Last fall we invested in some “new” woodworking equipment as our cabinetry sales increased over the year.

In my last post I mentioned adding a  Blum Mini-Drill 7-head line drill machine, and a Powermatic Model 66 shaper. 

Next up on my woodworking equipment hit list was a wide belt sander.

We have had our eyes on purchasing a widebelt sander for as long as I can remember. Since the beginning we have been using a stroke sander, which is incredibly versatile and a great tool, but a widebelt sander beats it hands down in terms of accuracy, ease of use, and quality of sanding.

Once again, Coby of Advanced Machinery was keeping an eye out for a good quality used single-head widebelt sander in the $4K-$7K range. He ended up finding the one pictured above, a 30-year-old single-head 37″ Timesaver widebelt sander. Coby could not believe how good this sander looked, especially for being 30 years old. It was meticulously maintained.

Used Belt Sander Has Big Power NeedsThe conveyor belt, which can cost up to $2,000 to replace, had no cracks or tears, and the sanding drums had absolutely no pits or grooves. Once his technicians gave the machine their approval, we purchased it and had it delivered.

But before we were able to hook this machine up and use it, we had to address one issue: how to power the thing! Most industrial machines, and all the machines seen in this blog entry, are 3-phase machines. Don’t ask me exactly how it works, but normal residential-type power is single-phase, and industrial-type power, which larger machines need, is 3-phase. 3-phase motors tend to be more efficient, longer-lasting, and more powerful.

Our shop does not have 3-phase power, but we have multiple 3-phase machines. They are run using a phase convertor, which uses single-phase power to generate the 3-phase needed. Phase convertors come in many different sizes, and all have max HP outputs.

The largest phase convertor we had was a 20HP, which could only run a motor of about 13HP max. The bad news is, that massive motor seen in the bottom right side of the widebelt is a 20HP motor, which would need at least a 30HP phase convertor to adequately power the machine.

So, while the sander was being shipped to us, we were searching for the best deal on phase convertors. After scouring the web for used phase convertors, we were able to find a lightly used 40HP phase convertor in Jupiter, FL, via Crazedlist. The phase convertor weighed almost 800 pounds, which meant that shipping on the unit was insane, but the convertor was the best value that we found, so we purchased it.

After purchasing the widebelt for $5,000, the phase convertor for $1,700 + $700 shipping, and paying the electrician ~$1,800 to wire everything up, we had a beautiful widebelt sander.

The fact that we had to acquire a phase convertor made the initial purchase of the widebelt a bit expensive, but given how easy the machine has made our sanding lives, it has been well worth it!

In the last entry, I left off with the top of the console table in the vacuum bag. In this entry, we will begin with the top fully veneered.

Console Table 7 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

As you can see in the picture, all of the ribbon Sapele veneer on the sides has the grain oriented vertically and the grain of the top is parallel to the longest side. We veneered each surface individually, which meant that the tabletop took five rounds to complete the veneering. Each time, the tabletop spent three hours in the bag, and at least four hours outside the bag to help the glue cure. After each round we spent a few minutes checking the edges of the veneer and re-gluing any places that had not fully adhered.

A quick note about vacuum pressing. The bag itself exerts up to 1700 psi worth of pressure on the veneer. As the veneer is pressed into the substrate, the air is expelled from the glue joint and a bond is created within an hour or so. But, for the glue to for a permanent bond, it requires the water to be evaporated, which is impossible since the vacuum bag is air tight and therefore void of air in the first place. Thus, when a project is removed from the vacuum bag, it feels clammy and damp and needs a few hours in the open before the veneer is fully set.

Console Table 8 300x400 Sapele Console Table 2

We repeated the veneering process on the base of the table; it was a bit easier since the sides were not as angled as those of the top.

Console Table 9 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

It was now time to drill the hole for the decorative metal bar that would be on the top point of the front and back of the base. We ordered two 1.5″ lengths of 1″ diameter solid aluminum bar from a local metal supplier, sanded the pieces with 320 grit paper to give them a brushed look, and eased over all the edges. On the drill press we then set up a shim that would drill a 1″ hole parallel to the floor. Since the faces of the front and back are not vertical, but angled inward about 3 degrees, if we set the back flat on the drill press table, the hole would be drilled at a -6 degree angle to the face and -3 degrees horizontal. By shimming the piece by .5″, we were able to drill the hole at a -3 degree angle to the face, which translates to horizontal. This may seem to be over-thinking, since only .5″ of the bar would be seen, but the details are what matter in custom furniture.

Console Table 10 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

Next, we turned our attention to connecting the two pieces. The space that the two pieces share is pretty tight and did not make for an easy work space. We decided that the best way to connect the two pieces would be to use dowels. We drilled and glued six dowels into the base.

Console Table 11 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

After the dowels were glued into the base, we turned the top upside down, and attached the two pieces. We used a polyurethane glue for this final glue-up because the glue would expand and help fill any small voids that were present inside the top and base.The tape and paper ensured that the expanding polyurethane glue would collect on top of the paper rather than on the veneer’s surface.

Console Table 12 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

We allowed the glue to set overnight before we flipped the table right side up. We removed the tape and paper, scraped off any excess glue, and gave the entire table a final hand sanding with 220 grit paper. We then took the table into the finishing room and applied a dark brown oil-based stain, two coats of sanding sealer, and a coat of bright-rubbed conversion varnish.

Console Table 13 400x300 Sapele Console Table 2

The final product came out absolutely beautiful! The brownish red of the Sapele work perfectly with the whites, grays, and blues of the living room.

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