A Guide to Wood Veneers
This comprehensive guide to wood veneers takes you through what they are, why you might use wood veneer, how it’s made, tips for installation, and more. It also looks at the importance of the AWI Standards in ensuring any project that includes wood veneers meets industry best practice and high quality standards.
You’ll find this guide useful if you are:
- An experienced woodworker who needs to deliver consistency and quality
- A junior woodworker who wants to expand their knowledge of wood veneers
- An architect who has to specify wood veneer for projects including interior woodwork
- A general contractor who has to identify the industry standards that the installation of wood veneers should meet
This guide is your gateway to even more resources and information, including videos which provide an overview of wood veneers and explain their pros and cons. Plus, don’t miss the image gallery which is full of inspiration for your next wood veneer project!
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What Is Wood Veneer?
Wood veneer is thin slices of wood usually glued to flat panels such as doors, cabinets, and walls. Applying wood veneer means you use a less available wood, which may be harder to get or more expensive, and veneer it over the top of something that’s cheaper and more commonly found.
Many people think this means wood veneer is cheap or low quality, and this simply isn’t the case. This opinion has come about because you often see veneers that look cheap, but in most cases what you’re looking at is usually laminate rather than wood. Wood veneers, of course, do vary in quality, depending on the expertise of the woodworker. Someone with the right knowledge and experience can make wood veneers look seamless – and this is a real skill.
A gallery of projects from AWI's Design Solutions magazine
Photos sourced from various publications of Design Solutions
Why Use Wood Veneer?
Architects and woodworkers use veneers for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Aside from decorative and structural reasons, using wood veneers is economical.
Instead of using solid lumber wood, which is expensive, heavy and difficult to fashion on-site, veneers are more cost-effective and easier to install. From hotel lobbies to private libraries, architectural grade wood veneer has important functions.
Using wood veneers has several benefits:
- Stability – compared to solid wood, wood veneer does not readily absorb and give off moisture. As a result, veneers do not easily become deformed or warp over time. They can withstand humidity and fluctuations in temperature in the surrounding
- Environmentally friendly – if you use solid wood, you are likely to waste a significant amount of wood particles in the form of sawdust and unused small pieces. Wood veneers do not present the same problem and are therefore more sustainable
- Aesthetic flexibility – as a decorative component of woodwork, wood veneers can create a wide range of looks for your project. You can use different types of matching such as grain matching and sequence matching based on the patterns on the wood
- Authenticity – unlike cheaper types of veneer like peel-and-stick printed veneers, wood veneer has the authentic look and texture of wood
Different Types Of Wood Veneer
The types of wood used for veneers look very different and offer unique characteristics, but what they have in common are functionality and a lovely design aesthetic. They also provide a warmth to the space. All in all, the species of trees used for veneer are amongst some of the best building and decorative woods you can work with.
Hardwood and softwood veneers are produced in a range of industry-standard specifications from a variety of species. Hardwood veneer species include oak, beech, and maple. The most common softwood veneer is the Douglas fir, although pines are also used.
Different types of wood veneer include raw wood veneer, laid-up veneer, backed wood veneer, and laminated or reconstituted veneer.
Find out more about cutting & matchingRead More
How Is Wood Veneer Made?
Making wood veneers is actually the initial stage of manufacturing plywood in many wood mills. A veneer is basically a thin slice of wood that is shaved off from a log through rotary cutting or slicing.
Because they depend on the angle of the cut or how the log is cut, veneer patterns vary widely. The slices of veneer (called leaves) are kept in the order in which they are cut. That means that they are in order when they are arranged into the veneer.
Four common types of cutting include:
- Plain or Flat Cutting: the most commonly used cutting method, where the cut is made parallel to a line through the middle of the log
- Quarter Cutting: a quarter cut is made parallel to a radius line through the log, producing a series of stripes
- Rift Cutting: the cut is made slightly off the radius line associated with quarter cutting – only used in red and white oak
- Rotary Cutting: the log is “peeled” along its growth rings in a rotary cut, resulting in a striking, random appearance
Working With Wood Veneers
When working with wood veneers, it’s important to choose the right type of wood. That doesn’t just mean whether it’s hardwood or softwood, but looking at biological characteristics will help you determine how you’ll work with the veneer. Considerations include:
Annual growth rings – tree species that are grown in countries with temperate climate have growth rings that are well-defined in terms of the weather variations of the seasons. The density and colors between the rings are distinctive, providing unique patterns when the wood is sawed. In comparison, tropical tree species have steadier growth patterns.
Heartwood – if you want durability, you should examine the heartwood. It’s made up of inactive tree cells that are formed in the living cells of the inner sapwood rings which can also provide a wide variation in color. The materials that are deposited in them make the wood more durable.
Medullary rays – these are the parts that store and transport food produced by the tree. The rays radially extend from the center of a tree toward its circumference. They produce the fleck effect on the log.
Photodegradation – pigments in the wood may vary depending on their reaction to sunlight or to artificial light. A surface that is commonly exposed photodegrades more pronouncedly with uniform color. Some types of wood, like walnut, are more susceptible to photodegradation.
Oxidation – Oxygen has an effect on the exposed parts of the wood and may cause discoloration. Many hardwoods may have deep yellow to reddish brown discolorations when it is cut. The sawing or peeling process will result in discoloration of the exposed surfaces.
Why Wall Paneling is an Important Part of the AWI StandardsRead More
What You Should Know about Wood Veneer Wall Panels & the AWI Standards
Architectural wall panels are used in many woodworking projects. They look beautiful and have a huge aesthetic impact. Despite the end result, it is often challenging to build architectural wall panels that meet both design specifications and the AWI Standards.
Wall paneling is an important part of the AWI Standards because there are generally complexities that come throughout a wall paneling project; in the layout fabrication, the finishing and in the installation of the wall panel design. The AWI Standards mean that these complexities are addressed upfront and before the woodworking project begins.
Meeting the AWI Standards also ensures that the quality of wall paneling work remains consistently high and that everyone involved has the same understanding of the project.
How To Install Wood Veneers
Using wood veneers may seem simple but there are definite nuances and subtle details that need to be learned, and woodworkers will encounter them all over the course of their careers. You can minimize the risk of wasting time, materials, effort, and other resources by learning best practices, at least in theory, for fabrication and installation.
Not only is there a lot of choice in the type of wood and cutting method, but there are also a number of ways to install wood veneer depending on the style.
Installation considerations include:
- How flat the wall is
- What condition the wall is in
- How you’ll prepare the surface
- How you can prevent panels from warping
- How you’ll trim the panels to remove excess veneer
How To Achieve Veneer Matching
Wood veneer matching is one of the most complex of interior woodwork tasks. In this video, we explain how to match wood veneers, provide three top tips for successful matching, and explain why it’s so important to conform to the AWI Standards for wood veneer matching.