you’re ready to buy something, you shuffle into a line (much like going to your local deli during the lunch rush) and wait for your turn to meet with a salesman.

Now here’s where I should mention that the place is owned and operated exclusively by Hassidic Jews. All the employees sport long beards and sideburns and are dressed just as you would expect from a Hassidic Jew. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just good to know when you’re trying to order something from their Web site and discover they don’t do business on Jewish Holidays.

After writting down your order, the salesman (notice I said man) picks out your merchandise from behind the counter, drops it into a plastic bin, and then sends it off on a conveyor belt to the front of the store, where you’ll meet up with it next on your way out. The saelesman gves you a sales slip, which you pay for at another part of the store. There you do business with a cashier who is sitting in a bank of narrow stall only big enough to hold a cash register and a skinny Hassidic Jew. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If you’re a fan of photography, videography, Hassidic Jews, or awesome shopping experiences, I suggest you visit B&H Photo next time you’re in New York City.