Types Of Commercially Available Veneer
Today, there are many different types of veneer available to both hobbyists and professional. In general, veneers can be broken down into two categories, Flexible and Standard. Both are used extensively by pro and amateur, however there are significant differences in cost and ease of application. I will briefly describe these two types of natural wood veneer.
Just as every tree has its own character, so does every individual sheet of veneer. When veneer is cut from a log, the manufactures are very careful to stack each sheet in the same order as it comes off the log. If this care was not taken, and the sheets were stacked randomly, you would be unable to select and purchase two or more sheets almost identical. This is especially important if you need to joint two or more sheets together to create a wide matched panel. However, even matching sheets have some variation in grain and color. Whatever your source of supply, make sure the supplier offers consecutively sliced sheets of veneer.
Standard veneer is what are fathers and grandfathers were used to working with. The sheets are cut from a log, stacked in consecutive order, then sent to a drier and once again stacked consecutively. Years ago, most standard veneers were cut to approx. 1/16" to 1/20" thick. With advances in cutting machinery and technology along with the need to get more material out of one log, today most standard veneers are cut to a thickness of about 1/28" to 1/40". However, certain species of veneers like oak, walnut, maple, cherry, mahogany and some others can still be found in thicker sheets.
Standard veneer is usually available in random widths ranging from about 3" to 12". Some species like oak and mahogany which grow in larger diameters are available in wider sheets. Veneer distributors usually sell the sheets in 3 to 10 foot lengths. However, many species are only available in short 3 foot lengths. If you are purchasing standard veneer by the square foot and plan to apply it to a door or kitchen table, make sure you specify if you need long sheets or you will probably end up with 3 foot lengths. Standard veneer should not only be purchased in consecutively sliced sheets, but it also should be of good quality: relatively flat, with little or no knots or sapwood, generally uniform in color, with very few or no checks or splits. There are some exceptions to this. Certain highly figured veneers like burls and crotches are almost impossible to find in perfectly flat sheets, free of splits or some knotholes. This is because highly figured woods are not as stable as flat or quartered cut veneer and tend to warp and buckle much more. Therefore, do not be surprised if you purchase some burl veneer and it is wavy and includes some checks and knotholes. This is a normal condition for these types of veneer. Much more preparation has to go into flattening, filling knotholes, and taping these types of standard veneers before gluing them down. I will cover this in detail in a future document. Also,see the document on flattening veneers.
Standard veneer is usually sold by the square foot. The price varies depending upon species. Some species like poplur can be purchased for about 40 cents per sq. ft. while others like ebony can run $3.50 to $4.00 per sq. ft. No matter what species you are planning to work with, when working with standard veneer, make sure you purchase at least 20 to 30 percent more than what you actually need. This figure factors in waste and excess for trimming and jointing.
Over the past 20 years, this new type of manufactured natural wood veneer product has been gaining popularity with both professional and amateur alike. Flexible veneer is manufactured by slicing very thin sheets of veneer (approx. 1/64" thick) and then treating the veneer to make it more pliable. Once the cutting and treating is done, the sheets of veneer are then jointed together to produce a wide sheet. Finally, a paper type of backing is permanently mounted to the back to bond it and give more flexibility.
The two main advantages are: Ease Of Application Because of its flexibility, it can be cut easily using a craft knife or razor type blade. It can also be cut to rough size with a pair of shears. Unlike some standard veneer, flex veneer can also be easily bent around forms and contours without the need to wet or steam the veneer. Available In Large Sheets The manufacture joints narrow slices together to produce a wide sheet. Most flex veneers are available in 18". 24". 36" or 48" widths and in lengths of 8, 10 or 12 feet. This saves the buyer a lot of time, especially if they would have to joint a number of narrow of pieces prior to gluing down the sheet.
There are other advantages to using flex veneer. Some species of burls are also available in flex. Not only are the smaller pieces pre-jointed to give you a large sheet, but the burl is perfectly flat, and any defects such as knotholes and or cracks have been filled and repaired. Flex veneer is sanded smooth at the factory and needs little or no sanding prior to finishing. Because the actual veneer face is so thin, you can not do much sanding or you will cut through the face. Once the flex is glued to its surface and the glue has cured, it can be finished like any other veneer: (stained, filled, sealed, varnished, lacquered, oiled waxed, etc.). By this time you may be asking "Then why should I use standard veneer?". The only consideration is price. Flex veneer is much more expensive than standard. You are not only paying for the product, but also all the work the manufacture is saving you. For the pro, I feel it is still worth the extra cost, but for the amateur, it's a toss-up. If you have not worked with veneer, flex will be much easier to handle and apply, but on the other hand, if you have the time to prep and joint standard veneer, the price may be too high.
Both standard and flex veneers can be purchased from Constantine's 1-800-223-8087. See Sources on Main Page.