Friday, June 11, 2010

Veneering part 2

So, we kind of breezed through veneering's history a bit up to about WW II. This appears to be about the time where the current prejudice begins. During WW II veneered furniture started to get something of a bad name for being of rather poor quality. Well, if you think about what was going on at that the time, it kind of makes sense. Where was all of the best wood and other materials being used for at that time? The war effort. And what happened to many of the best craftsmen? They enlisted or were drafted into the military. So furniture makers were left with poor materials to work with and a shortage of people who knew how to build furniture. Not surprisingly, much of the furniture built at the time was of rather poor quality. The furniture makers then tried to cover up the flaws with veneer. You can make something look nice that way, but it doesn't exactly improve the construction. Hence, it fell apart. People figured this out and started to become rather wary of anything that they saw with veneer, figuring that it was being used to make bad furniture look good. And yes, you still see plenty of that to this day. Then they figured out that you can make a plastic or acrylic look like wood. I'm sure we all can think of furniture or a counter top that was done this way. Earlier versions (stuff from about the 70's pops to my mind) is supposed to look like wood, but let's face it. If it really fooled you into thinking it was solid wood, it was time to put the drink down and cut yourself off for the rest of the night. They have improved things some in this sense (Pergo flooring for example is actually made using high quality digital photographs of actual wood), but you can still tell. This technological development really didn't help veneer's reputation.

As always (probably), we have very good examples of veneering and plenty of examples of veneer being used to put lipstick on a pig. So, going forward from here, let's look at some good examples of the craft. Let's talk about the differences between good use of veneer and poor furniture covered up with cheap veneer.

Post comments. Ask questions. Tell me where we need to go from here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A little history on veneering

I've heard it said often enough. "I only buy furniture that is solid wood, not that veneered cr*p! I want it to be solid wood, like they used to build it in the old days." Then I grimace a bit and decide if I really want to get into that argument or not. So let's cover a bit of history here.

When most people think of veneered furniture, often their impression is not exactly what one would call favorable. It is considered to be of poor quality and it is questionable if the veneer is actually wood or if it is plastic that is supposed to look like wood. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of examples of poorly constructed stuff that is veneered over to hide the particle board. You can find that about anywhere. There is plenty of plastic used as veneer that is supposed to look like wood and fails to varying degrees. I'll be addressing that in another post. In fact we will probably go into some detail.

Let's start with how old is veneering? Did it start in the 1970's? How about the late 1940's when all of those GI's were getting back from WW II and you could buy a house from the Sears catalog? If either of those were your guesses, you aren't even close. The art of veneering predates the American Revolution. It predates the Renaissance. It predates the dark ages. It's older than Jesus. Veneer has been found in the tombs of the ancient pharaohs. It was used to decorate their furniture and their sarcophagi. Veneered furniture was given as gifts Cleopatra's wedding. In fact, for a long time veneered furniture was mostly reserved for the rich and for royalty. There were two reasons for this. For one thing, until about the industrial revolution, making veneer was difficult. For the other, I have read where the general consensus was only the wealthy could truly appreciate the beauty of it. Apparently it wasn't to be wasted on we mere commoners. But then a funny thing happened. Manufacturing technology got better. Veneer could be produced relatively cheaply and it was a lot more plentiful. Furniture makers decided to go way out on a limb and discovered that the rest of us like pretty furniture too. Who knew? Somehow I suspect that the whole anti-veneer sentiment may have begun around that time. I get the old Dr. Seuss story about the sneetches going through my head. The gripe about veneered furniture being garbage started to begin in earnest (the sentiment that we continue today) during WW II. Why? Find out in the next exciting episode........