The fine art of wood veneering is a simple, inexpensive way to use beautiful, exotic and rare woods in woodworking projects without going broke. In fact, most of the world’s most precious and rare woods are available only as veneers.
Wood veneer is generally sliced about 1/28th-inch thick, although it’s available in 1/16th-, 1/40th- and 1/64th-inch thicknesses.
Veneering requires no special skills or expensive equipment and only a few basic hand tools: a veneer saw, utility knife, 2-inch-wide veneer roller, glue brush, 4-inch short-nap paint roller, glue, thinner, veneer tape, pushpins, combination square and a steel-rule straightedge.
Any flat surface takes veneer easily. A project such as a Parsons table, with its square legs and sharp corners, makes it ideal for learning the craft.
1. Start by cutting the veneer for the inside leg surfaces--where early mistakes will show the least--using a veneer saw and a steel-rule straightedge. Always cut veneer slightly oversized so you can position it exactly and finish trim it for a perfect fit.
2. Apply veneer glue or contact cement to the veneer and to the inside leg surface with a 2 1/2-inch wide brush or a short-nap paint roller. Allow the glue to dry thoroughly, then apply a second, light glue-coat to both surfaces to ensure 100% coverage. Wait for the second coat to dry.
3. Cover the leg’s glued surface with a strip of waxed paper. The paper prevents the glued surfaces from bonding and allows you to shift the veneer accurately into position. Place the paper so that 1/2-inch of the glued surface at the top of the leg is exposed. Butt one end of the veneer strip against the apron between the table’s legs, center it over the leg and press down over the exposed area.
4. Before removing the wax paper, be certain that the veneer overlaps the leg’s sides and the bottom edge.
5. Remove the wax paper and press the veneer down firmly with a 2-inch wood veneer roller to ensure total contact with a good bond.
6. Trim the overhanging veneer flush with the leg using a sharp utility knife. Clap a backup board on the veneered surface and cut against this board from the underside of the veneer.
7. Do the other inside leg surfaces the same way.
8. The veneer on the outside leg surfaces must join that on the apron with a mitered angle if it is to look right. Make the leg veneer a little oversized and miter the apron veneer precisely.
Slip the leg veneer under the apron veneer and mark the cut with a fine pencil line. Then cut the leg veneer miter against a sheet of scrap wood--to protect the workbench surface--using a veneer saw and a straightedge.
Pushpins hold the veneer strips to the apron and legs so you can align the joint accurately and secure it with gummed veneer-tape.
8. Assemble and tape all three sections for the two legs and apron on one side of the table before applying glue to the veneer and the table. Let it dry and then locate the veneer assembly precisely over the wax paper before bonding it to the table and trimming as you did with the inside leg veneer.
9. Do the other three sides of the table.
10. When veneering an area as wide as a table top, join two or more sheets by edge-gluing. Or, to save time, use flexible, paper-backed veneers, which are commonly available in 24- and 36-inch-wide sheets. Adhesive-backed peel-and-stick veneers and iron-on veneers are also available in 24-inch-wide sheets.
If you edge-glue veneer sheets to widen them, ensure a tight-fitting, inconspicuous joint by planing the abutting veneer edges straight with a simple joining jig you can make. (All it requires is two straight hardwood boards and two machine bolts with wing nuts.) Clamp both veneer pieces in the jig and trim the edges simultaneously with a block plane.
By holding the plane at an angle, the blade will cut the veneer but will not hit the jig, because only the smooth, flat surface of the plane shoe bears on the guide. Then you can tape the veneer pieces together to form a wider sheet. Leave the tape in place until the veneer is applied and has dried.
11. To remove tape without damage to the veneered surface, work with a cabinet scraper. Moisten the tape lightly with a water-dampened sponge. Then, scrape the tape from the veneer while holding the cabinet scraper at about a 75-degree angle. Next, finish-sand the veneered surface with an orbital sander starting with 120-grit and progressing to 180-grit and 220-grit. Round over the sharp corners with a sanding block to prevent splintering.
* If you don’t want to mess with gluing your veneer yourself, you can work with the iron-on or peel-and-stick adhesive-backed veneers. You cut and fit these just as you would plain veneers.
When fitted and aligned to your satisfaction, a hot iron bonds the thermal adhesive much the way you might iron a patch on a pair of jeans. Place a sheet of paper between the iron to prevent scorching and discoloring the wood.
With peel-and-stick, you remove the backing sheet and then apply the wood veneer just as you would contact paper.
You can get a box of 50 veneer samples for an idea of the wood grainings and colors available. Some lumberyards specializing in cabinet woods offer veneers and tools. You can also mail-order veneer samples, veneers, tools and books with complete instructions for project ranging from applying simple veneers to making complex patterns using a variety of exotic woods.