Wood Veneering- Getting Started

If you're interested in working with wood veneer and haven't tried it or just don't know where to start then these basic articles will help. Veneering can get quite involved if you let it but it can also be very simple with the same results.

When you're learning the basics of veneering you shouldn't be concerned with knowing how to make your own veneer with bookmatched burls or how to stack and seam flitches to get the best look.

What you're simply concerned with is how to handle it, apply it and finish it. My guess is if you're just learning how to veneer a project you're working on then it probably isn't going to be your signature piece.


What is Veneer?

Veneer, for our purposes, is defined as a thin layer of wood glued to a suitable substrate. There are several reasons to use wood veneer instead of using solid wood, with the most apparent reasons being wood availability and design.

Certain species just aren't available in the quantities needed to meet the demands. In order to conserve limited supplies it's only available as thin strips. Even a readily available species such as oak is more economical to use as veneer.

One of the other main reasons to use veneer is getting the grain design you want. Some of the wood grain designs can only be made available thru veneers cut in various ways from the log.

Types of Wood Veneer.

When buying veneer material you'll find raw wood veneer just as it was sliced from the log and you'll also find veneer that has some type of backing applied. If you're just learning I'd recommend working with the latter.

Unbacked veneer can be tricky to work with when you're just learning. Veneer with a paper or phenolic backing is much more stable and easier to work with.

There are several purposes for the backer. It helps keep the veneer flatter as your working with it and that helps keep it from cracking. The backer, usually available in 10mil or 20mil, keeps the glue from soaking through to the surface and at the same time provides a barrier between the finish and the glue. This is necessary because some finishes aren't compatable with certain glues and could loosen the glue.

Another reason to start with backed veneers is the joints. The backed veneers come in various sizes with some sheets a full 4' x 8'. The seams are already glued together so all you have to do is cut it to size and glue it to your project.

Applying Wood Veneer.

There are several acceptable ways of applying wood veneer.


Stick on Veneer - This is a peel and stick adhesive method. Just peel away the adhesive protector and stick it to your project.  Peel and stick adhesive can usually be found on prefinished veneers. It can be used on most projects as long as the substrate surface is prepped correctly. Make sure your finished project isn't subjected to a wide temperature variation or really low temperatures.

Iron on VeneerThis veneer comes with a hot melt adhesive already applied to the back. You can apply this veneer just using  a household iron and rolling the surface until it cools. This is a fast and stable application method and virtually fool proof. Using hot melt adhesive is the preferred method for most woodworkers. Hot melt adhesive is also best when applying wood veneer to panel edges.

Contact cement - When veneering large panels this is the best choice. It's normally a little faster process and you can continue with your project immediately without having to wait for the glue to dry. After applying the adhesive to both surfaces just stick them together and pressure roll.This works best on veneers with a backer.

PVA glue PVA glue, (or carpenters glue), is the best type of glue when veneering with raw unbacked veneer. When applying unbacked  veneer with PVA glue it's best to use a vacuum system to help keep the veneer from raising or getting wavy while drying.  This seems a little more complicated but it opens doors to more projects that you're capable of handling. Once you've tried  it you'll actually find it rather easy.

You shouldn't be afraid to give it a try. The veneer and the glues have improved over the years to the point that, just by following basic guidelines, anyone can do a good quality veneer job.


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