Build a veneer press table
The trickiest part of working with veneer is pressing it to a substrate properly. This great little fixture is easy to make and will lend a hand when it comes to pressing veneer for your next project.
When Bessey Tools brought out their workbench adapters it extended the range of their clamps that could be used in the wood shop. It also gave me the idea of a veneer press table that could be modified as needed. While the table in this article is sized for small to medium projects, it could realistically be scaled up to a full sheet of MDF if you wanted.
When I build furniture, my preference is to give it the sense of being light and airy. However, when building shop fixtures and especially a veneer pressing table, I want it built like a tank. I chose MDF over plywood as it is flat, smooth, consistent in thickness and easy to work with. I went with Bessey’s 3/4″ adapter model number TW16AW19 to be used with their lever clamp model number TW16-20-10H. I chose this size of adapter as I have the Veritas bench and other jigs and clamps that work on 3/4″ bench dog holes. These clamps work very well as bench hold-downs and provide tremendous holding power. There are various other options but these will more than fit the bill. The adapters protrude 2-3/8″ into the bench, or table in this case, so I ended up using three layers of MDF and bottomed it out with a 1/4″-thick MDF hardboard. The final size was 27″ long by 15″ wide and 2-1/2″ thick. Vary the size to your needs, should they be larger or even smaller.
Select the Clamps
These workbench adaptors made by Bessey Tools work great in this situation. It's possible to use other clamps instead, as all clamps have their pros and cons. The workbench adaptors allow the clamp mechanism to be easily positioned anywhere on the surface of the veneer press jig.
When applying glue to the surfaces of the MDF don't go overboard. A fairly light, even layer is all that's needed.
Check for Flat
Any curves in the press base will be transferred to each and every workpiece, so do yourself a favour and ensure the base is flat while drying.
A layer of 1/4"-thick hardboard should be attached to the underside of the base. Since the adaptors are 2-3/8" long, they will otherwise protrude out of the bottom of the press base.
After marking a grid pattern on the surface of the press, Der-Garabedian drilled a series of holes in the press that will accept the clamp assemblies.
Minor assembly is all that's needed to set up the clamps and attachments to be ready to press your first project.
Some assembly required
When applying glue, it will slip when you don’t want it to and stick when you need it to slide a bit. The trials and tribulations of woodworkers. Well, there is always a solution. First dry-clamp the three pieces of MDF and make sure the edges and ends are flush. Add the cabinetmaker’s triangle on one edge so that the pieces are assembled in the correct orientation. Next, drill and countersink the four corners 1″ in from both edges for #8 x 1-1/4″ flat head screws. While the glue will do all the work holding the pieces together, the screws act as locating keys, making sure everything is aligned during final assembly. To ensure that the table is flat, I added four more screws in the middle, spaced roughly 6″ apart.
Flip the piece over and do the same to the other side. Next remove the clamps from the assembly, and using a chisel or sandpaper flatten any areas raised by drilling into the MDF. The table needs to be as flat as possible, or our pressed pieces will take on any curvature or twist.
Spread a layer of glue on the core layer, making sure not to create any pools. I find that using a spreader with 1/8″ serrations works best. Paying attention to the cabinetmaker’s triangle, assemble the top layer to the middle and drive in the screws. You’ll feel the pieces line up as the screws find their mark. Flip the table over and add glue and screws. Start adding clamps and keep checking that the top remains flat with a straight edge. If need be, add clamps or screws. However, adding too many screws will limit the locations where your adapter holes can be placed. Since MDF and water do not get along, either clean up the squeeze-out with a dry cloth or wait and scrape the excess after it has had a chance to cure.
After an hour or so, remove the clamps and add the final layer of 1/4″ hardboard to the bottom of the table. The adapters are 2-3/8″ long, and will protrude out of the bottom of the press base without the hardboard’s extra thickness. Clean up any drips that will stop this final layer from sitting flat and repeat the steps of dry clamping and countersinking, this time for #8 x 3/4″ screws. Finally, take the clamps off and add glue, screws and clamp once more.
Once the glue has completely cured, remove the clamps and clean up the edges from squeeze-out if you hadn’t before. While it doesn’t have to be pristine, a little clean-up won’t hurt. If any glue made it to the top, take a scraper or sandpaper to it, making sure that there are no bumps to hinder you. Since the edges can be sharp, run a sanding block with 120-grit sandpaper over all the edges and corners.
Laying down a grid
It’s a good idea to keep the first holes at least 1-1/2″ away from the edges. Mark these lines using a ruler, then create grid work with intersecting lines where holes for the adapters will be drilled. On my pattern, I’ve kept hole locations 6″ from each other. I’ve found that as long as each clamp has no more than a 6″ perimeter from its pad to the next clamp’s perimeter, it will be able to apply the necessary pressure. While this pattern is a good start, holes can be drilled at any location on the table to suit a pressing project. Your drill press might not have the throat depth to allow you to drill to the center of the table, but a hand-held drill, or even better, a vertical drilling jig, can solve that problem.
While pinpoint accuracy is not required using an awl to mark the hole locations will allow either a 3/4″ brad point bit or forstner bit to start on track. Move to the drill press and bore through holes in the table at your marks. If necessary remove a previously fastened wood screw as they can damage the drill bit.
Attaching the adapters to the clamps is just a matter of sliding the butt of the clamp into the adapter and tightening the setscrew with a hex key wrench. I found that as I used the clamps, swinging them this way and that, it would tend to loosen the adapter from the clamping neck. Adding a drop of medium-strength thread locker to the setscrew solved this issue. Drop the clamps into position, and you’re ready to press veneers or clamp, for that matter. As an added surface treatment, I coated the top with some paste wax to ease removal of any glue that squeezes out from projects.
These clamps have a clamping force of 650 lb and are best used with heavy cauls to spread that pressure over a wider area. The lever handles will allow you to dial back the force, but it’s there when you need it. While this table works great for pressing veneers, it can also double as another clamping surface, freeing up your bench or other shop tables. What’s the saying? You can never have enough clamps. That’s true. However, this table will get you further along.