I am owner of a three person shop. We build a lot of everything, but not a lot of any one thing.
For flat doors, we typically buy sequenced matched MDF core, edgeband it with pre-glued edgebanding and an iron. However, I would like to start edging MDF panel doors and drawer fronts with solid 1/4" thick stock, and then veneering the front and back faces. What tools and processes do we need to build these?
1) We have limited space and money, but I am considering buying an edgebander. Are there mid-priced edgebanders (7 to 10 grand) with a small footprint that are easy to use, and can work with both solid stock and veneer? We have tried gluing the 1/4" solid edges using edge clamps, but we found the process tedious.
2) To lay up the faces, should we go with a paper backed veneer, and a vacuum press? (We have generally used wood on wood veneer and a spray canister adhesive, but I think that it could look better.)
3) What is the most efficient way to build this style door?
From contributor J:
There are machines that can do what you would like, but if you happen to find one in your price range, you are only going to buy a can of worms. When we were looking at buying an edgebander, we were looking more in the 20k range and I am truly happy that we did. We bought a Biesse Ergho 3 with scraping. The thing is great; it will do thousands of feet of tape in a day, put down 5/8" solid wood, or do 3mm coils of PVC or even 3mm coils of solid wood.
One thing I have noticed is that I get a better job with the solid wood putting it on particleboard instead of MDF, because the glue has somewhere to go. If I were you, I would find a local shop who can help you out with a big bander, preferably one with pre-milling. That way you don't have to maintain a bander. One thing you don't realize with a bander is that it is not like your tablesaw, where the only thing you have to do is change a dull blade.
I think veneering over a solid edge with paperback would be even more tedious than gluing on the solid edge by hand. Of course, if you want an edge detail, this is probably the best way to go.
I just bought a used Brandt, and with setup and a couple of parts, it was in your price range. A few on the forum have counseled against buying used edgebanders, but I have a good and long time relationship with the machinery dealer that found this one, so I knew it would apply edges before all was done. However, it will *not* apply 1/4" solid eb. I doubt that you will find a new or good used edgebander that has 1/4" capability in your price range.
My guess is that a 3 man shop should be able to buy or lease to buy a pretty good edgebander, and so far (knock on wood) every large machinery purchase or lease I have made has been a good experience overall. Not why did I do it, but why did I wait so long!
Edgebanders seem to be high maintenance machines, probably because they have to do so much in a precise fashion, but well worth the TLC they need. My first was a Chesia EP3, cost 3000 new, only glued on tape, no top/bottom trim, no feed. Used it for 15 years, miles and miles of tape (and miles and miles of trimming and filing). What a step up from ironing on tape, though!
The Brandt is another step up: trimming end/top/bottom and buffing for PVC, pretty much done when it comes out of the end of the feed.
Advice? The dealer told me that EB'ers are rated or numbered for the edge thickness that they are capable of applying, but you should *not* buy the edgebander that has the same capability that you will use constantly... always buy larger.
I use contact for paper backed veneer. Faster than vacuum bagging. I press it down with the corner of a wood block to avoid bubbles. But I outsource finishing, and the finishing seems to cause problems with contact/paper backed when I have finished it with pre-cat, but no problems when the finisher uses conversion varnish. I quit using the canister glue 8-10 years ago when I had some callback problems with it.
Contributor T is giving some good advice. Don't buy a machine that you will be using at its largest capacity. A 3mm machine will only be rated for 3mm continuous use for maybe 20% - 30% of the time. Even then, it may struggle to apply 3mm correctly.
The best advice I got was to buy where you are going to be. If you're at 6mm now, will you outgrow that and need a larger machine? Edgebanders are difficult to sell used. I am one of those that advises against buying a used bander because they are complicated machines and must be maintained or you will be buying a headache. I have a $20K paperweight sitting in my shop because a machinery broker was deceptive about the advertisement. It appears that he never laid eyes on the machine, but felt quite confident about describing it. After 2 years, lawsuit is pending.
Contributor T did right in my books by buying from a dealer. A reputable dealer will stand behind what they sell. They can inspect, install, and train. And in some cases, have the history of how the machine was used and maintained.
Here's another couple of options. Look at 3mm wood coil. Richter has some that have many thin laminations so it looks and performs like solid wood. And since it is going to be laminated, you won't be able to tell the difference. (One bit of warning... many 3mm machines will not have a feeding mechanism strong enough to feed wood coil. It is very stiff and requires stronger hardware.)
In the meantime, you may want to look into Lamello's Cantex lipping planer. It would be a great solution for you. You will still have to deal with the glueup, but it will trim the edges like nobody's business. Pricey, but well worth it!
Our process up to now has been to use clamps (12' JLT panel clamp) and cauls to glue the 1/4" edging (oversized to 7/8") on our panels and a Hoffman lipping planer to trim the edging flush with the face of the panel. Most of the time we put the doors on our vertical panel saw to trim the ends. When a job calls for custom veneer, we edge MDF with 1/4" solid, then veneer over with a vacuum bag. We use paperbacked veneer and raw veneer. When veneering over the edging, we usually oversize the panels a small amount so that we can trim them on the saw to get rid of the glue on the panel edges. With this process I feel that we are able to get really good results without having to spend a lot on equipment, but it is time consuming.
Last fall we started looking for an edgebander that could handle the 1/4" solid. We considered SCM, Cehisa and eventually decided to get a Brandt 520. It was delivered yesterday. I don't need to tell you that there is great a deal of excitement in our shop right now.
If you were looking for a way to improve what you are doing now, I would recommend a vacuum press because I feel it would give you the most bang for your buck. Also, I think you are on the right track with the solid edging, but you (and your customers) have to decide if you can afford it. And finally, if you decide to get a bander, I would urge you to go and see the machine, new or used, in action to make sure that it will do what you expect.