Last month's article covered several hand-held industrial models and track systems. This article looks at the more expensive, but more productive boiler irons and vacuum pressing tables.
Boiler irons are the top of the line in the industrial category. They will provide more steam that is even dryer, hotter and more constant than other industrial irons and, therefore, will penetrate the fabric better to reshape its "memory." Kwik-affix Products, Jacksonville, FL, points out that combining this enhanced steam ability with a non-stick shoe offers even greater protection from fabric shrinkage.
These irons are designed to have a separate boiler in which the steam is made. The steam passes through a hose to the iron which provides heat. Because the steam is hot already, the iron itself doesn't have to generate as much heat to reach the desired end temperature.
Boilers for these irons come in different sizes. It's best to invest in one big enough to go all day without filling because, at room temperature, it can take 15 to 30 minutes to heat. Since the boilers are separate from the irons, the operator can do a better job of cleaning and maintaining them and thus prolong the time until repair is necessary.
Doug Lutz, who sells the Döfix iron, says the boiler needs to be emptied every morning to get rid of sediment. Monthly, add two to three ounces of white wine vinegar to the water in the tank to loosen deposits. He also says tap water is fine for the boiler irons he sells.
Jimmy Reece of Kwik-affix says tap water also can be used for his company's iron, but recommends distilled water to prolong the life of the iron. He also says the boiler needs to be emptied, but only once or twice a week. Yearly, run a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water.
If the iron needs repair, it is usually because the heating coils will collect deposits over time. In most cases the coils last two to four years, he adds.
The hoses for the two aforementioned irons range from 11 1Ú2 feet to 20 feet. The hoses should not run longer than that or steam may condense inside before it reaches the iron. Both the Döfix and the Kwik-affix systems are designed to be used with a track system. If the hose runs 16 feet or longer, a track system is a necessity. One of the reasons is so the hose, which must be long enough for the iron to reach the whole table, will be stretched as straight as possible. If the hose gets kinked or curls up in a pile on the table, the steam is likely to condense inside. That will mean either spitting or no steam in the iron.
Because the iron itself doesn't have to produce steam, it doesn't suffer as much abuse as bottle irons. When a boiler iron needs repair, often it's the thermostat.
The Kwik-affix boiler has a round shape to reduce stress on the container from pressure. Some systems allow the pressure to be adjusted; other do not. Most systems will come with a six-month commercial warranty, and most companies will repair their products - often within 24 hours. Other systems can be taken to a local electrical repair shop to be fixed.
The investment for a boiler system that will work all day without refilling could range from $750 to $900 including boiler, hose, iron and non-stick shoe. Smaller, less expensive models usually are available for working at a job site.
While both of the aforementioned systems are very easy to use, some boiler systems are more complex, requiring training, but producing a higher quality result. They also are more expensive. With a six-month commercial warranty, these systems can run from $1,200 to $1,400. They sometimes come in separate parts so the user can mix and match irons to boilers.
These systems also require an extra piece of equipment called a lowboy, which is like a switch box between the boiler and the iron. It is what allows the system to steam. These systems are built for heavy-duty use and therefore will create better fabric memory.
Companies such as Reimers Electra Steam, Inc. manufactures its own irons and boilers. B & G Lieberman can customize systems to meet customers' needs. Todd McAllister of JTS Supply, Inc. says a Cissell iron with a Sussman boiler sells for $1,400, with a six-month commercial warranty. These systems have received safety certification from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
There are two excellent safety precautions for steam irons recommended by R.H. Rowley Co., Gastonia, NC, that all workrooms should adopt. One: To initially set up the iron, first set it unheated on a chair and then stretch the cord to the track and connect it to the track glide with copper wire. This way, if you accidentally drop the iron, it won't hit the floor.
Two: Have an electrician wire your iron outlet to a switch located beside your overhead light switch. That way, when you turn off the lights at the end of the day, you also can turn off all iron circuits at the same time.
It's difficult to talk about irons without mentioning pressing tables. Most of us build our own tables and pad them with anything we can find. Döfix, Kwik-affix and R.H. Rowley Co. have special padding that is designed to absorb moisture from the steam. After all, water can shrink fabric, so it's important to eliminate as much moisture in the fabric as possible. Be sure to cover the padding with untreated canvas so it will allow the moisture to penetrate to the padding.
A product that is even better for pressing is a vacuum table. It literally sucks the fabric to its surface. The vacuum quickly cools and dries the fabric as it is steamed. This rapid drying drastically reduces the wrinkling that can occur as the fabric is moved and folded after pressing, simply because it won't be damp from steam.
Generally vacuum tables are shaped like ironing boards with boiler systems attached to them. They represent the crème de la crème of the pressing systems.
There's much to consider before investing in a pressing system. If you are seriously going to invest in iron-on tapes to the point of virtually eliminating sewing machines, then you will want to invest in the best pressing systems. We all are out to produce quality work. Therefore, we must invest in quality equipment.
As Larry Lieberman of B & G Lieberman says, "It's important for a company to listen to the customer." That's the only way the vendor can sell you what you need. So when you are shopping for an iron, look for a company that will be interested in your needs and the product you are trying to produce. Also, be sure that it will back up its product and provide good customer service."
Kitty Stein is a 19-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.