Many of the wooden products you buy today are not actually solid wood. Often, these products have a natural wooden veneer that covers a structure that is made of a cheaper material or a more stable material. This can be for many different reasons, including cost, stability, or weight. Commonly veneered products include tables, cupboards, and doors. Most modern timber doors consist of a face veneer that is fixed to a core material that is either more durable and stable, or lighter and cheaper than solid timber. Core materials include engineered wood, that can be produced to perform better than natural wood and is a more sustainable product, and polystyrene, that is lightweight and waterproof. As the veneers are the parts visible, doors and other furniture pieces can still have a traditional and attractive appearance while making use of modern productions techniques for the main structure of the product.
The use of veneers is actually an ancient technique, first seen in use from the ancient Egyptian times. It usually involves a very thin layer of natural wood, often thinner than 3mm, being fitted onto a core structure. It should produce a product that has the appearance of being solid natural wood. Veneers can then be lacquered, varnished or stained, in the same way as solid timber.
Natural wood veneers are usually produced by cutting very thin sheets from tree trunks, using a specific method. The technique used to cut these sheets will affect the grain pattern which is visible on the surface of the veneer. Tree species that are the same as each other can look very different when different cutting or matching methods are used.
Some cutting methods more economical than others, and this will affect the price of the veneer produced. The size of sheets which can be produced also differs, depending on the way it’s been cut.
Cutting Method Names
This cut is also sometimes known as a crown or plain cut. It’s possibly the most common cut use in woodworking in general. A log is cut in half and the veneer cuts are made parallel to a line through the centre of the log. This usually produces a variegated grain pattern on each sheet. The veneer pieces produced by this method are usually kept in sequence so they can be easily matched when joined to produce larger sheets. The pattern the grains forms on these sheets are usually straight with dome shaped cathedrals or heart figures. The width of sheets which can be produced will depend on the size of the log being used. This method of cut will usually produce moderately priced veneers.
The quarter cut method begins by quartering the log, rather than halving it. The veneer sheets are cut by a blade set at right angles to the growth rings of the log. This method wastes more wood and produces narrower sheets than other cutting methods, which can make it a more expensive product. Quarter cut veneers usually display a striped pattern, sometimes straight, sometimes more varied, depending on the species of wood used. Woods that are commonly cut using this method are mahogany, teak, and oak.
The rotary cut involves a log to be mounted at its centre, on a lathe, and rotated as a thin slice of veneer is sliced from it. This method can produce very large single sheets which usually have a broad grain pattern. Veneer produced with a rotary cut can often be used as one complete sheet. Its pattern can appear quite randomly so it can be difficult to match if pieces do need to be joined. This method allows most of a log to be used, with minimum wastage, making it a cost-effective cutting method.
The half-round cut is a cross between rotary and flat cutting. A log is halved and cut on an arc, parallel to its centre. This produces wider sheets than you would get from flat cuts, which means smaller logs can be used. The pattern produced is similar to flat cuts, but the cathedrals usually have rounder tops.
A veneer cut with the rift-cut technique will usually be the most expensive. This is because a relatively large amount of wood is wasted. This method is typically used to cut oaks. The finished grain pattern is usually straight and will be similar to what is produced from a quarter cut. For this cut, a log is quartered and the cutting angle periodically changes, so as to remain about 15 degrees off the quarter. Cutting at an angle like this produces a comb effect grain pattern in oak without any flakes.
The lengthwise cut is where a flat board of sawn wood is cut into thin sheets. This usually produces sheets with a variegated grain pattern. The width of the sheets produced will depend on the board that is used to make them.