How to get Dazzling Results with Basic Techniques and Simple Tools
Veneering dates as far back as the cultures of ancient Egypt and Rome. As technical advances grew, and artisans improved their skills, veneering reached its first major creative climax with the exceptionally fine furniture crafted in 18th-ccntu-ry Europe.
For dccadcs, veneering has been much maligned. This was mostly due to crudc veneer slicing techniques and old fashioned glues. Today, veneering is a much more viable option for woodworkers by Kam Ghaffari looking to make enduring heirlooms. With modern glues, high-tech slicing equipment, innumerable clamping options and more veneers than ever before, woodworkers are enjoying a rcsurgcncc in veneering.
Veneering, or adhering thin sheets of wood to a thicker substrate or "ground," offers many advantages over sol id-wood construction. A veneered panel is dimcn-sionally stable, permitting a freedom of design when it comcs to construction methods. With veneer, you can achieve unique dccorativc effects, and you can choose from a wider selection of veneers than can easily be found in solid wood. Plus, a fragile wood such as a crotch or burl can be veneered to a substrate to give it strength. Also, using vcnccr can save you money and it's a responsible alternative for rare wood species, sincc you get a far greater yield per cubic foot.
Today, furniture-grade veneer is typically sliced by knife in thin sheets, usually 728 to l/40 in. thick. Originally, veneers were sawn and were thicker. To view methods on making your own vcnccr, see the sidebar on page 71.
In this articic, I'll cover the basics of using today's thin veneers on flat surfaces which, is the simplest form of veneering. I'll also show you what to look for when preparing veneers and core materials or substrates, and how to press your veneers flat. First, let's look at some of the core materials used in veneering.
While it's possible to apply veneer over solid wood, the best substrates for veneer include medium-density fiber-board (MDF), particleboard, high-quali-ty plywood and other man-made boards. These composites have the stability, flatness and uniformity that arc crucial for veneering.
If you're veneering over solid wood, orient the grain of the veneer so it's parallel to the grain of the wood. With plywood, lay the veneer at 90° to the grain of the plywood's facc veneer whenever possible to prevent small cracks in your show veneer.
Particleboard and MDF are often the cores of choice for many woodworkers, especially for free-hanging doors where plywood might warp. These materials arc very stable, and have no grain orientation so the veneer can be laid in any direction. Only high-quality particleboard with fine chips and a smooth, dense surface is suitable for veneering. MDF is quite dense and has smooth edges when cut.
Whichever substrate you choose, be sure to make it a little oversize 0/4 in. to in. all around) to allow for final trimming and possible veneer shifting while pressing.
Sometimes you'll want the grain of the substrate and facc veneer to run parallel with each other. Here, you'll need to place crossbanding between the substrate and your facc veneer. This is usually an inexpensive sheet of wide veneer. Crossbanding is also useful to protect against telegraphing when using a substrate that is not pcrfcctly smooth and is laid at an angle, usually 90°, to the facc and substrate.
Sliced veneers arc stacked and bundled together in sequence and sold as a flitch, or separated into smaller parcels called booh. As soon as you rcccivc a book or a flitch, be sure to store your veneer flat, and keep it away from sunlight to avoid discoloring. It's a good idea to number both sides of each sheet in the stack con-sccutivcly to keep the sheets in order.
When buying veneer, you have a choicc of flat-cut, rift, or quartered depending on the look you're after. Before purchasing your wood, consider some of the patterns you can create. (See sidebar, page 69.) Your choice of pattern may affect which cut of veneer you buy.
There is one golden rule to remember
in veneering: Do unto one side as you do unto the other. You must veneer a panel with the same or a similar wood of the same thickness on the side opposite your show veneer. T his balances the construction, preventing the panel from absorbing and releasing moisture at different rates and warping your panel. If your work has a less visible face (for example, the underside of a table), you can use a backer veneer, which is simply a more common-looking (and cheaper) piece of veneer.
In the past, woodworkers selected the "tight" side of the vcnccr for the show facc. T his is bccausc the equipment and the thicker veneers being used at the time resulted in small cracks on one side of the veneer, called the "loose" side. With today s thin veneers and modern machinery, there arc little or no cracks to worn' about with most woods, so you can pick the most pleasing side of the vcnccr for your show facc.
Sometimes veneer is severely buckled, particularly if the wood is figured. Severely buckled sheets can be difficult to joint, and the vcnccr may crack and split when pressed flat.
To avoid possible splitting, a problem vcnccr should be flattened prior to pressing. Water alone can be used (a flower mister works well)—just enough to render the veneer flexible. T he most commonly used approach is a thin glue size (roughly one part glue to five parts water). Another method is a mixture of water and glycerin (available at pharmacies), starting with two teaspoons of glycerin per quart of water up to a 50-50 mix for the really gnarly stuff. A former teacher of mine had his own spc-
Sawing to size. A veneer saw will rip and crosscut veneer to size quickly and cleanly.
cial sauce: 12 parts water to one part Downy fabric softener.
Whatever the concoction used, the application is the same: Brush, spray or sponge the mixture liberally to both sides of the veneer and clamp or weight the veneer between flat boards. Wait until the veneer is thoroughly dry. If you're stacking multiple veneers, layer newsprint between the sheets of veneer and change the paper every couple of hours till the paper comes out dry. Keep the stack flat under pressure until you're ready to use the veneers.
Cutting and jointing
When piecing up a pattern of veneers to fit a given panel size, you'll need to cut the desired sections out of the sheets to rough size.
A sharp utility knife can be used to cut the vcnccr. but carc must be taken to lointing with a router. Running a router backwards with a flush-trim bit will produce clean edges in difficult veneer.
Jointed edges. Shop-made deep-throat clamps keep the sheets sandwiched tight as veneer and tx)ards are run over the jointer.
approaches. A hand plane can be used to trim the edge of the veneer. Clamp the work between two straight-edged boards with the veneer extended slightly past the board's straight edges. Then hold this arrangement edge up in a bench vise and true the veneer with a razor-sharp plane. Another method is to clamp the pack between boards and run the avoid splitting when cutting parallel to the grain. A veneer saw is a better tool; it saws and slices at the same time. Use a straightedge to guide the cur, and place a backing board underneath the veneer. (See top photo, page 67.) Size your veneer so it will overhang the substrate by about l/4 in. all around.
Once you've rough-cut your veneer, the next step is creating straight edges on the sheets that will join together. I start by ripping lengths of veneer with a jig on the tablcsaw, using a carbide-tipped combination saw blade. (See drawing below.) For backer veneers and crossbanding, this jig often gives a good enough cut to use without further jointing. However, your show veneers must have their edges "shot" perfectly straight and square. Here, there arc several damped stack over the jointer. (Sec photo above.) For really ornery vcnccr, clamp the vcnccr sheets between boards and rout backwards (callcd climb cutting) with a flush-trimming bit. (See photo below.)
Taping and Glues
Once you've jointed your veneer edges, the next step is to assemble all the picccs into a single sheet that will go into the press.
Large manufacturing operations that require rapid production stitch together sheets of vcnccr with a machinc that runs a zigzag bead of hot glue across the joints. For the small shop, veneer tape is the answer (sec "Sources"). This tape is thin, so it doesn't indent the wood when pressed. Although some woodworkers use vcnccr tape alone, I start by laying a few strips of masking tape across the joints on the show side of the vcnccr. I stick one end of the tape down on one piece of veneer and then stretch it slightly across the joint before pressing it down on the mating piccc, pulling the joint tight. Next, I thoroughly moisten strips of vcnccr tape and placc them every few inches along the joint, again on the show side of the veneer. Then I remove the masking tape and run a final strip of the veneer tape down the entire lengdi of the joint, making sure to tape any cracks together as well.
There are several glues suitable for veneering. Yellow glue is easy to use and works well for projects that can be damped up pretty quickly. Most white glues will provide a little more open time. For longer open time, plastic resin (urea formaldehyde) glue can be used, which is often the glue of choice for many woodworkers. Plastic resin glue resists "crccp" (a result of moisture entering the glue and softening it) and is heat and moisture resistant. One type of plastic resin glue is the powder/resin variety. (See "Sources.") This type of glue doesn't contain water, so it won't swell the vcnccr as it's being applied, plus it has better gap-filling properties than standard UF glues. (For more on glues, sec AW #34.)
Another glue that's useful for veneering is hot hide glue, and while you don't need a press, its application with flat veneering is time-consuming. The glue is spread while hot, and a "hammer" (actually the rounded edge of a metal
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