3 Great Methods For Using Veneers When Woodworking

The price of wood seems to increase year on year. Decorative hardwoods are particularly expensive.

Many items that would once have been hewn from solid teak or mahogany are now being built using much cheaper softwood covered with a decorative hardwood veneer.

veneerSome decorative woods are too unstable or fragile to use solid and must be applied in veneer form.

The great thing with veneer is that you can apply it quite successfully by hand. There is no need to shell out on a range of specialized equipment. Professionals generally use heated presses but you do not need to purchase one for an occasional project.

When you are starting out, focus purely on flat surfaces. With any curves, you will need a dedicated former so keep it simple at first. If you find you need to deal with curves before you are ready, go for a compromise and use contact adhesive. You will still achieve acceptable results.

Buying and Handling Veneer

Veneer can be awkward to find and require a bit of effort to source.

If you live in a large city and can find a specialized veneer dealer, that’s the best bet. Most of these will try to sell you larger quantities. The standard size sheet is 1.85m long and 25-38cm wide.

Failing this, look for a big timber yard that sells hardwood along with ordinary softwood. Many such yards will stock veneer although it may not be the particularly exotic type.

Antique dealers and those who restore furniture are also worth visiting on your hunt for veneer. Some small art and handicraft stores also stock a few small bits of veneer for marquetry.

Some veneer-like products have a backing to give extra stability to the incredibly thin veneer. Others have a coat of glue on one side.

Make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.

Veneer is extremely fragile and can split very easily. Take this into account if you are planning to buy some and then travel on public transport. Large sheets like this are not ideal if you are forced into using the bus or train. Try rolling the sheet into a loose cylinder. This is only a useful workaround with normal 0.7mm veneer. For antique furniture, the veneer is much thicker and will not roll well. The good news is that it’s not as prone to splitting either!

Method of Veneering

Veneer can be stuck down with:

  • Scotch glue
  • PVA adhesive
  • Contact adhesive

Scotch glue is solid when it’s cold. It only becomes liquid and develops adhesive qualities when it’s heated up. Once it cools, it quickly becomes too thick to readily flow around. This means it needs to be kept heated while being used.

PVA adhesive, by contrast, is water-based. It flows without interruption at all times. In normal conditions, it will take several hours to set.

Contact adhesive ensures that both surfaces stick together upon contact. It is not as strong as the first two types of glue.

Since these adhesives are different, you will need a different approach when applying veneers with each variety.

The Traditional Scotch Glue Method

This is also known as hammer veneering.

The principle is to spread out the hot and liquid Scotch glue onto both surfaces. You then lay the veneer into place and work out any excess glue from underneath with a special veneer hammer. This will produce a very smooth and flat finish.

Using the hammer is critical. If the glue is not wiped away, it will leave ripples on the surface.

veneer hammer

If you find that the glue has dried out before you have finished smoothing the veneer, simply ironing the surface with a heavy iron.

The glue will hold the veneer in place as soon as it comes into contact. It will take perhaps two weeks for the setting to finish and full strength to take place.

If you have large areas to cover, this traditional method is the most practical option.

Note: If you are re-veneering an article that’s already been veneered with Scotch glue, stick to the same product. Scotch and PVA do not work well together.

What You Will Need

  1. An adequate supply of Scotch glue in solid sheet, pearl or semi-liquid form
  2. A glue pot
  3. Source of heat, ideally not electric
  4. Veneer plane or coarse sandpaper wrapped around a flat block
  5. Veneer hammer
  6. Sharp knife, metal ruler, chisel
  7. Clean rag and hot water
  8. Assorted grades of sandpaper

What To Do

  • After assembling the above equipment, clean the surface you want to veneer
  • If you are applying veneer for the first time, roughen it up with a veneer plane or using coarse sandpaper. Angle at 45 degrees to the grain whichever approach you use. This will provide a great key for the glue
  • Some very coarse-grained wood can be highly absorbent. If you have wood like this, size it with some diluted Scotch glue. This will stop so much glue being drawn in and the veneer will stick better
  • Match up your pieces of veneer so that the grain pattern looks easy on the eye. Use your knife and metal ruler for accurate results. Discard any offcuts
  • Heat up the Scotch glue until it melts. Add some water to thin it out if necessary
  • Damp the veneer on both sides
  • Spread the glue thinly but evenly over both the wood case and the veneer. Work quickly as the glue will waste no time thickening
  • Lay the first sheet in place. Use your veneer hammer with a scraping movement without tapping. Maintain an even pressure at all times
  • Clean off all lumps and excess glue with your hot, wet cloth
  • Smooth the whole piece over and check the surface for ripples and bubbles. Any hollow sounds indicate air bubbles. Simply iron the offending area, slit the surface with a razor blade or knife following the direction of the grain. Work it back over with the veneer hammer squeezing out air and surplus glue
  • Leave to dry patiently for 2 weeks
  • Trim the edges and remove all brown paper
  • Sand everything nice and lightly
  • French polish for a perfect finish

PVA and G Cramp Method

This is the optimum plan of attack for veneering small areas less than 60cm wide.

You will produce wavy, curly or burr veneers.

The base wood and the veneer will both be coated with the PVA adhesive. The veneer is dropped into position. You then clamp a thick, flat board on top.

This style of glue flows very freely so the excess will be forced out by the pressure from the cramps. As long as the cramped-down board is flat, the surface of the veneer will be correspondingly smooth.

The cramps are fundamental in order to stop the veneer from lifting as it dries out. They need to be set up so that even pressure is exerted all over the board. This is why the width of your project is limited with the PVA and G cramp method.

What You Will Need

  1. PVA adhesive
  2. Mixing pot
  3. Sharp knife and chisel
  4. Sandpaper, various grades
  5. Large sheet of brown paper
  6. Smooth board, flat and thick
  7. G cramps

What To Do

  • Remove existing veneer (if any) then clean surface with sandpaper. Do not roughen it
  • Match the veneers and cut them out oversized. Make sure not to wet them
  • If you plan to lay 2 pieces side-by-side, do not overlap them. Butt them accurately against one another
  • Water down the PVA glue. Use 1 part water to 5 parts PVA
  • Spread glue evenly over the top of the surfaces you want to join and keep it off the top. Place the veneer into position
  • There is no need for a veneer hammer when using this procedure. The PVA adhesive is extremely fluid. Extra glue will be pressed out by the cramps
  • Lay your sheet of brown paper over the veneer. Pop the flat board on top
  • Cramp the board using one every 60cm. The brown paper will stop the veneer from sticking to the board
  • Tighten up the middle cramps first followed by the outer ones. This stops bubbles from being created
  • Leave to dry for 24 hours
  • Remove cramps and board
  • Trim the veneer then sand and finish as before

PVA and Steam Iron Method

With this variation. the veneer is stuck to the wood base with PVA adhesive just like before but no cramps are used.

Instead, you iron the veneer in place using an electric steam iron for just a few minutes. This will force out any residue and also speeds up the drying process. You can get the whole job despatched within a couple of hours.

Take great care, though. When ironing, it’s very easy to leave a lump of glue under the veneer. This is impossible to iron out later as heat simply causes PVA to harden.

You will also need to do a lot of ironing so this method is only really useful for working with very small areas.

What You Will Need

  1. PVA adhesive
  2. Mixing pot
  3. Sharp knife and chisel
  4. Sandpaper, various grades
  5. Clean rag and some water
  6. Electric steam iron set to 120F or 50C

What To Do

  • Prepare the surface, cut the veneer and glue it on as with the previous method
  • Iron the veneer into place. Start from the center and work outwards toward the edges
  • Keep the iron moving continuously and apply even pressure throughout
  • Keep the surface moist to prevent any scorching
  • The adhesive will be dry in just a few minutes

We hope that you have found this introduction to veneers informative.

We will look in a forthcoming article at removing old veneer and repairing veneers.

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