For those of you who are starting off as professional woodworkers, fabricating and installing wood veneers is likely something that you’ll start to experience more and more so it’s important to understand best practice. You probably already have formal training, but experience matters and of course there’s always room for improvement! Learning from colleagues who’ve been doing it for a long time is also important.
About Wood Veneer
Many architectural woodworking projects requiring wood veneer are functional and some don’t need complex specifications. However, if a project requires decorative elements it can get complex – even if the final result is simple and elegant.
For instance, you need to match the wood grain patterns to create seamless transitions both horizontally and in some cases vertically, and make it look right. This can be particularly challenging when it comes to sequenced or end-matched leaves – and any damage can be costly and time-consuming to fix.
Veneer grain patterns depend on how the logs are cut. Different types of cut include:
- Plain or flat cutting
- Quarter cutting
- Rift cutting
- Rotary cutting
Factors to Consider in Wood Veneer Best Practices
Using wood veneers may seem simple but there are definite nuances and subtle details that you need to learn, and you’ll eventually encounter them over the course of your career. You can minimize the risk of wasting time, materials, effort, and other resources by learning best practice, a least in theory, for fabrication and installation. [This document is accurate, but published in 2004 and some references such as the use of Urea adhesives are now discouraged.]
You need to think about:
- Species of tree – the type and quality of veneer can depend on the species of tree. There are at least 60,000 known species of timber but only a handful species, such as Oak, Maple, Walnut, Cherry, are commonly used
- Grain patterns – grain patterns are the main aesthetic feature of wood veneers, and can make them very distinct. Grain patterns depend on several factors, such as the angle of cut and the part of the tree from which it is derived
- Where you source your wood – make sure you’re using a credible supplier that will provide high-quality veneers
- Tools for fabricating with veneers – standard tools include straight edges and rules, a cutting mat, veneer saw, veneer hammers, pins, veneer tapes, and a shooting board, however, many production shops have sophisticated sizing, cutting and pressing equipment.
- The type of project you’re working on – are you doing veneers for a hotel lobby, an office, or someone’s home? The size of your project also determines factors such as the amount of material you’ll need and how long it will take
- Methods for cutting veneers – there are different methods for cutting veneers depending on the patterns you need and the surface area on which to install the veneers. Some surface areas could be irregular in shape
- Veneer substrates – there are various types of substrates available. These are the support surfaces, which include solid timber, particleboard, medium density fibreboard, plywood, and blockboard
- Selecting your finish – transparent finishes help to bring the wood to life
How to Install Wood Veneer Wall Panels
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. If we look specifically at wall panels, they could be installed using screws or nails, or in the case of tongue-and-groove panels, simply fitted onto wooden battens. However, a successful installation requires a methodology that will allow the panels to move in response to the changing humidity levels where they are installed.
Installation considerations include:
- Checking the flatness and condition of the wall
- Preparing the surface –whether using extruded clips or bevel cletes
- Preventing the panels from warping – especially if you’re working in hot or humid conditions
- Trimming the panel – use the right tool to trim the edges to remove any excess veneer
You’ll find a lot of information about wood veneer specifications in AWI’s 300 section of the standards, and you can also read our guide to wood veneers for a complete overview.