What are Veneers & How are They Made
Veneers have a long history of converting forest resources into value-added products. One question that is often asked about wood furniture is if it is made of real wood. You may have heard the answer, “Yes, we use real wood veneer,” but you still may be unsure what that means. There are several types of veneer and various misconceptions about which type is real wood, so we will clear some of those questions in this article.
First, let us start by understanding how real wood veneers are made.
Once a tree has been chosen and chopped down, it needs to be debarked. Debarking is achieved with a machine that scrapes all the bark off the wood carefully to not damage the core. After all the bark is removed, the whole log needs to be brought to a high consistent moisture level to soften the wood and prevent tearing during the slicing/peeling process. Soaking and steam treatment are common methods used to bring the wood up to the required level. Once steamed, the logs are cut down into the required length for peeling. If a 4×8 sheet is being made, it will typically be a little over 8 feet. The log is now ready for peeling.
The log is loaded into a veneer lathe for a Rotary Cut veneer, a large motorized machine that spins the log against a knife similar to a huge apple peeler. The lathe rotates the log taking off a thin slice continuously as it spins.
Other veneers will use a Quarter Cut, where the log into a veneer slicer similar to a huge deli-meat slicer. To produce thin slices, the log is run back and forth across the knife.
Both methods can produce the same quality and thickness of veneer sheets, but the grain pattern varies between the two. The quarter cut is used for its linear appearance and its tendency to contract and expand evenly with environmental changes.
Once sliced or peeled, the veneer is run through a dryer to ensure it dries flat and evenly. Once dried, the sheets are stacked into bundles. The bundles are then clipped to length and cut into consistent widths to prepare them for glue-up. Each trimmed sheet is sent through a gluing machine to bond them edge-to-edge to produce full 4×8 sheets.
There are two main versions of veneer sheets. The first is usually referred to as veneer or natural veneer. The second is often referred to as recon-veneer, laminated veneer, or eco-veneer, to name a few. This is where it can get tricky.
A natural veneer is the real deal. What they are listed as is what they are made of and are normally priced higher. A laminated or recon veneer is still real wood but often is not the type of wood listed. Reconstituted ebony is made to mimic real ebony but is not real ebony, leading people to feel misled. Recon veneers are usually made from a wood called Obeche, which is lightly colored, lightweight, and has a consistent grain pattern allowing it to be pressed, formed, and dyed to look like various woods. Recon can be a good choice because it is easily reproducible, consistent, and cheaper, but can lack its natural counterpart’s authenticity or character.
Now that you are more familiar with veneers’ terminology, you can better decide which type of wood furniture or edge banding is right for you, your home, or your project.