Doing veneer work faster
By Linda Ohm, [email protected]
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

It didn't take long for Andrei Zborovsky to realize that to take on bigger and more involved projects in his small shop, he would need to acquire more sophisticated equipment. In his one-man shop, Avrora Inc., located in Palm Coast, Fla., he couldn't afford to make the wrong decisions.

Although the high-end veneering and marquetry furniture Zborovsky builds often calls for a lot of intricate hand work, the basic equipment he started with limited the jobs he could take and couldn't do the job fast enough or accurately enough. He needed more specialized equipment.

Avrora Inc. does custom high-end residential and commercial projects, specializing in exotic veneers, custom inlays and solid wood. Besides doing custom furniture pieces, the shop builds closets, does wainscoting and ceilings, entertainment systems, room dividers and fireplace mantels.

Initial choices

Zborovsky, a Russian immigrant of 15 years, knew early on he needed to be in a space professional in appearance and he needed to establish a working relationship with a designer. "I like to work with designers because they educate people," he says. "A designer understands what goes into the elaborate projects and furniture I make," he adds.

Once Zborovsky found the 2,200-square-foot space for his shop, he knew he needed to get a good table saw, a joiner, planer and bandsaw. He discovered Laguna Tools and decided on a Robland Z320 sliding table saw, an SD510 combination planer/joiner, a boring machine and the Laguna bandsaw. For a while, these tools were sufficient, along with a vacuum press to glue veneers to the MDF substrate.

Zborovsky had to rely on a credit line on his house before he could buy any equipment (see sidebar on Buying Equipment on page 36).

As his business grew and clients began asking for larger dining room and conference tables, Zborovsky began researching hot presses and the more specialized veneering equipment he now needed.

Zborovsky's research took him to Joos USA, a company that listened to his needs and provided exactly what he asked for, often at no extra cost.

Stepping up a level

The first item he bought was a hot press with 90 tons of pressure and side extensions to accommodate larger pieces. Initially, Zborovsky was considering an oil press. The Joos salesman told him that a water heating system, which Zborovsky had never used before, would be less expensive and more than adequate for his operation.

Although a vacuum press can effectively press veneers to a substrate, Zborovsky says the quality is not as good, it takes 10 times longer and is more complicated. With the hot press, pieces are held together with tape and the moisture and heat force the glue out. The heat speeds up the process and evacuates the glue. When the tape is removed the glue is carefully scraped or sanded off.

Sanding is extremely important in veneer work and Zborovsky wanted a stroke sander. Again, he had very specific ideas. He wanted a sturdy iron base and a 10-foot machine bed. When the Joos salesman presented the facts about the Langzauner stroke sander and told him he could get him the 10-foot bed, Zborovsky was sold.

Zborovsky decided on a stroke sander rather than a drum or widebelt sander because it provided him more versatility for the type of work he does and it was more cost effective. A center portion of the sander can be removed to do assembled drawers and the stroke sander allows the operator to focus on specific areas of the veneer pieces.

"This is a great machine with the right-sized table," he says. The operator also needs to have the right touch to get the best performance from it.

To round off his veneering equipment, Zborovsky also purchased a Langzauner veneer saw and a Casati veneer stitching machine. The Casati stitcher is only used for laying up large veneer panels, which often does do for other smaller shops.

Veneering details

When Zborovsky can find and buy the right size and species of veneer flitches those veneer pieces first have to be straightened. The pieces are sprayed and then soaked in a mixture that contains glycerine. When it's the right saturation the pieces are put in the hot press, steamed and left overnight to flatten.

If he cannot find the correct length or species, Zborovsky often cuts the required veneer pieces on his bandsaw. He says that the bandsaw has a special fence on it and a very rigid 1-inch carbide-tipped saw blade that provides him with a way to easily cut veneer slices from solid wood.

There are a few very special issues that have to be taken into account when working with veneers. When cutting and working with veneer it's key to keep in ming that it's wood so it is expanding and contracting. Once you start working with your cut veneer pieces you have to continue, says Zborovsky or you could have gaps and problems that will take extra time and skill to fix.

When he creates a template for a job, he saves it for use in future jobs. He also saves wood samples and drawings from every job so that if a customer wants an additional piece, he can do it in the same style and wood.

Looking ahead

Zborovsky relies on equipment to help him now. When the economy improves, he says he will definitely consider hiring additional employees.

He owns a truck painted with sample photos of his work to deliver and install his pieces that are designed and assembled to be easily moved and installed.

Finally, Zborovsky uses an outside finisher to finish the large pieces, but does many of the smaller pieces himself. In the future he would like to add a finishing booth.

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