This post reprinted with permission from Brian Boggs and was included in his latest newsletter:

Originally, using veneers allowed makers to get a lot more furniture from expensive exotic materials. The first known use of veneers was by Egyptian craftsmen around 3000 BC for this very reason! Because the history of veneering and plywood mostly developed as a way of making furniture cheaper, economy of manufacturing drove much of the innovation in veneers and plywood. As such, we often associate veneer with inexpensive furniture.

Sadly, what we see most and what forms our perspective on veneering is the cheapest, most poorly designed and least carefully constructed furniture on the planet. Unfortunately for veneer, the larger furniture market’s attitude means that economy compromises quality.

However, plywood with veneers was also used to create some of the finest furniture the world has known. When used effectively, veneer supports a world of artistry with no limits to quality, durability or beauty. Some of the finest furniture from the early part of the 20th century made by Art Deco designer Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann used veneers. Still highly valued today, his creations inspire much of the work of our friend and colleague, master craftsman Frank Pollaro, among others.

These fine designers and builders use veneer and plywood to lend stability to furniture. Pianos take advantage of the greater stability lent by plywood with veneers. With some of Steinway’s most celebrated gems selling for upwards of $2,000,000, you can see how veneers on plywood, when masterfully done, can be stunning expressions of woodworking artistry.

In our shop, we make veneers in the manner of 18th century craftsmen, sawing them from logs. Our process generates a veneer far thicker than is possible by modern slicing (a thin board usually 1/8″ thick). While the cost increases, so does the strength of the veneer. Because of this integrity, our veneers achieve a more durable face which is easily repaired in contrast to the mass-produced veneers. The furniture made with this material retains the feel and look of solid wood and may be treated and finished in the same way.

Veneers also free me to use grain patterns as a design feature, since we get more patterns of a similar form with veneers. In solid lumber, even the two opposite faces of one board reveal very different grain patterns as they are an inch or more apart. Because veneers are so much thinner, the grain patterns remain very similar on both sides and sometimes several sequentially sawn veneers may retain those related grain patterns, creating dramatic symmetrical pictures on the surface of furniture.

Making our own veneers allows us to use woods such as burls or mahogany stumps that would not be stable enough for use as a solid piece. Some of the most beautiful grain patterns come from irregular and changing grain directions that make a board unstable or weak. Gluing and pressing a veneer from this material to a plywood substrate stabilizes and strengthens the piece. This process generates furniture that would not have been workable without the veneering process.
All the best,

– Brian Boggs

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