by Sal Marino
Types Of Commercially Available Veneer
Veneer is often hard to purchase
locally, so you'll probably have to buy it through the mail. This means
purchasing, sight unseen, and you'll have to rely on the integrity of
the supplier and hope that it sends you good-quality merchandise. Make
sure you deal with a reputable company that offers at least a 30-day
no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
Today, there are many different types of veneer
available to both hobbyists and professional. In general, veneers can be
broken down into two categories, Flexible and Standard. Both are used
extensively by pro and amateur. There are significant
differences in cost and ease of application between both types. I will briefly
these two types of natural wood veneer and talk about how to store them
in your shop.
Just as every tree has its own character, so does every individual sheet
of veneer. When veneer is cut from a log, the manufactures are very
careful to stack each sheet in the same order as it comes off the log.
If this care was not taken, and the sheets were stacked randomly, you
would be unable to select and purchase two or more sheets almost
identical. This is especially important if you need to joint two or more
sheets together to create a wide matched panel. However, even matching
sheets have some variation in grain and color. Whatever your source of
supply, make sure the supplier offers consecutively sliced sheets of
Standard veneer is what are fathers and grandfathers
worked with. The sheets are cut from a log, stacked in consecutive
order, then sent through a drier and once again stacked consecutively. Years
ago, most standard veneers were cut to approx. 1/16" to 1/20" thick.
With advances in cutting machinery and technology along with the need to
get more material out of one log, today most standard veneers are cut to
a thickness of about 1/28" to 1/40". However, certain species of veneers
like oak, walnut, maple, cherry, mahogany and some others can still be
found in thicker sheets.
Standard veneer is usually available in random widths ranging from about
3" to 12". Some species like oak and mahogany which grow in larger
diameters are available in wider sheets. Veneer distributors usually
sell the sheets in 3 to 10 foot lengths. However, many species are only
available in short 3 foot lengths. If you are purchasing standard veneer
by the square foot and plan to apply it to a door or kitchen table, make
sure you specify if you need long sheets or you will probably end up
with 3 foot lengths. Standard veneer should not only be purchased in
consecutively sliced sheets, but it also should be of good quality:
relatively flat, with little or no knots or sapwood, generally uniform
in color, with very few or no checks or splits. There are some
exceptions to this. Certain highly figured veneers like burls and
crotches are almost impossible to find in perfectly flat sheets, free of
splits or some knotholes. This is because highly figured woods are not
as stable as flat or quartered cut veneer and tend to warp and buckle
much more. Therefore, do not be surprised if you purchase some burl
veneer and it is wavy and includes some checks and knotholes. This is a
normal condition for this type of veneer. Much more preparation has to
go into flattening, filling knotholes, and taping these types of
standard veneers before gluing them down. I will cover this in detail in
other articles. Also, see the article on flattening veneers.
Standard veneer is usually sold by the square foot. The price varies
depending upon species. Some species like poplar can be purchased for
about 50 cents per sq. ft. while others like ebony can run $7.00 and up per sq. ft. No matter what species you are planning to work with,
when working with standard veneer, make sure you purchase at least 20 to
30 percent more than what you actually need. This figure factors in
waste and excess for trimming and jointing.
Over the past 30 years, this new type of manufactured natural wood
veneer product has become the veneer of choice with both professional
and amateur alike. Flexible veneer is manufactured by slicing very thin
sheets of veneer (approx. 1/64" thick) and then treating the veneer to
make it more pliable. Once the cutting and treating is done, the pieces are then jointed together to produce a wide sheet. Finally, a
paper type of backing is permanently mounted to the back to bond it and
give more flexibility.
The main advantages are:
Ease Of Application - Because of its
flexibility, it can be cut easily using a craft knife or razor type
blade. It can also be cut to rough size with a pair of shears. Unlike
some standard veneer, flex veneer can also be easily bent around forms
and contours without the need to wet or steam the veneer.
Large Sheets - The manufacture joints narrow slices together to produce a
wide sheet. Most flex veneers are available in 18". 24". 36" or 48"
widths and in lengths of 8, 10 or 12 feet. This saves the buyer a lot of
time, especially if they would have to joint a number of narrow of
pieces prior to gluing down the sheet.
There are other advantages to using flex veneer. Some species of burls
are also available in flex. Not only are the smaller pieces pre-jointed
to give you a large sheet, but the burl is perfectly flat, and any
defects such as knot holes and or cracks have been filled and repaired.
Flexible veneer is sanded smooth at the factory and needs little or no
sanding prior to finishing. Because the actual veneer face is so thin,
you can not do much sanding or you will cut through the face. Once the
flex is glued to its surface and the glue has cured, it can be finished
like any other veneer: (stained, filled, sealed, varnished, lacquered,
oiled waxed, etc.).
By this time you may be asking "Then why should I
use standard veneer?". The only consideration is price. Flexible veneer is
much more expensive than standard. You are not only paying for the
product, but also all the work the manufacture is saving you. For the
pro, I feel it is still worth the extra cost, but for the amateur, it's
a toss-up. If you have not worked with veneer, it will be much easier
to handle and apply, but on the other hand, if you have the time to prep
and joint standard veneer, the price may be too high. For
the best quality Flexible veneer products we recommend
Unless you plan to do a lot of repair and restoration work, you don't
need to stock much veneer. I keep only a small quantity of veneer on
hand in my shop. This I usually use for repair or replacement purposes.
Standard veneer should be stored in a moderately cool area that's neither too dry
nor too humid. If the area is too dry, the veneer will eventually start
to check, or crack, especially if you store it for long periods of time.
If the area is too humid, the veneer will swell with moisture and, when
you take it out of storage to work with it, it will shrink and check.
Store the veneer according to wood species. Make stacks by laying sheets
flat on top of each other. If you've purchased veneer through the mail
and it came packed in a heavy cardboard box, it's a good idea to
permanently store the veneer in that box, which will provide adequate
protection for the veneer. If you'll be storing large amounts of veneer,
stack it according to wood type and lay a piece of plywood or
particleboard on top of the stack. Then weigh down the stack with cement
blocks, books, or any other type of weight. This will insure that the
veneer won't buckle or warp during storage, especially if you're storing
highly figured veneers, such as burls and crotches.
Many veneers are very sensitive and may check or curl if they're exposed
to rapid changes in temperature and humidity. If you'll be storing your
veneer in an area somewhere other than your workplace, take the veneer
into your workplace about one or two weeks prior to the time you work
with it. This will give the veneer enough time to become acclimated to
the temperature and humidity in your workplace.
If you purchase flexible veneer through the mail, don't be surprised to
find that you'll receive it rolled up in brown paper and enclosed in a
heavy cardboard box. Because the sheets are so large, the suppliers take
advantage of the veneer's flexibility and roll it up so it may be
shipped in a much smaller box. Even if you're not planning to use the
veneer right away, you should still open the box immediately to inspect
it for damage or defects. This type of veneer very rarely gets damaged
in transport, especially if it has been wrapped properly. After
inspection, you should roll up the veneer again and place it back in its
box for storage. Two to three days before using this veneer, you should
unroll a sheet and place it on a large, flat surface with boards and
weights on top of it for flattening. Flexible of veneer is much more
expensive than the standard raw, or non-backed, veneer, so make sure to
use extra care with storage and application.