The Good Veneer
Somewhere along the line, veneers got a bad reputation. While nobody can find fault with a beautifully crafted solid wood dining table or sideboard, veneers have allowed furniture makers to explore new design processes and ways to produce furniture that is attainable to the general population.
What is veneer?
Wood veneer is a thin slice of wood cut or peeled from a log. The slice can be as thin as a piece of paper or thick. Only 1 to 2 percent of hardwood timber sold meet the high standards necessary for the veneer process. The veneer is then adhered to another wood surface. Typically, the outer layer is made from the most beautiful or exotic woods, while the substrate is made from utilitarian woods, such as plywood, or particle board.
When fine lumber was scarce during World War II, veneers became the only way to create furniture affordably. Unfortunately, a lack of good craftsmen and inadequate adhesives led to substandard results. The popular perception is that furniture that incorporates veneers is lower quality than solid wood pieces. In reality, most fine furniture is made of a combination of veneers and solid wood. The quality of the piece is best judged by the material used underneath the veneer.
The Pros of Veneer
• Finer graining – The best logs are used for veneers simply because you can stretch the wood much farther. A single log sliced or peeled into veneer can provide the material for numerous pieces of furniture.
• No defects – Defects in the wood are eliminated during the manufacturing process.
• Accommodates curves – Veneers are thin enough to bend and can be shaped by the furniture maker.
• Wide range of exotic woods – Exotic woods such as Zebra Wood, Maple burls, Koa, Ebony and others are often available only as veneers, or are fabulously expensive if purchased as solid wood.
• Great for patterns – Sheets of veneers can be combined to form interesting designs that would be impossible to achieve with solid wood.
Solid wood furniture is susceptible to warping and cracking if proper humidity is not maintained at all times. Veneers are often used for stability on surfaces that may warp if made from solid wood.
Furniture made completely from solid wood is more expensive than furniture made from a combination of veneers and solid wood. This stands to reason since more high-quality lumber is needed. In the case of exotic woods with limited availability, solid wood options may not even be available or may be so costly that very few people would consider a purchase.
The veneering technology makes it possible to get 15 to 20 tables out of the same lumber used to create just one solid wood table. The substrate used as the base for the veneer is an eco- friendly way to use lower-grade lumber or particle board made up of recycled sawdust.
Veneers are not a new invention. Elaborate veneers were discovered in King Tut’s tomb in Egypt and were used extensively during the Renaissance. By the 18th century, veneers had become an art form. Master cabinetmakers such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite inlaid exotic woods in intricate patterns to create visual interest in their delicately crafted furniture. The fact that many of these artifacts are still around, is a testament to the durability and functionality of veneer and what it offers to the furniture industry today.