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How to choose the veneer

to incorporate exotic woods in your custom furniture

©2009 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas, USA

You could certainly decide to use veneer for the entire top of a table or the entire piece of furniture, but it is far more common (at least among my customers) to want to use it in a few special places - the floating panels in a door, the top of an end table, or some trim.

Making veneer in my shop is fine for small projects or special purposes (it seems I have often cut veneers to make a leg look better). More likely you are considering a veneer to provide the look of a wood that isn't available routinely - at least not available in my shop or not available at a reasonable price. Therefore we need to explore the options available from some of the vendors.

What to look for

How much do you need

For example, assume you need to fill a 20 x 30 area. (After the rest of the design is done, I would be glad to provide you with the dimensions of the area(s) to be veneered.)

It is unlikely that you will find a single piece that fits the space to be convered, and is also nicely balanced (color and pattern) top to bottom, left to right.

It is fairly easy to join two pieces either horizontally or vertically. Therefore in this 20 x 30 example, two pieces 11 x 30 (allowing extra to trim and align) or two pieces 20 x 16 should work.

For example, you could start with a sheet of veneer like this:

You could bookmatch two sheets by flipping one of them over and get this - consecutive sheets as cut from the tree, when one is flipped, provides a practically identical edge where they can be joined:

and if you want to center the pattern and perhaps eliminate the light part at the top and bottom, you could trim the combination like this:

If you have a longer panel, you could continue flipping and joining like this

A single long piece 11 x 60, cut in half will not work in this 20 x 30 example, since the color and grain will be different between one end of the long piece of veneer and the other, and there won't be a matching pattern to join. However, if you have a long panel like the last picture above, two pieces of that 11x60 veneer might be joined in a vertical seam

It is common to join four pieces with both horizontal and vertical joints - a "four way book match." In this 20x30 example it requires four consecutive pieces at least 11 x 16 (allowing a little for trimming and aligning)

If we start with a veneer sheet like this (and have three more in sequence from the same tree)

We could get a four way bookmatch pattern like this by flipping some top to bottom, and others left to right - the four pieces in the picture below are the same size as the starting piece above.


But we could rearrange the same sheets to get a pattern like this

or like this

or like this

Here they are in a smaller form, so you can see them together, if you want to compare the options

Some sheets may have drastically different sections, like the veneer below. It may make a dramatic four way bookmatch, with a light center section, or with four light corners, but if you don't like the light part, there would be a huge amount of waste in this choice.

If you find a piece you like, but it is larger than you need, you might want to choose part of it - for example the "swirley" part in the lower left, or the "dotty" part in the upper right.

Three or more pieces can be joined side by side. If you want a "match" you need consecutive pieces to start, or you can join them like independent boards, emphasizing the joint, with no match. (This makes sense with plain veneers, but not with fancy patterns like burls.) Other patterns are possible, like using pie-shaped slices to cover a round table, or using a different veneer for a border.

How to proceed

A veneer is used to provide a specific grain pattern or type of wood, but more often it is to provide an interesting area in contrast to the surrounding area. In that case, be sure to select a veneer that provides real contrast, and isn't so close to the surrounding wood that it looks like a mismatch or mistake.

If you have a good idea of what you want, or just the general ideas that led to you deciding to use veneers, but feel overwhelmed by the choices, let me know your criterion, and I will choose a veneer that I think will fulfill your specifications.

If you want me to find multiple options for your consideration, that takes a lot of time. I now refuse to help people choose knobs and handles, because I spent hours saying "whatever you like" without really contributing to the process. I can contribute to the selection of a veneer, by finding possible veneers and creating samples combining pieces like the images above, but it takes lots of time - many hours. So much time, that I estimate each sample will add about $50 to the cost of the project. I am glad to do it, but do you want me to do it? I don't normally go to that level of detail for my own work.

If you have a specific requirement or need a lot of veneer, and want an expert salesman, I suggest you contact Certainly Wood in East Aurora New York, 716-655-0206. They are one of the largest and best veneer vendors in the country. If someone asked for quarter sawn red oak for a large job, I would call them in an instant. They have a web site but primarily work by telephone.

If you want to look at the specific pieces you might buy, try the exceptional web site of Veneer Supplies.com. Their pictures are of each batch of veneer - you are looking at the exact wood you would buy. Their service is fast and efficient - I love using them for smaller projects, which is most of my work.

The choices can be overwhelming - and I am not an expert with opinions on each of the thousands of types of veneer available - I just look at the pretty pictures. Some veneers are sold by "lot" and others by the sheet. If you need 4.2 square feet (the example above) you can quickly eliminate lots that are smaller than 4.2 square feet, or big lots with dozens of square feet. Once you find a suitable size lot, look for the size of each sheet and number of sheets, to be sure we can put the pieces together in a useful way. If you are buying by sheet, be sure to specify the number of sheets needed. Veneer Supplies only sells through the internet - they do not have salesmen or a bank of operators to take your order.

When you have made your choice, you can let me know and I will order it, or I will gladly check what you plan to order, and you can have it shipped to me.

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©2009 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.