Review: Boiler iron & vacuum ironing board

As I’d hinted before, I finally upgraded my ironing set up in the shop. After much trepidation (which proved to be for naught), I bought a Reliable brand boiler iron (i500 Iron Station) and vacuum board (C81 Vacuum & Up-Air Board). Here’s a photo of the iron.

I recommend two other accessory items. In the interests of full disclosure, I paid full price for everything but I got these two items free. I still recommend them. One was a C8SH sleeve board with mounting bracket (below) and the other was a i30T teflon shoe for the iron. If you have a sleeve board already, that’ll work just fine. However, a teflon shoe is not optional. Yes, I realize many home irons have a teflon plate but these are a world apart and probably the number one reason I love industrial irons. With a PFTE shoe, you will never need a pressing cloth again. Press directly on top of fusibles to your heart’s content. Anyway, I finally got the equipment set up and have tried it out with mostly great success.

Iron Features:
For the sake of brevity, read How to select commercial pressing equipment, the comments are educational too. There is also a short part two. Otherwise, the best way to start this off is with a comment left previously:

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never heard of a boiler iron. Can you explain why it’s better and also what “dry steam” is?

A boiler iron has a separate water tank (stainless is best) and heating element that heats water and pushes it out with pressure independent of the iron. The boiler is attached to the iron with a hose. Home and gravity feed irons produce steam using the heating element of the iron itself (this kind of steam is very wet, see below). One key advantage of boiler irons is that the quantity of steam is not limited by a low heat setting on the iron so you can press low temperature fabrics (like silks) using plenty of steam to remove wrinkles. Otherwise it’s hard to quantify the advantages of a boiler iron -as defined by pressing results- if you have only worked with home irons and gravity feeds. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.

Obviously steam has to involve water so dry steam is a comparative term. It refers to the ratio of pressure and vapor a piece of equipment generates. Something like a boiler puts out a lot of pressure along with vapor, so it is said to be “dry”. The steam from a home iron is “wet” because there’s very little pressure as compared to water. Before you start pressing for the day with a boiler iron, you have to bleed off any air that may be in the tank (because you opened it to fill it) for ten seconds or so to build up the pressure. If you forget to do that, your first pass will be a big wet spot. Don’t ask me how I know.

The disadvantage of a boiler iron is that you can’t add water mid process like you can with a home iron. You have to turn it off, wait a bit and release the pressure to add water. That’s why you need to check fluid levels before you use it each day. To prevent down time, you select the boiler iron based on the size of tank you’re likely to need. The one I bought has a 2 liter tank but there’s another version like this with a smaller 1.4 liter tank that costs about $200 less. By the way, these are significantly costlier than home irons. The one I bought was $600.

Ironing board features and set up
The ironing board is significantly heavier than your typical board. I was very pleased with the heft and larger diameter legs. Between the weight of it and the thick rubber tips on the leg ends, this board isn’t going to skate around on you like home ironing boards (and I had the top of the line of those). There’s not much set up to it beyond unfolding it and plugging it in. It has to be plugged in because it has a vacuum motor that can either pull air down through the board or up while you’re pressing. I realize this is a vast departure from home ironing boards because those often have a solid pressing surface with teflon covers to reflect heat. Ouch. That’ll leave a mark, literally as it happens. Here’s a photo of the board.

Vacuum is useful in two key ways. One, the most effective pressing is done by pulling the steam through the layers. Second, blowing up (via a readily accessible switch) reduces seam imprinting by the iron. This is particularly noticeable if you’re pressing several layers, the iron maps allowances underneath. This table is reported to be good for napped fabrics like corduroy and velvets because blowing up while pressing doesn’t crush the nap. The blow on this board is strong enough that your fabric will fly off the board if you’re not holding it down. I tried the blow up feature on a lined velvet top and it worked pretty well, better than I expected (I’d been dubious of this claim). I don’t know how you press velvet but I usually press on top of a scrap of velvet lain face up to prevent crushing the nap (iron applied to the wrong side of the velvet). In my experiment, I pressed the face side of the velvet with the iron.

In industry, the very best way to press anything is to “blow” it. The ideal situation is to put the garment on a specially made pressing form, hit the switch and the form expands like an overly exuberant blow up doll. It’s quite comical, like something in a cartoon. There’s so much pressure it looks as though it’ll explode or seams will split. Pressing from the inside out makes for incomparable results. In fact, I always recommend to home sewers, that if they make a tailored jacket, they take it to a dry cleaners to have it blown. This is an unusual request so they may be puzzled but they’ll often do it while you wait and in my experience, not even charge you for the service because they don’t have a price code for it.

The only surprise to me was that the board itself also heats up. I suppose this is also to get rid of steam quickly. I live in a very dry climate so this doesn’t concern me but it may you. The board gets pretty toasty so be careful of what you leave lying on it if it matters. In the interests of energy savings (heating elements draw a lot of power), the only modification I’d suggest is to make heating element on the board optional. I don’t imagine it’s enough of a priority to enough people for the manufacturer to justify rewiring the thing and adding another on/off button. The other thing that’s different about the board is that you use a foot pedal to operate the blowing mechanism. I wasn’t expecting that but I suppose it only makes sense. That will take some getting used to with regards to positioning. If your pressing floor is pile carpeted, this is could be a problem because you won’t easily be able to scoot the pedal around with the edge of your foot in the midst of repositioning the garment during pressing. Yet another reason to not have carpeting in your work areas. I understand some people working from home don’t have a choice but I’m always floored that people who can control this, carpet anyway. Silly silly.

If you get the add on sleeve board, you will have to mount the bracket before you set up the board and plug it in. Reliable mounted the bracket for me before they shipped but I don’t know if that was a special favor or if they do it for everyone. The only thing about the mounting bracket I didn’t like was that the ironing board cover doesn’t lie flat back there -but they told me it wouldn’t and that I would have to make an adjustment to the cover to permit that (below).

I haven’t done this modification yet. The cover fits tightly around the board but the mounting bracket gets in the way. The edge of the cover needs to be sandwiched in between piece 1 & 2 (see photo) to arrive at the solid/dotted line. I will need to unscrew the bracket, make three holes, finish those off, replace the cover and then remount the bracket once the cover is in place. I think button holes would be better than grommets.

Boiler Iron set up
I don’t know about you but I don’t like to read manuals, I’m strictly plug and play. Still, these are good (in English as opposed to Engrish). The only problem I had with it was item #4 which says to remove the cap and add water but then it doesn’t ever say to screw it back on. Reading that on the screen, I look like an idiot. But, I take things very literally especially when playing with something as potentially dangerous as pressurized steam. The only other disconcerting thing was the admonitions to not overfill the unit but there’s no visual cue to read the water level. Luckily for me, a one page addendum flew out on the floor which explained it all graphically. Reading it I discovered what that little plastic tube that was left over was for (to check water level obviously, another duh).

The boiler is designed to sit on the end of the ironing board on a mounting bracket (pre-attached). Somehow I thought it’d be on the floor. I thought that end bracket on the board (to the right in the photo) was for the iron itself. The iron is plugged into the boiler unit and then the boiler is plugged into the wall (110v). I don’t find the boiler is in the way but this may be an adjustment if you’ve never worked with commercial pressing equipment (the right side of the board is inaccessible).

Anyway, that’s about it. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll round this out some more.

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