Why use wood veneer? In many cases, wood veneer is the best alternative to solid hardwood lumber, both for cosmetic and structural purposes. From hotel lobbies to private libraries, architectural grade wood veneer has important functions.
Elegance and Versatility of Hardwood
Hardwood lumber with its natural grain patterns is an excellent and long-lasting material for use in interior architectural woodwork. Hardwood has elegant aesthetics and versatility that are not often found in other materials.
Hardwood is particularly good at emphasizing grandness and the sense of authority, which is why it’s so frequently seen inside a boardroom or in a courtroom. There is something about the smell, texture, appearance, and grain pattern of wood that commands respect and awe.
Practical Considerations for Using Wood Veneers
Hardwood materials can be expensive, and rarer woods can be difficult to come by. Panels that are completely made from hardwood materials are not practical in terms of structural integrity.
Wood materials warp as they absorb moisture or change color as they react to direct or prolonged exposure to sunlight. Material distortions are very difficult to prevent and correct on solid hardwood.
From wall panels to cabinets, applying wood veneer is the practical alternative. Aside from saving money, it is also about structural integrity. Interior wall panels, for instance, may become dangerously heavy and the doors may eventually become unusable if they are constructed from solid hardwood instead of using wood veneer over a particleboard (or similar) panel.
Sequence Matched Veneer
A large number of architectural woodworking projects involve the use of wood veneer as a purely functional construction mechanism. However, a project can become challenging when it involves decorative specifications as even if the design is simple, it will require pattern repetitions and matching.
Wood veneer grains and colors must match and smoothly transition. The appearance of an entire room will be radically affected if the patterns don’t match. Just like tiles, sequenced panels are of the same height and width. As the name implies these veneers came from the same sequence of logs, matching the colors and grain patterns.
Matching the veneers based on the sequence in which they were manufactured will allow you to create an uninterrupted layout. The illusion of continuity can be lost when some parts are trimmed to fit on walls or allow door installations, so careful thought and planning are required!
You can use the same veneers from the sequence for the doors and other components if you need smoother transitions. Sequential matching becomes harder if you have a bigger area to cover. You will need longer lead time to do this and it can become costly.
Applying Wood Veneer
Unlike cheaper types of veneer like peel-and-stick printed veneers, wood veneer has the authentic look and texture of wood. It is made from thinly sliced wood pieces mounted on board, and provides a beautiful finish.
Aside from the species of wood and the color, wood veneer can also be classified based on their substrates:
- Paper-backed veneer – commonly used for curved surfaces
- Wood-on-wood veneer – commonly used for interior furnishings
- Phenolic-backed veneer – has a plastic back and decorative front veneer
The different substrates influence how you will attach the veneers. For ease, the process of applying veneers can be summarized into ten basic steps:
- Choose the specie
- Choose leaf-to-leaf orientation- random, book-matched or slip matched
- Select the panel-to-panel orientation, running, sequenced or blueprint match
- Trim and cut the veneer to size
- Assemble the leaves into faces
- Decide on the type of substrate
- Choose the type of glue
- Apply glue to the substrate
- Align the veneer faces and backs
- Apply pressure with vacuum bag, cold press or hot press
Architectural Grade Veneers
Just like other wood materials, veneers are also graded based on the quality of the material. The Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association (HPVA) provides the following categories:
- AA: premium quality exclusive for architectural paneling
- A: excellent in appearance but not as high as AA rating
- B: the appearance and characteristics of the species are desirable
- C: unlimited colors but mainly for more economical applications
Architectural grade veneers are of the highest quality in terms of aesthetics and durability so these are the veneers used for interior woodworking projects like wall panels.
You’ll find a lot of information about wood veneer specifications in the AWI Standards section AWI 300, and you can also read our guide to wood veneers for a complete overview.