Thursday, July 5, 2012

Veneer - A mystery to most modern amateur woodworkers


Most amateur woodworkers and many professional woodworkers have never used wood veneer in a project. But most of us have used plywood products in our projects. And we all know that plywood is made from veneer, usually oak, cherry, maple, and to a lesser extent, more exotic woods like walnut. Plywood is also available in some tropical hardwoods, but finding it is exceedingly difficult. For my Mahogany entertainment center, for example, I need plywood made with very fine South American Mahogany veneer. I seriously doubt such plywood even exists in a commercial product, but if it did, I would expect it to be extremely expensive. So I really only have two options: I could make the entire project out of solid Mahogany. The problem doing this is very simple, Mahogany hardwood is very scarce and in my area, is priced starting at over $11.00 per board foot. And I would have to find enough solid mahogany that is consistent in color, figure, and free from defects, and in the thickness I need for each of the constituent parts. This would be a very expensive option and difficult option.

My other option is to make my own plywood out of high quality Mahogany veneer, which means I only need to find a relatively small amount of solid Mahogany for the legs, door styles and rails, etc. The very first class I ever took at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking was a class taught by Darryl Kiel, president of Vacuum Pressing Systems, on the basics of working with veneer. This class completely changed my woodworking life and taught me a wonderful and very different approach to woodworking. Even extremely scarce and exotic hardwood that would be impossible to find as solid wood is usually available as veneer. In fact, by turning precious and scarce hardwood into veneer, veneer manufacturers are effectively preserving a scarce resource. By learning to work with veneer, a woodworker is able to take advantage of this fact in his own projects.

Finding veneer locally, however, might be a challenge in itself. Small quantities of some veneers are available through woodworker stores like Woodcraft, but you will not find large quantities or scarce veneer. For that, I use Certainly Wood out of New York. They have a huge selection of veneers from all over the world, and have an extremely knowledgeable sales staff. There are numerous other sources on the Internet for veneer, but I have been very please with both the quality of the veneer I received from Certainly Wood and with their sales staff.


If you do any serious work with veneer, a must have tool is a vacuum press.


The vacuum press works on the principle that if you remove all the air from inside the bag, the weight of the atmosphere will press evenly on whatever is inside the bag. Depending upon your elevation above sea level, a vacuum press is capable of putting between 1500 and 1700 pounds per square foot of pressure on the object you are gluing. Here is a picture of some panels being pressed between two MDF platens:


I purchased this vacuum press a few years ago from Vacuum Pressing Systems and have been very pleased with its performance. When I’m not using the system, the poly bag rolls up and is stored in a box and the vacuum pump lives in one of my drawers. The entire system can be put away out of site and takes up very little room in the shop.

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