What is wood veneer?
Veneer is made by slicing large rectangular blocks of wood into very thin layers (usually between .5mm and 1.5mm), either lengthwise with the grain, or across the grain. The appearance varies depending on the angle at which the wood is sliced and the species of timber.
Is wood veneer inferior to solid timber?
Many people wrongly assume that veneered furniture is cheaper or lower quality than solid timber. But a grand piano is made of veneer – thin slices of real timber that are glued together and steamed around a beautiful curve, which would be nearly impossible to achieve out of a solid piece of wood. Inlays are also created by using different coloured timbers glued together on a solid substrate. Veneering dates back to ancient Egyptian times and has been used over the centuries to create beautiful shapes and designs.
Solid Timber Furniture
Most large solid panels such as table tops are made of several boards glued together on the edge. Legs and frames are usually made from a single piece of wood, although they may be glued or laminated if curved shapes are desired, or if the strength of lengthwise grain is required. Special techniques such as dovetailing or finger-jointing may be used, and even highlighted to show natural variations in grain or colour.
Benefits of solid timber
Scratches, dents, stains, and watermarks on solid timber furniture can be repaired. There is no risk of sanding through the veneer, so even deep marks will be possible to repair.
Drawbacks of solid timber
It might split or warp. No matter how well timber is prepared, and kiln dried, New Zealand atmospheric conditions can be extreme, and can affect solid wood. Timber expands and contracts and may split along the grain of the wood. Predicting which boards may crack is about as uncertain as predicting earthquakes! Sometimes timber tops are attached to the frames using brackets so a little movement may be possible without damage. It is important to avoid exposing solid wood furniture to strong sunlight or direct heat sources. Curved shapes may reveal short grain, which is more liable to break than stronger lengthwise grain.
Modern veneered furniture is made from thin slices of timber over MDF (medium density fibreboard), which is dense, stable, and more environmentally friendly than solid timber. The glue used in the process is the same strong, waterproof adhesive used in boatbuilding, so the end result is stronger than the natural wood.
Flat panels such as table and cabinet tops, and drawer fronts and sides are mostly likely to be veneered due to the stability of the finished panel. Legs may well be made from straight grain solid wood in one piece, or two or more pieces of timber glued together.
Benefits of veneer
It’s stable. Veneered MDF or ply is not prone to warping, splitting, or seasonal movement. It creates new design possibilities, such as radial designs or inlays using different coloured natural timber.
It’s environmentally sound. Cutting timber into boards wastes a lot of thickness that ends up as sawdust. Veneer can produce between 30 and 40 slices for every one solid board. The MDF substrate under the veneer is made from lower quality timber, creating a market that is sustainable and renewable.
It’s attractive. Only the best and most interesting logs are cut into veneer, as the timber will fetch a higher price as veneer than as sawn boards. A very knotty piece of wood can look fantastic, but wouldn’t be strong enough to use as solid timber.
Disadvantages of veneer
It’s thin, so it can mean that repairs are tricky if the complete thickness of the veneer has been damaged.
Very inexpensive furniture may be made from poor quality veneers which may blister, delaminate, or peel. You get what you pay for!! Early massed-produced furniture was made with techniques that have largely been superseded.
We hope this guide helps make your furniture buying experience easier! Do you have any questions about solid timber furniture vs wood veneer that we didn’t cover? Pop them in the comments below or contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer.