BUILDING A VACUUM TABLE

So I’ve spent the past week and a half building a new vacuum table for the shop. I thought it would be fun to post some pictures of the process and talk a little about it. I’ve made one other press in the past but it was all wood. I decided to go with an aluminum top on this guy to increase consistency and overall durability. Hope you enjoy :)

The first step was grabbing the wood. I sat down and drew everything out before I headed over and once I got it all cut, my cart looked like this…

Next step was sanding it all down. And laying down a nice layer of wood dust on every corner of the shop.

Once the wood was sanded, I put a couple layers of finish down and then started putting together the base with some gorilla glue. That stuff is ridiculously strong. The bottom piece is ¾" thick maple and the side bars are 1 ½" maple. Total outside dimension is 48" X 48".

Those clamps were the workhorses of this project. They were involved in just about every step. Here you can see the wood filler/gorilla glue sludge sludge being squeezed out of the bind.

Once the wood filler dried, I sanded it down to look nice and smoooooth.

After sanding, I threw down another layer of stain and then put some nails (5 per side) in the base for more stability.

Now the fun part, the top. The aluminum piece is 48" X 48" and ¼" thick. I decided to make the print area 26" X 32". That’s pretty forgiving for anything up to 19" X 25" and gives you the flexibility to go larger. I decided to do all the holes on an inch pattern.

After I did the math, that equals 832 of these little sh*ts.

Each hole was hand drilled using a Dewalt Cobalt 5/64 bit. I went through about twelve of these guys. Once the drilling was complete, I decided to go over the surface with some fine grit metal sand paper. It gives it a nice look without taking away any of its smooooooothness.

The drilling took about two days to complete so maybe next time I’ll think about getting it professionally machined by somebody. The beer after finishing the drilling tasted pretty damn good though. 

Next up it was time to put some support beams under the aluminum top to keep it from bending or warping during print runs. The aluminum sheet is pretty thick and although I think it might have been fine without these, much better safe than sorry. The support beams are ¼" thick by 1 ½". I did 5 beams with ¼" holes in the middle so the air could easily pass through rather than around when the vacuum is on. I threw down some gorilla glue, two sheets of wood, a stool, and planted myself on top for 45 min listening to my favorite podcast productive outs  (a must for baseball and music fans) while the glue set.

The top is ready to meet it’s new best friend, the base. It’s time to get the base off the ground and on some legs. I used 32" X ½" steel piping that was threaded on both sides for the legs. Any large hardware store with have this along with the bases they can screw into.

Once all the legs were put on, I threw some silicone sealant around all of the binds on the inside as well as the top of the outside beams. Now it’s time to throw the base up there. I recommend getting a friend in there at this point so when you plop the aluminum sheet down, it’s nice and smooth and your not smearing the sealant all over the place trying to get the top aligned. Once it’s on there, bust out the ‘Pony’s’! 

Once the sealant sets, time to get out the sharpy and start plotting out where all the bolts are going to go to make the base and top one solid piece. I used 10 X 3" bolts for the sides and 4 X ¾" metal screws for the corners. The legs are at the corners so you can’t use the bolts there.

One thing NOT to do is put a central bolt on the side you will be printing from. It will destroy your off contact with bigger screens. I put two bolts on this side right on the outside of the print area along with the two corner screws.

On my last table press, we had a shop vacuum doing the sucking. It’s great but bending over and flipping the switch every print gets pretty old after a while and will kill your back. I decided to put a flip toggle on the top right hand corner. It’s simple and will save my back. You will need two wires going to the switch which I wired through the bottom. I drilled two 3/32" holes and then sealed the wires with sealant after I pulled them through.

I used a soft sealant (never dries hard so you can remove the top and put it back down without tearing the sealant away). I actually had to remove the top while putting in the switch and had to do it again when I was attaching the clamping system.  Definitely a pain in the ole’ ass but you live and learn. 

Almost there. Two more important things left. We need the screen clamping system and the vacuum. For the clamping system, I went with the A.W.T Big Gripper. It comes with two bolt bolt holes on the sides but I said screw that and machined 5 in the back base with ¾" bolts. 

The bolts for the gripper go through the top sheet only and not the base like I was originally going to do it. Five of these bolts in there the gripper is going no where. 

I had to do some extra work on the clamp support bar because I noticed it had some flex to it that would’ve been pretty gnarly on the registration. I put in three extra eye bearing bolts and it did the trick.

All we need left is the vacuum. After doing a whole bunch of amazon research, I found the perfect vacuum motor. Seriously could not be happier with the way this guy worked out. I decided to go with the Eureka Yellow Jacket RV vacuum. It’s designed to be mounted and comes with the wiring to hook up to a switch. It also came with the mounting hardware. Totally legit and made very powerful so it can suck up all those cheetos off the floor of your motor home. 

The hose is just some 2" inner diamater tubing I got from Lowe’s. I got 3 feet and it did the trick. On the other end, I got a plumbing bracket that put the tubing in and then put it through a 2" hole on the bottom. I sealed it with some gorilla glue/dap sealant and was ready to go.

After it was dry, I got to flip the switch and watch the table do its thing. I threw a poster on top and the whole sheet got pulled flat instantly. Pretty psyched. Hope you enjoyed this little walk through. Here are some more photos…

*UPDATED 08/31/2016* Here are some photos after 4 years of abuse ;)

The main toggle switch went out mid-run which could've been a total disaster. I definitely recommend keeping a spare handy as they can only be flipped so many times. I threw a nickel on top of the new push down switch so I have a bigger target to push while printing.