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Veneer Basics
Veneers – What Every Designer Should Know
Quite often a prospective client visiting Linear Fine Woodworking’s showroom will touch a piece of furniture or point to a photo of a custom kitchen or entertainment center and ask, “What is this made of?”

The answers are exotic and enticing: “Hawaiian Koa,” “Mapa Burl,” “Swiss Pearwood,” “Drope Mahogany,” “Block-mottled Anigre,” “Ribbon Sapele,” “Macassar Ebony,” and “Etimoe”. All of these rare wood species, and hundreds of others, are wonderfully elegant and sophisticated both in name and appearance. However, few people outside the design and manufacturing community understand how veneers are made and how they are used in the construction of fine custom cabinetry and furniture.

So what is veneer, exactly?

Veneer is better!
Let’s start by destroying a myth. Wood veneer is not merely an inexpensive alternative to solid wood construction. Building from solid wood is not only prohibitively expensive, but will invariably result in an unstable piece of furniture susceptible to the effects of climate, age, and the propensity for wood to “move”, split, and warp over time. Not good for the heirloom buffet or bedroom set. Laying veneer over a substrate of MDF (medium density fiberboard) or furniture-grade particleboard ensures stability and protects the beauty and value of custom furniture for many, many years. Solid wood may be used for details and accents, but for cabinets, tables, and wall units the best value is to use high-quality wood veneer.

Peel, Slice, Saw
The process of creating a veneer panel begins with cutting thin layers of wood of uniform thickness, typically 1/42nd of an inch, by peeling, slicing, or sawing logs. There are four basic methods of cutting logs to make veneers: Rotary Peeling, Half-Round Slicing, Flat-Cut, Quarter-Cut, and Rift-Sawn. With the exception of Rotary Peeling, each method of cutting starts with a longitudinal section of a log, called a “flitch,” and ends with a stack of “leaves” with unique grain or figuring patterns.

Go Figure: Grain, Color, and ‘Movement’
The characteristics of wood are almost as varied as human beings and just as influenced by genetics and environment.

Grain is the genetically predetermined size and arrangement of cells and pores that fall into three groups: Fine grained (Birch, Cherry, Maple, etc.), medium grained (Walnut, Mahogany, etc.) and coarse grained (Oak, etc.).)

Color is both genetic and environmental: Some woods are naturally streaked with black or brown stripes, such as macassar ebony and zebrawood, while others are streaked with mineral deposits of red, black, brown, yellow, or green drawn from the soil, water, and atmosphere in which the tree is grown.

Figuring is primarily determined by the part of the tree from which the flitch is cut. Most veneers are sliced and cut from longwood, the portion of a tree above the stump and below a crotch, and result in generally uniform grain and figure patterns. Crotch veneers produce flame and feather-like patterns, stumps yield twisted and swirl patterns, and burl veneers typically have assorted eyes, swirls, and topographic detail.

Cross Figure and Cross Fire figure patterns extend across the grain and appear as mottling (alternating blocks of lighter and darker tones), fiddleback, flake or ray, ribbon, beeswing, and others. These patterns are a combination of the genetic and environmental characteristics of the wood and cutting technique, and result in the most attractive exotic veneers.

Mix and Match, Slip and Slide
A flitch of leaves can be arranged in sequence to create a wide variety of patterns, the two most common being “book matching,” in which the leaves are laid-out in pairs to produce mirror-image patterns; and “slip matching,” where leaves are “slipped” one next to the other. Veneer strips can be used to create marvelous herringbone, diamond, basketweave, block, “X” and “V” patterns as well.

Trim, Sew, and Paste
Linear Fine Woodworking is one of a very few custom furniture manufacturers that produces veneer panels from rough-cut flitches. Veneer strips, or leaves, are trimmed to create a straight edge, then “sewn” together with heated plastic filaments on a special machine. The sewn strips are then assembled in a desired pattern and “layed-up” on a 4’ x 8’ sheet of MDF (medium density fiberboard) substrate covered with an adhesive compound. The panel is then placed in a heated press to iron out any air bubbles and to dry the adhesive. This method of panel construction produces a veneer panel that is uniformly even and stable, and allows for greater creativity in design and ease in crafting.

Avoid Paperback and Peel ‘n’ Stick Veneers
Remember the myth we destroyed earlier? The culprit is cheap paper-backed and “peel and stick” veneer used to manufacture low-cost furniture. Paperback veneer is applied to a substrate with simple contact cement, and “peel and stick” veneer is applied to a substrate after removing the paper covering the contact cement applied by the manufacturer. Both types have their uses, but not in crafting fine cabinetry and furnishings. Paper backing will be revealed in joints, corners, and edges, and over time these types of veneer tend to bubble, peel, and slide. The best value lies in using high-quality veneers professionally applied to a stable substrate to ensure years of service and pride of ownership.

For a closer look at over 100 different types of wood veneers and figure patterns, or to observe firsthand how a veneer panel is “layed-up” and crafted, please contact Allan Rosenthal at Linear Fine Woodworking, 480-968-1223,to schedule a tour or appointment.




———————————————————— VENEER SAMPLES ————————————————————

ANEGRE
Quartered Cut
Fiddleback Figure

ANEGRE
Quartered Cut
Block Figure
SYCAMORE
Half Round
Clustered
SYCAMORE
Quartered Cut
Fiddleback Figure

AMARILLO
Quartered Cut
Figured

CARPATHIAN ELM
Rotary Cut
Burl
CHESTNUT BURL
MOVINGUE
Quartered Cut
Figured

TEAK
Flat Cut
Figured

TEAK
Quartered Cut
Plain
ZEBRAWOOD
Quartered Cut
Plain
BUBINGA
Rotary Cut
Pomele

BUBINGA
Quartered Cut
Plain
EAST INDIAN LAUREL
Flat Cut
Plain
SANTOS
Flat Cut
Plain
 
2825 - 2831 South 46th Street - Phoenix, AZ  85040     480-968-1223     480-968-1219    email: info@linearfinewoodworking.com



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