Veneer History – A Testimony to Its Strength
If you’ve ever visited a museum with furniture that is hundreds of years old, you will probably notice that the best-preserved furniture is veneered. Since central heating, air conditioning and humidifiers weren’t present a century or more ago, this preservation can be attributed to fine veneering techniques and good glues. Veneers have been around since Egyptian times – a wonderful testimony to its strength!
Why Use Veneers?
Why do people buy veneered wood furniture? Veneers allow beautiful wood grain patterns to be used over wide areas. Decorative patterns, like fans, squares, borders or inlay lines, can be made only from veneers. Those who practice fine wood stewardship will use one beautiful cherry tree with an attractive grain pattern to make many drawer fronts with matching grain patterns, rather than just a few solid-wood drawer fronts.
So many beautiful woods, like ash burl, figured cherry, ebony and primavera, are only available in limited quantities, so using them as veneers makes them go much further as a decorative element. Woods, such as ash burl and ebony, work best when they’re glued to other layers for superior stability.
Since wood moves in the direction of its lengthwise grain pattern, gluing strips of wood together with perpendicular grain patterns helps prevent shrinkage and expansion in the wood. Slices of wood with lengthwise grain are glued against slices with crosswise grain. When the lengthwise grain absorbs humidity and tries to lengthen, the crosswise grain holds it in place.
Wood Attributes – Solid Woods and Veneers
Exceptional furniture construction begins with wood, and since wood is a natural material, it has characteristics that require special consideration. When trees are harvested, they have quite a bit of moisture in them. The moisture will dry out over time if the wood is allowed to age, but a combination of air and kiln drying systematically controls moisture content and prevents wood from splitting.
The grain of the wood can expand and contract for years, even if the wood is kiln dried and finished. Heat and humidity affect the expansion and contraction. Sometimes this expansion/contraction will cause a split in a piece of solid wood furniture. This is particularly true when furniture is stored in contrasting hot/cold temperature extremes and humid/dry conditions. Well-done veneers help control the expansion and contraction of wood.
Ancient artisans glued an uneven number of wood layers together so that each layer’s grain was perpendicular to the next, resulting in a strong and stable piece. Working from a central core of wood, artisans glued a piece of veneer on either side of the core, so that the veneer’s grain was perpendicular to the grain of the core. If the core’s grain ran north-south, the first layer of veneer on either side of the core would run east-west. A core with a layer on each side is known as 3-ply veneer.
Additional layers can be added to the core. A 5-ply veneer will have a core with the grain running north-south, a layer on either side of the core with grain running east-west and another layer on either side with grain running north-south. It’s important to add layers of veneer to both sides of the core so that the piece remains flat. If veneers are added to only one side of the core, it may curl in the direction of the veneer. Veneer on both sides of the core will give it balance.
At the Core of Veneered Pieces
Some cores are a thin slice of veneer. If made in this fashion, the finished piece is a slim, strong piece that can be shaped into a curved drawer front or the bowed side of a chest.
Other cores are thicker pieces created from strips of wood glued together side-by-side with all of the grain running in the same direction. Some cores are made from medium density fiberboard (MDF). In many cases MDF is preferable to strips of wood, since it has no grain. Whether the core is made from strips of wood or MDF it will be very strong. Whenever pieces of wood are glued together, they are stronger where they are glued than a piece of bare wood by itself. Likewise, MDF has great strength because it is a mixture of wood fibers melded together with glue, heat, and high compression. Good quality MDF is not at all like the inexpensive plywood you see at the local home improvement store, or the chip core you may have seen in a ready-to-assemble bookshelf.
Fancy Face Veneers
The veneering process makes it possible for gorgeous woods, available only in small quantities, to be incorp-orated into furniture design. Some of the world’s most beautiful wood grains, like ash burl and primavera, can only be used when they’re veneered. “Fancy Face” refers to veneer designs that are created from smaller pieces of decorative woods laid out in a pattern. Marquetry patterns and parquet veneers are the most intricate. The ash burl veneers used for The Royal Tapestry Collection are cut from the part of the tree where growths or root structure make the grain grow in many directions or a circular fashion. This pattern, called burl, is a prized veneer used in the finest furniture pieces.
Some collections utilize exotic veneers like ebony to frame doors and drawers and to edge the headboards and footboards of beds. This framing is called banding. A slim line of black ebony wood demarks a line between the banding and the larger pieces of cherry veneer – known as an inlay line. The Centovalli Collection features this design treatment.
The Enduring Collection’s veneers include quarter-sawn oak that is used to make its decorative parquet pattern. Quarter sawn oak divides a log into quarters before slicing sheets of veneer. This method reveals a tighter wood grain pattern in the oak – perfect for the parquet veneering technique. Parquet veneers have patterns like parquet floors. Squares of wood veneer are cut and placed in a pattern that looks a bit like quilt squares. Blocks of veneer placed adjacent to each other in a parquet veneer pattern have their wood grains running in opposite directions.