My interest in veneer actually began back in September 2012. Life has gotten in the way of my veneer progress, but I am now getting back up to speed with this wonderful aspect of woodworking. I joined two woodworking forums back in July of that year. It was there that I discovered that more than one woodworker was doing veneer work of one sort or the other. I became intrigued and the trap was sprung. Bam! Gotcha!
Up to that time in my life I had never even touched a sheet of veneer. My recollection of veneer was that it was a great way to 'camouflage' crappy furniture. While the pieces that I recall seeing appeared new and shiny in the furniture showroom, they all had 'tacky' written all over them. No thought was given to design or functionality whatsoever. Given all of those recollections, it is little wonder that I never gave much thought to starting a veneer project.
Today that is quickly changing. Just browse a few of the incredible veneered jewelry boxes that skilled woodworker's are crafting or poke your head into one of todays luxury vehicles and you'll probably see exotic veneer on the dash and you may even see it wrapped around the steering wheel.
Just recently, my wife decided to let me craft her two large jewelry boxes to free up one of her chest-of-drawers. Yes - she does have a lot of jewelry. Funny how things have a way of happening at just the right time.
So, I got to work and completed the design. In short order I was ready to go. I had no idea how twisty the road ahead was going to be.
Veneering is an immensely fascinating and historic aspect of woodworking. It also has everything to do with hide glue, which I really enjoy using.
Briefly stated, veneering is the process of covering a substrate with highly figured sheets of very thin wood. Most veneer is about 0.75mm thick. For a glimpse of what types of wood veneer is available take a look at what Veneer Supplies has in stock.
There is a ton of information on every aspect of veneering on the internet. You may find some of this information useful - or not. Like most other endeavors in life, the best information always comes from learning from your own experiences. I'll do my best to keep you from making the same mistakes I did.
It doesn't take much imagination to realize how a craftsman can turn a ho-hum jewelry box or table top into a work of art with the careful application of veneer. The possibilities with veneer are absolutely endless.
Before you begin working with veneer you want each sheet as flat as possible. For instance, if you are going to book-match two veneer sheets they are impossible to trim and align unless both are as flat as you can get them.
The flattening process begins by spraying the sheet on both sides with water so that it is well soaked. After several minutes of soaking the veneer sheet will become pliable. Now lay the sheet between thick paper towels and place these between flat boards of appropriate size. Weigh or clamp the boards down. The paper towels should be replaced every few hours with dry paper towels and weighed/clamped down again. The basic idea is to keep sufficient weight on the boards so that the sheet dries flat. Keep replacing the paper towels until the sheet is completely dry. Once the sheet is dry and flat you are good to go. Keep in mind that the sheet may begin to curl back to its original shape if it is not bonded to a substrate within a few hours or so. Your ambient humidity will determine how quickly this occurs.
I place my veneer between two 3/4-inch melamine boards because melamine is thick, heavy and more importantly, is impervious to water. An alternative to this would be to lay plastic kitchen wrap between your boards and the paper towels. Sections cut from an inexpensive painter's plastic drop clothe would work perfectly.
With the veneer flat, you can now trim it to your specifications.
Veneer Flattening Solutions
An alternative to using water only to soften veneer is to mix a softening liquid of which there are many. Here is a link to Richard Jones' veneer flattening solution recipes. Mr. Jones is a well established woodworker in the UK whose work can be seen here. There are also commercial softening solutions which can be tried. I am guilty of trying one. The label had a warning "... use in a well ventilated area." It left an undescribeable oily, chemical residue on the veneer. It also claimed to not have any affect on any finishing application. While that may (or may not) be true, the same can be said with certainty of plain old water. That's my choice and final word on the matter.
There are many ways to trim veneer. Some use power tools such as track saws and routers. Some use veneer saws, such as those pictured above. Others use planes. The methods are nearly endless. While I considered all of those methods, I prefer to keep things simple and use as many hand tools as possible. I'll explain.
Veneer saws like those pictured above work just fine for cutting or trimming veneer edges. When trimming veneer edges you are normally not concerned about the veneer that is wasted. In this case, you lay your straightedge next to your scribe line and carefully saw through the veneer.
I have used all of the veneer saws shown above. While they all do a good job of cutting veneen, they take some getting used to. The Gramercy saw is a beast when compared to the others. It cuts veneer very well, but is much heavier than the other saws shown. The Two Cherries saw (second from top) is a great veneer saw and although it appears awkward, it is quite ergonomic and feels good in the hand as you cut. The Chestnut Tools saw is also a very good veneer saw and it, too, feels good in the hand when cutting. The Hosco (bottomost saw) is the tricky one. I purchased it because its kerf is 0.1 mm (no set) and it has, obviously, the thinnest kerf of all of my veneer saws. Using it takes a bit of practice. I found that you cannot "lead" the cut with the toe or tip of the saw as is normally done. You have to lead the cut with the heel of the saw. Also, placing too much pressure on the saw will lock it in place. A gentle touch with this saw is the key to success. So begin with the heel and end with the toe. While this may seem strange, that is my experience with this little luthier saw.
I have no favorite veneer saw. If I were cutting two or more veneer sheets I would reach for the Gramercy because of its mass. All of the saws cut just fine. If I had to cut veneer all day long I might have a different spin on these saws, but for my purposes, they all cut well.
Lastly, I think that the taller the saw is, for instance the Gramercy vs the Hosco, the easier it is to tilt the saw away from verical. Tilting the saw may not be as critical an issue when sawing veneer as it would be with a veneer knife. When I use a knife to cut veneer I want an edge that is perpendicular to the surface because these types of edges make for seamless joins.
I was very skepical about cutting or trimming veneer with a knife. I visualize a knife as a thin wedge plowing through the veneer. Because a knife does not remove material such as a saw does, it has to force the wood to both sides of the knife blade as it cuts the veneer which, IMO, stresses the wood fibers. A knife will also follow the grain and divert the cut away from your straightedge if you are not careful. In some cases this can be very problematic. Either way, you lose control of the cut and losing control is never a good thing.
Before I wrote this webpage, I was faced with a serious dilemma: I had to cut drawer faces out of a book-matched walnut sheet that covered the face of a jewelry box. The five (5) drawers fit very tightly which meant that if I used a veneer saw there was a very good chance that I would remove veneer that I would regret later due to the width of the saw kerf. I was not sure I wanted to take that chance. So I did some testing with a utility knife which has no kerf and thus, does not waste any veneer. What I learned absolutely suprised me. Shocked, is probablby more discriptive. I will explain.
I dampened the veneer thoroughly before I began. I felt that the softened veneer would allow the knife to make an easier cut in the veneer. I sharpened my knife blade with a coarse diamond sharpener. I did not want the knife sharpened too smoothly such as I would do, for instance, for a plane iron. I wanted it sharp, but with a somewhat rough edge, so I used a 325x diamond hone. I felt that the abrasive edge would help the cut by removing a minute amount of wood as the knife made its cut thus reducing stress on the surrounding veneer .
After this preparation, I made my cut. Now, normally, when using a veneer saw to make a cut, you begin the cut away from the veneer and then follow through directly against your straighedge. In this case I could not do that because I was cutting rectangles (the drawer faces) from within the book-matched veneer and had to begin my cut in a corner of one of the white penciled rectangles. I made a gentle first cut making certain that I stayed directly against my straightedge. I completed the cut on the third pass. I was speechless. More importantly, my cut was true and absolutely no veneer was wasted making the cut.
This experience totally changed my perception of using a knife to cut veneer. Needless to say, cutting out the drawer faces from the book-matched veneer went very, very well. I learned a huge lesson in the process.
Book-matching is the process of joining two sheets of veneer whose figure are near mirror-images of each other. In other words, the surfaces of the veneer are what you would see if you cut a wide board open. The two surfaces of the cut are "book matches" of each other. When you receive an order of veneer they arrive in the order they were cut from the log. Opening two adjoining sheets (like book pages) from the veneer stack should reveal two nearly identical mirror-images of each other, thus the term "book-matched".
One of the most important goals of book-matching is to have a near-invisible joint. Your success - or failure - depends on how well you saw or cut this veneer joint edge.
I use hide glue exclusively for all of my veneer work. I mix my own from granules purchased from my hide glue vendor noted below.
Veneer - VeneerSupplies.com
Hide glue - BjornHideGlue.com
Shellac - shellacfinishes.com