Shop-Made Wood Veneer – Part 1

(Without a Drum Sander or Vacuum Press!)

Making your own wood veneer can be an intimidating process. It’s a lot of work, and IKEA has given it a bad name. This multi-part series will hopefully de-mystify the process for everyone. Although tools like a drum sander and vacuum press make the process easier, it can still be done without them. Let me show you how!

What Is It and Why Do It?

In reality, wood veneer is simply a very thin slice of wood, usually thinner than an 1/8” thick, although it can be found commercially at 1/40″ or even thinner. Then the veneer is attached to a core to achieve the desired thickness, giving the impression of a solid piece of wood. Though veneered furniture often carries a negative connotation, wood veneer used properly can yield beautiful, creative, and otherwise impossible results. 

Advantages of Wood Veneer

One advantage is practicality, or more accurately: maximization. With this practice, a little bit of exotic hardwood goes a long way. I recently made an entire large drawer out of less than 1.5 board feet of Bolivian Rosewood, which goes for $18.50/bf at my local lumber yard. Making a drawer this size out of solid Rosewood would not only be expensive, but also impractical – this stuff is heavy. I picked up two small pieces that were on sale, and was able to build the entire drawer. As a bonus, I still have some beautiful stock left to utilize for a future project.

Another advantage is flexibility, both physically and aesthetically. Thinner pieces of wood can be bent and molded, so they could be applied on curved or odd-shaped surfaces. In terms of design, using a veneer allows you feature the wood’s grain or figure through bookmatching, color-matching, and repeating patterns throughout the entire piece. These types of features simply aren’t possible using solid wood. This is especially useful with exotic and/or highly-figured woods.

A third advantage is stability. Wood moves; that’s science. And if you restrict a thick, solid wood panel in such a manner that it can’t move freely, you’re asking for trouble. Using a thin, solid wood veneer on a stable core (like MDF or plywood), enables you to achieve the required dimensions for the piece with less possibility of damaging movement. By using veneer in place of solid wood, you can significantly minimize seasonal dimensional changes, as well as reduce the risk of warping, splitting, and cracking – all without sacrificing appearance.

What You Need

A few months ago, upon seeing the need for some veneering in the back panel of a mitered case, I decided to give it a shot. And from the moment I resawed my first veneer, I was hooked. If you give it a try, I think you will be, too – the possibilities are endless.

There are a few main items you need to pull this off. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but some of the major players. 

Bandsaw

First and foremost, you need a bandsaw. I hate to say it, but this is a must. You could try it on your table saw, and you could try it by hand. However, getting a thin and consistent piece of stock will prove nearly impossible without a bandsaw (unless you have a drum sander… which I don’t). I’m using the Laguna 14 Twelve, which I’ve been pretty happy with after some SNAFUs with the delivery and setup process. 

THE bandsaw - essential equipment for creating your own wood veneer pieces
The Laguna 14|12 Bandsaw
Jointer/Planer

I’m also going to assume you have a jointer and planer (or some hand planes) to re-flatten your stock after each run through the bandsaw.

Wood Veneer Glue

Use a high quality veneer glue. I used Titebond Cold Press Veneer Glue, which is made specifically for cold press veneering. It has a moderate set speed, a translucent glue line, and no bleed-through, meaning you won’t have glue seeping through the grain to the show side of the veneer. There are tons of other products out there as well, but this is what was available to me, and it worked great.

Materials to Make a Veneer Press

If you don’t have a vacuum press (and really, I’m sure most of us don’t), you can make your own traditional veneer press to fit whatever size you need. You’ll need a substrate or core (typically plywood or MDF), plywood or melamine, waxed hardboard (or wax paper), and some hardwood scraps. 

Clamps

The number and size will depend on the size press you’re making, but we’ll get into more specifics later.

Masking tape

Basically more clamps. I like 3M blue painter’s tape, but any similar product will work.

Sander

With no drum sander, you’ll need to sand your veneers by hand so they’re as flat as possible.

Have Patience!

Shop-made wood veneering is a slow process; from prepping to resawing to sanding and finally to pressing your veneer, it’s gonna be a while. Expect it to go slow, and take your time!

And if you’ve been following my first veneer process on Instagram, “take your time” is an understatement for what I did…

Part 2 of this series will jump into the process of making veneer in your shop. Stay tuned!

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