Different Types of Wood Veneer

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A veneer is a thinly-sliced wood that is fixed to wooden surfaces to give them the appearance of solid wood. A veneer is very thin, usually with a thickness of less than an eighth of an inch. The veneer is bonded to a substrate also usually made from an affordable type of wood giving it the look of solid wood at a fraction of the cost.

The type of veneer can refer to the kind of wood used, based on the species of tree such as ash, beech, cherry, etc. However, we can also refer to the type of veneer based on the manufacturing process such as rotary-cut veneers or shop-sawn veneers. 

Below we discuss the different varieties of wood veneers and the methods made to make these different types of veneers.

Wood Veneer
Wood Veneer. Image Credit: Jeff Keyzer

Common Types of Wood Used for Veneers

Veener could be made out of virtually any species of wood, but here are the most common types.

Scientific Name (genus)
Ash Fraxinus
Beech Fagus
Birch Betula
Butternut Juglans cinerea
Cedar Cedrus
Cherry Prunus
Fir Abies
Hickory Carya
Maple Acer
Oak Quercus
Pine Pinus
Poplar Populus
Walnut Juglans

Different Types Of Wood Veneer

Wood Veneers

When we talk about veneer, we usually refer to veneer that we slice from a particular species of wood. Hence, you get different textures and colors corresponding to the source wood.

The commonly-used species made into veneer are Ash, Birch, Cherry, Beech, Maple, Elm, Oak, Pine, Spruce and Walnut.  You can also find Cherry veneer and Teak veneer although less common.

However, there are countless varieties of veneers that you can get, and the price varies according to the species of wood used and the manufacturing method. The unique property of wood veneer is that it brings out the best in natural wood grain patterns. Even though you use the edges of the wood, the cells remodel themselves to impart an aesthetically-pleasing look.

Image showing colors and grain of different wood veneers by species (Ash, Beech, Cherry, etc)

Backed Veneers

This variety of veneer has a backing that adds strength and suppleness to the rather thin material. You can use this type of veneer for sickle-shaped surfaces easily. Backed veneers are the most expensive variety of wood veneers. The backing of these veneers can be paper, plastic foil or cloth. You can use it on flat or curved surfaces. You get backed veneer in different sizes. Smaller veneer pieces are combined before adding the backing material. This results in a much more versatile material than raw wood veneer.

Although this is the most expensive variety of veneer, you get a perfect match corresponding to the grain of the source wood. Thus, you can expect an elegant finish if you use backed veneers. This makes it very suitable for use in furnishings.

Backed veneer has an acclimatization stage, where you need to leave it to adjust to the atmospheric temperature and humidity. Typically, you would lie it flat, preferably pressed flat for 24 to 48 hours. This makes it lose its “rolled” memory.

Rotary-Cut Veneers

As the name suggests, we produce this type of veneer through a rotary action. The log of timber is rotated at high speed. Then, a shaper, a sort of knife cuts the surface of the log. The wood unravels in the form of a continuous sheet, rather like a paper towel unraveling. Due to the speed of the process, the finish of a rotary-cut veneer does not look as elegant as a flat-cut veneer. As a result, this type of veneer comes at a cheaper price, but you cannot use it on say, kitchen cabinets, where you need an elegant finish.

Shop-Sawn Veneer

Most types of veneer are machine cut in a factory. However, it isn’t all that difficult to create your own veneer with appropriate machinery. We refer to this type of veneer as a shop-sawn veneer. Because this veneer is a manually-produced type, it tends to be thicker than regular veneers. We usually produce shop-sawn veneers by using equipment like a mechanized saw, band saw, and sanding machines.

If you are ready to make that extra effort to produce your own veneers, you get a choice of patterns and finishes. Because you get to choose, you get a much more extensive range than you would get from buying it. However, the downside of the shop-sawn veneer is that you can’t use it for sharply-curved surfaces.

Laminate Veneer

To manufacture this type of veneer, we press several fine layers of wood together to create a single layer. We then join the individual layers together with an adhesive. It is one of the more flexible types of veneer, and thus quite popular. Therefore, laminate veneer enjoys a wide range of applications such as furniture, kitchen countertops, flooring, and so on.

Veneer Core Plyboard

Veneer core plyboard, also known as plywood, finds a full application in use for manufacturing panels. This veneer is also significantly flexible and offers considerable strength and durability. The material gets its strength from the fact that the different layers of veneer are arranged against each other’s grain.

It is much like a plywood, and due to the strength, it offers, the veneer core plyboard is often thicker than most veneers. You get different styles and patterns, which makes this type of veneer quite popular. Although not a substitute for solid wood, you get the potential for creating woodwork with a fine finish through this variety of veneer.

Plywood Factory; sheets of veneer sorted (Wikimedia)

After reading this article, we hope that you have a better insight into various aspects of wood veneers. You can get as many different types of wood veneers as there are species of trees. Then, the manufacturing method also has a bearing on the type of veneer that it is. Further, you will see that each type of veneer has different applications, and you need to know where to use each one.

Once you pick out the appropriate kind of veneer for the job at hand, you need to use it accordingly. Veneers will twist, split, shrink, or warp while you work on them. You need to know what to expect and use a suitable process to get the best out of your veneers. Understanding wood veneers is an intrinsic part of any woodworker’s core process. If you can master this, then you will qualify as a competent woodworker.

Softwood, Semi-hardwood and Hardwood

Another point to consider when choosing a wood veneer is whether the type of wood is soft, semi-hardwood or hardwood.

Softwood: Pine, Cedar, Redwood, Spruce, Douglas fir

Hardwood: Maple, Oak, Walnut

A veneer is a thinly-sliced wood that we fix to wooden surfaces to give them the appearance of solid wood. Veneer typically has a thickness of less than an eighth of an inch. We usually bond the veneer to a substrate also made from wood, but of a cheaper variety. Since the substrate is not going to be visible, it doesn’t matter if it has a rough appearance.

Featured Image: Phil Gradwell