Thursday, August 5, 2010

Veneering and its uses Part 1

Veneer 1: a thin sheet of material a: a layer of wood of superior value or excellent grain to be glued to an inferior wood 2: a protective or ornamental facing.

Well, that about sums it up.  Good night folks!........

Okay, maybe I need to expound a bit on that.  The dictionary's definition can be a bit misleading.  Veneering something is the process of placing a thin layer of one material onto another material.  We can be very general about that.  Within that, wood can be used as a veneer, as can shell, mother of pearl, ivory, stone, precious metals, plastic, etc.  For the most part, we will stick to wood veneering for the purposes of this blog post.  Wood veneer is a slice of wood that is less than 1/8" thick.  Most commercial veneer runs about 1/32" - 1/40".  Some woodworkers prefer to cut their own veneer and will often make it a bit thicker.  With that being said, the thickness will depend upon who you buy it form.  Instead of being cut with a saw, most is literally sliced off with a very large knife.  For more specific details as to how it veneer is made, there is a wonderful article in Fine Woodworking (Issue #213) that can be found here.  Oakwood Veneer Company also has a nice video showing how it is made. You can view it here.  One difference is that not all veneer is paper backed and sold in 4' x 8' sheets, although that is definitely one way of purchasing it.  Much of the veneer is sold as raw veneer.  Basically, after it is cut, it is dried and sanded lightly. Then it is sold in that state. 

Now that we know what veneer is, let's start with the first good reason to use it.

The very best logs of wood are sold as veneer. Or at least they almost always are.  So finding solid wood that has the amount of figuring a person would want (how many birds eyes are in a piece of birds eye maple, how prominent the curly figure is in curly mahogany, etc.) is going to be more than a bit difficult.  It will also be more than a bit expensive.  We will get to the expensive part in a bit.  By turning the very best logs into veneer, woodworkers can maximize the use of the most beautiful wood. Which in turn, means all of you that aren't multimillionaires will be able to get furniture made with it.  Think of it like when you buy something that is gold plated or gilded (or, dare I say it, veneered with gold). If that quarter inch edge that goes all of the way around your good china were really made of solid gold, because you can't stand veneer, just how many of those sets of china would exist?  And how much would they cost? And how many of you would be buying them?  It's no different with wood veneer.  Veneer lets us maximize the best material and lower the production cost at the same time. Since we have worked our way back to price again, let's go over an example.  Last November I saw a wonderful piece of quilted bubinga that would be about the perfect size for a coffee table top. It was $1,800. Just for the slab of wood.  Now, if you are interested in buying a coffee table that is over $3,000.... please let me know! I'll see if they have sold it yet! By using veneer you could produce the same sized coffee table top for a third of the cost.