I have a small shop and I am specializing in high-end sideboards and credenzas for home theaters. I have developed a prototype in solid cherry - the doors, top and sides (with veneered furniture grade plywood carcass). I am looking to build a veneered version so I can offer a more contemporary and uniform product with more exotic options.
What do you think would be the basic equipment necessary for a one to two man shop, building semi-custom furniture? Doors, sides and tops would be shop-made veneer on MDF, unless someone has a better suggestion.
I am considering:
Vacuum press up to 8 or 10 feet
Wide belt sander
Some kind of veneer trimmer/sizer
From contributor J:
If you're doing mostly flat work, you may want to consider using a pinch roller instead of a vacuum bag; it will save a lot of time. If you're going to run the veneers through the wide belt, you'll want to make sure you have a good thickness of veneer or a very expensive, high end wide belt. I used to run veneered panels through a 60k machine and we would still chew up a couple practice pieces to get it just right.
You could also go with any of the jigs in the previous posts if you aren't doing high volume. This will save a lot of money in the short term, but they are very inefficient.
I wouldn't bother sawing my own veneer. Get it from Certainlywood instead, and learn to deal with unbacked (real) veneer.
A pinch roller is only useful for contact cement, which should never be used with real wood veneer.
Vacupress.com has lots of info on veneering and a forum to ask specific questions.
A stroke sander will sand veneered panels - very good with a little expertise. I know someone who sands veneered panels with a platen equipped Timesaver WBS, and it wasn't $50K. He makes hundreds of pieces a year.
Remember, the finish is the first thing anyone sees and feels on a piece of furniture. An average or poor finish on a well made cabinet will not be as inviting.
Recently I purchased a hot press and a Sheer veneer saw. Our volume is soaring and we need to keep up. Nonetheless, everyone who works in our shop knows how to sharpen the hand held saws, and the vacuum bags are still working every day. The next purchase will be a wide-belt sander with a segmented platen. The good news about stroke sanders is that they are effective, abundant and cheap. The bad news is that they can ruin a lot of work quickly. Mastering the stroke sander is not for everyone.