Stepping Up to 3-Millimeter Edgebanding

3mm edgebanding is a step up in quality, and it requires a serious equipment investment. November 8, 2008

I've got a hot air bander and I've lost customers because they want nice rounded edges you get with 3 mil banding. My banding vendor will glue up to 1 mil, but can't handle more than that. Can you get 3 mil pre-glued banding anywhere? I was going to rout the edges round after applying the tape - is that feasible with PVC?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
Why don't you just have someone else do the 3mm banding part? Seems like a reasonable solution to me.

From contributor A:
In the UK a handheld bander that will do thicker PVC is available, so I guess you can get it in the US. For instance, Felder sells the Forka 200; a video is viewable on their UK site. The same machine, in different colours, is sold by different suppliers here. The video makes it look pretty good but I have never seen one used in the flesh.

From the original questioner:
Problem with outsourcing is that often, these jobs are small and I'm not sure they will go for just a dozen boards. Also, there is not much profit in these jobs. If I can do it in house, great. I think my hot air bander will do the job if the banding is pre-glued - the problem is I don't have a glue pot bander.

From contributor S:
Manually, for short runs, you could adhere it with FastCap's speed tape and trim and round over with a laminate trimmer. Not going to be a real money maker, but would take care of batches that were too small to sub out.

From contributor M:
Sorry to rain on your parade, but it won't work. PVC is too stiff, and you won't be able to apply enough pressure consistently for it to stick. There is a reason that no one sells pre-glued 3mm. You are more than welcome to try, but please use scrap.

A bander capable of 3mm will have at least 3 wheels in the pressure station, 1 driven and 2 idle. The whole machine has to be beefier.

I have had to do contoured parts before, and thought I could use contact cement... it looked like crap! I don't think there are any shortcuts. The Fastcap tape will allow your banding to creep as you machine it. 3mm is a separator. It demonstrates to the client that you are serious about doing what it takes to build commercial grade casework. And to do that, it will take a machine that costs $20,000 and up (new).

If you are getting requests for small jobs that require 3mm, then you might want to pass on them. To heat up a pot of glue for 20' of banding is not worth the effort. It cooks the glue, and it has to be replaced more often. Just know that jobs that require 3mm generally bring in more money because they require more expensive equipment. To apply banding to an edge, it must be perfectly square. That means that it was either cut on a panel saw or a router, not a Unisaw. When you are adding equipment that costs $20K and up, then you must cover your overhead.

I was in your situation years ago. I faced the same problems, and got tired of being limited. I jumped in and bought the whole farm. It was a good move for me. Having access to a 3mm machine, or owning one, opens up more opportunities. That is why it is a difficult choice, but one all of us had to make.

From contributor J:
If you have customers (plural) that want this, consider a good bander. I made the leap (a brand new Brandt) and did not realize the problems I had with production and banding, until I did not have those problems anymore.

From contributor H:
Adwood and Virutex both sell a small handheld glue pot machine that can be mounted in a table. I saw it in operation at a closet show (Adwoods model) and it works very well. Applies the tape just like the big machines, but slower. You can even do curved pieces with it. You will then need a router with corner rounding bit, which Virutex sells. Low tech but affordable for small volumes.

From the original questioner:
That Virutex unit is really something - just what I need. Beats $20,000+ for the occasional job. Nice to have the capability even if just to show samples and improve credibility. Will have to check with the boss (my wife) about another investment...

From contributor M:
You might want to check into a used Contour bander, instead of the Virutex. Some of them are set up to do straight pieces. And that is what the Virutex is, a contour banding unit without the base.

Ask contributor H if he is willing to give up his machine for that small handheld unit.

From the original questioner:
I should have mentioned early on that I have an extremely small shop and besides the expense, I couldn't fit a large bander in it even if I had the cash. I do closets primarily and get most of my panels pre-banded. Just wanted to fill the occasional order where 3 mil mattered.

From contributor H:
I would not give up my Cehisa e-p 9 for a handheld, but mine was 36K. The questioner has already stated that his business is part time and this is not in his budget.

My machine cannot do curves, and if I got the occasional demand for curved 3mm work, I would get such a machine, as it is cost effective and does not take up valuable space. I had a one time job to build 60 hardwood framed tables with 1" melamine tops. I bought a Hoffman dowel machine for 850, used it for the frames, and then sold it for 100 less. If I had a continued use for it I would have kept it.

I did not see the Virutex in action, only the Admik from Adwood. Check out the Virutex before if you can, although they look like the same machine.

From contributor M:
I know you said that you saw this machine being demonstrated at a show once, but I don't think it is the answer to 3mm. If it were, the large companies wouldn't be offering machines like ours that are 14' long and weigh 4000#, and I would not have spent $40K+ for mine. When I bought my first bander, I knew that there was a big gap to bridge, and if I wanted to work in the 3mm realm, I must pony up. It is a divider in this industry, that quite frankly keeps the part-time garage guys from wandering into this market. If a guy is not set up to do 3mm banding, he should not bid on it. Please don't whine about the steep investment required to produce this. We paid our dues, and taking shortcuts here is just like telling someone they can get a mirror finish with a brush and steel wool. Can it be done? Sure. Can you compete with it? No.

What you failed to mention to the questioner is that he will need a shuttle board for each piece he runs, a lipping planer to trim top and bottom, some kind of end trimmer for front and back (and no, the Virutex model will not cut 3mm PVC, so he will need some kind of saw set up to do this). And if he is doing long closet parts, it will be impossible to keep up with a shuttle board and apply constant pressure with parts that are 8' long. You are not going to be able to do this with something that mounts to a table.

I am sure that the $2,000 - $3,000 spent on this little machine would be better used towards a smaller gluepot unit that will replace his hot air toy. He will produce a better product in less time, instead of having to buy his pre-banded panels from Big Box.
Contributor H, I think you are overly impressed with that handheld gluepot. It is the same marketing scheme as the stationary hot air banders. They are over-marketed. I mean really, look at your pressure station, your frame, and your pressure beam/clamping wheels. Most of this is used to apply the banding to the edge. Do you really think you can mimic that with an 8' panel and a gluepot mounted to a table? I would still like to try one of those before I throw down $18K for a contour bander, but I think I will be disappointed.

Understand that machinery importers are always looking for ways to get your money. They spend a lot of time and money trying to find ways to convince us that we need this machine, and it won't cost us as much as it will save us. Their best mark is the guy who wants to do more, but can't afford the standard machinery, so they develop a light duty piece that mimics the standard one. We are then told that it does not require all the space, power, and money, but with a little more effort on our part, it will do the same as the larger units. Just not true. Look to see how many used hot air banders there are out there for sale. They function in a very limited range, and for what they offer, they are very expensive... cheap purchase price, but try to do anything other than .5mm (well, you know).

Your best option is to tell your customers that there is a $500 minimum for 3mm edgebanding. It is best applied with very expensive machines, and to have this run on such a small project like this will cost more to heat up the glue than it will run the parts. Then see how many people want to spring for the extra expense. It costs $125+ for a roll of 3mm PVC. Let them pay for it. If the job gets sold, then I would find someone who can do this for you. There are all kinds of companies who provide parts for others. Being a small shop, you may want to invest more into service than machining parts. RTA is perfect for closets. You could just spec out what you need and let others worry about how to apply this stiff stuff.

From the original questioner:
Thanks again for your thoughts. You may be right about outsourcing - much of my closet competition just measure, order components, and install. My pitch to my customers is that I make everything locally, and frankly, I wouldn't be in the business if I couldn't make sawdust (the reason I am in the business anyway - I have always enjoyed woodworking).

The addition of any large equipment is impossible - I would have to rent a shop and in my geographical area, cost is prohibitive. We are a very small outfit, and sometimes being flexible enough to offer nice rounded edges will help us land the higher end (for us) jobs.

As I am only 5 years or so from retirement and have no ambition to grow substantially, I have a different perspective than most of you guys. I just need to keep a low to moderate income coming (thank God my wife works). Now-a-days with the economy, it's just survival - last year was a disaster, this year only slightly better.

Hope your business is doing well. I think if we can all survive the next year or two, we will be seeing better times ahead.

From contributor H:
I was not intimating that this machine is as good as the big ones. I bought an EP-9 because it could do the 3mm, although I have not used it much, and all my machinery is the best I could afford. I did use this machine, though, at the closet show in West Palm Beach this year, and it does do an impressive job of applying the 3mm PVC. They would clamp a long piece with a vacuum pump to a worktable and there are pressure rollers that apply force to the tape as the machine is used. I tried it myself and was impressed. The bond was great and the end cutter was strong enough to cut the 3mm without any effort. It is 110volt and could be used on site with regular tape as well. This tool is not a gimmick. Of course you have to use a router after to do the rounding, but for the price it is a good alternative. That being said I wish I had bought the EP-11 with end rounding, but the extra 15K was beyond my reach then. The odd time I do 3mm, I am happy to pull out the laminate trimmer for the end trim work.

From contributor B:
I still think outsourcing the part you can't do is the way to go. If a person is pleasant when asking, I usually will do it even if it's small. I don't think warming up the machine is a bid deal - I do it all the time.

Contributor M, if you are paying 125+ for a roll of 3mm, then you need to look around. A 325' roll of Woodtape 3mm should cost about $60.00. I flew to Germany some fifteen years ago and bought my 3mm machine. After a couple of years of being clipped by the suppliers, I looked around. It's possible!

From contributor M:
The last invoice I could find, I am paying $90 for white 3mm PVC, $130ish for PVC grain, and $175 for Richter. I get better pricing with Rehau. Is that Woodtape 2 veneers with a punky core?