Woodworkers’ True Feelings On Veneer

In last issue’s editorial, Rob asked eZine readers for your feelings on veneer. You were not shy about sharing.

As suspected, some avoid veneer on principle. – Editor

“I dislike veneers for a couple of reasons.
1. It’s a lie. A false representative of the real product. It feels
like a poor man’s solution to something. I got into woodworking because of the 
IKEA veneered knockoffs. Nothing is made with real wood anymore. It’s usually MDF or fiberboard with a nice-looking veneer. So sad.
2. If you don’t like the grain of your wood, choose a different wood. Woodworking isn’t cheap; let’s not make it that way. It’s about quality and craftsmanship. Veneered items feel wrong to me. I feel let down when I realized the craftsman used a veneer, almost like he lied.
Just my opinion, may not be yours.” – Chad Barton

“I’m new to woodworking and haven’t had any projects yet where veneer was really an option on the table, but I think my preference in general would be to avoid it. My sense about veneer is that its something used on cheap furniture (think particleboard) to cover up the cheapness with a ‘veneer’ of respectability. Think, too, about about how the word is used in a non-woodworking sense. In general, it refers to a false front or facade that covers up the truth of what’s underneath.

“Consequently, I think most woodworkers tend to prefer real wood over veneer more for reasons of ‘authenticity’ than anything else. And while we accept that there are likely places where high quality craftsmanship and veneer can be combined (like a baby grand piano), those generally aren’t the types of projects we are building. And so we avoid veneer because it feels fake, and who wants to build a fake?” – Brian Perry

But for some, it is practical considerations that prevent them from using veneer. – Editor

“Yes, these days I avoid veneer – it’s another bunch of steps, and with limited time I am taking the shortest route to finished work these days.  Have used quite a bit in the past, and will go back to its versatility and beauty once the kids are gone and my time is more my own…thanks for a great magazine and a great question as always!” – Drew Hession-Kunz

“An answer to your open question about veneer. I’m intrigued by it, but to do veneer in any non-trivial manner seems to require a serious investment. You need equipment — a good veneer saw, vacuum pump, hose, and big durable plastic bags for clamping — plus shop space to keep and use all that stuff, and to store the veneer flat so it won’t curl up and become unusable.  That’s a really high barrier to entry. The alternative to vacuum clamping, a veneer press, isn’t that much cheaper and also takes up significant shop space.

“So I don’t ‘avoid veneer like a disease,’ but I’m not pursuing it either, because I can’t justify the expense in money or shop space for something I would only do once in a while.” – Michael Raugh

“I don’t really avoid veneering, I get frustrated with not being able to obtain suitable veneer for restoration projects. Like you, I have made repairs to veneered cabinets and pieces of furniture that are less than 75 years old. However, many antique veneered pieces have extremely thick veneer (5/64 to 7/64”) as compared to what is available in today’s marketplace. I have tried resawing slabs of veneer from boards and using double-faced tape to mount the veneer slabs to a base so that I am able to flatten and smooth the glue side. However, that still leaves the final task of trying to match the thickness of the existing veneer without breaking the slab I’m working on. A thickness planer is out of the question, as anything that thin literally explodes when the cutters hit the surface. I guess a drum sander would do the job if I had a place to put one.
Needless to say, my dad’s walnut veneered office desk that is missing veneer on drawer faces is still waiting to be worked on.” – Robert Donan

“I have tried veneering a couple of times, and the extra time it took was way more then if I had just made the project out of solid wood. I have made my own 1/8″ or 1/4″ thick veneer and laminated to a solid wood core because of the trouble that I have had with the flimsy veneering stock.” – Jeffrey Murray

“As an “old” woodworker, I probably have an answer that applies to many of your readers. I have made many things: grandfather clocks, desks, curio cabinets, jewelry boxes, multiple turnings, etc. My first major project was putting walnut veneer on a plywood cabinet I built to match some existing furniture.  I still have that.  Now, back in the late ’60’s, veneering [as you describe] was not on my radar screen, but what I did then, was surely a form of veneering; ¼-inch walnut ply on ½- or ¾-in. regular plywood.

“On to the future! As I ‘grew up’ and moved on to more challenging projects, I did not think of veneering because I could afford the raw wood of the species I wanted for my projects. Our forefathers from Philadelphia, New York and other Colonial woodworking shops used veneers because of scarcity, cost, or other economic issues [in my opinion]. When making ‘one-off’ things, the cost of the wood is not the issue, but if you have a factory turning out hundreds of copies, cost is an issue.” – Chuck von Flotow

““I’m a box builder… OK, I’m still new to fine woodworking, but I can produce some really nice boxes out of almost any hardwood you put in front of me, and I avoid veneer like the plague! When working with solid woods, I can fix almost any mistake with a belt sander if I needed to, but I don’t recommend it. Veneer (which I have never tried) is so thin it frightens me to think about sanding it with anything more aggressive than 600-grit. I make custom pool cue cases, and that is a unique box if you think about it. How many woodworkers build really nice boxes and then tell their customers to take them to a bar one or more times a week? My cases need to not only be durable but repairable. So I have always thought of veneer as a nice thing for a jewelry box, but those only get moved if you’re dusting a dresser. I have considered using veneers when I get the occasional customer that wants a case built out of exotic woods and the cost is prohibitive to getting the job if I go with solid imported woods.

“I have heard there are different types of veneer, i.e., adhesive-backed, non-adhesive backed, and with a paper or cloth liner on the back side. This is all very nice but it is overwhelming to me. I don’t have the funds to invest in ‘how to apply veneer’ books only to find out I will also need to buy a ‘How to remove veneer’ book right after it. Let alone another collection of veneer-only tools. If you think you can help me to overcome my ‘fear of veneer,’ I would be happy to listen.” – Bill Filipiak

For some, those practical considerations include not knowing how to use veneer. – Editor

“I do not veneer mostly because I have never done it and frankly don’t know how. I also don’t feel I can get pro results.” – Richard Miller

“I’ve been a woodworker for over 40 years and have made a lot of furniture but only out of solid wood.  I’ve never used any veneer because I’ve never had anyone show me how. Most of my pieces have been Williamsburg reproductions, and I’ve never had a client ask for a veneered piece.” – Mike Perry

“Yes, I avoid veneer unless there’s no other option.  Results when used have been mixed, and I’m usually pretty good with fine furniture finishes.  Also don’t like the adhesives and clamping methods; no vacuum pump or veneer press, hate the spray-on contact stuff.  Probably just boils down to not enough experience with the veneer techniques and materials.” – Dale  Smith

Some eZine woodworkers will use veneers for specific applications. – Editor

“Woodturners don’t have a lot of use for veneer.  But, it can be used as part of lamination glued up for turning a bowl.  Use it to separate different species of wood, or to separate pieces in a glued-up layer of segmented piece.” – James Yarbrough

“I think that the main reason a lot of woodworkers avoid veneer is, first, because it is a challenging skill to master, so they try it, get poor results, and give up. And second, because it became perceived as a way to make cheap furniture look good. I’ve seen a few pieces made with really poor wood (maybe cottonwood) and covered with a nice rosewood veneer. The piece looks nice, but it was weak and wobbly and really no better than the junk wood it had been built with. I built guitars, and veneer is not really a big part of that, but I do use highly figured veneer on headplates and other accent parts. I’ve also done a couple electric guitars with full veneer fronts.” – Tim Douglass

And some use and love veneers. – Editor


“We recently turned to veneer for a rather unusual application. The local high school woodshop teacher had a group of kids who wanted to build ukuleles, so he called me in to take them through the process. He had gotten a lot of cherry veneer donated, and wanted to know if we could build out of that.

“After a bit of experimentation, we successfully used just two veneers, back-to-back with hot hide glue between them. They easily bent on a simple bandsawn form, were structurally sound, and had little or no springback. Once they got kerfed lining, solid tops and backs and a neck, they sounded surprisingly good.” –
Michael Dresdner

“Absolutely, I use veneers. The best grains, etc .are saved for veneers. Properly applied to a good substrate, it’s more stable than solid wood. Only downside is they can be so thin, it is easy to sand through. Veneering probably takes more time in the long run, but the results can be stunning.” – Mike Berg

“I stayed away from veneering for years for any substantial projects for several reasons. One, I did not have a veneer press and was uncertain as to what glue to use. Second, I found solid lumber more readily available than veneers.  After vacuum veneering came on the scene I obtained a vacuum pump, made some vacuum bags and got to work. As I gained confidence, I came across a nice pile of very exotic veneer at a garage sale and, as they say, the rest is history. I have veneered several large projects and have a shop full of cabinets with panel doors veneered with redwood burl, bird’s-eye maple, maple burl and rosewood.  I have found Titebond cold press glue to be very satisfactory for my veneering , with an expanded open time. I no longer avoid veneering and have found the results of using some beautiful woods to enhance my projects at a relatively low cost to be most satisfying.” – Dave Arnold

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