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Hobbit House Veneer Buying Guide
Veneer is manufactured by putting logs in large slicing machines with various orientations so that the wood can be sliced in different ways, just as it can be cut in a sawmill in various ways. Thus, the standard "cuts" for lumber (flat cut, rift cut, quartersawn) are also available in veneers. Likewise, other grain patterns ("figures") such as fiddleback, curly, mottled, and so forth are also available in veneer just as they are in lumber.
SO ... in terms of cut and figure styles, there is no difference between lumber and veneer with the single exception of "rotary cut" which is a veneer cutting style not possible in lumber, only in veneer. There is even one wood (bubinga) which, when cut in rotary form is given a special name (kevazinga / kevazingo). Other woods, such as sapele, when cut in rotary fashion for veneer are simply called "rotary cut veneer". Woods that are rotary cut for veneer tend to have a really strikingly attractive swirly grain pattern.
The "nominal / standard" thickness for commercially manufactured veneer is 1/42nd of an inch, but this tends to vary quite a bit, with a fairly common range being from about 1/25th of an inch to about 1/50th of an inch. Within any one "flitch" (the veneer all cut from the same log) there will not be any variation, but between flitches and particularly for different woods, the manufacturers will adjust the thickness, sometimes to suit the characteristics of the wood and sometimes to fit the designated use.
There is "thick" veneer, as well, at 1/16th of an inch and thicker. Thicker than 1/16th inch, it becomes arguable whether it should be called veneer or thin-wood, although technically if it is sliced on a veneer slicer, it IS veneer, regardless of thickness. Plywood panels are normally made with an inner core of rotary cut softwood veneer up to 1/4" thick.
As for length and width, veneers tend to be about a foot wide or less, although that is certainly not a hard limitation and there are many woods that have veneer available in "panel" size of 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. Rorary cut veneer can be produced in really large sizes although I'm not aware of any final forms larger than panel size (4' wide). Also, there are "stitching" techniques used to glue up veneer into panel size when the veneer sheets themselves do not reach that width.
The various forms of "matching" veneers (bookmatching, quartermatching, slip matching, and so forth) are a large enough subject for a whole 'nother guide, so I will not go into them here, but there are excellent illustrations for each in my GLOSSARY. Look at the term
VENEER MATCHING and it will have links to discussion of and illustrations of the various veneer matching styles.
"Home-made" or "shop-cut" veneer tends to be thicker than commercially sliced veneer, since individuals unavoidably use more coarse cutting methods than a commercial veneer slicer.
For some woods the tree does not reach sizes amenable to veneer slicing and you will find them in veneer form rarely or not at all. Some examples of this are bocote, cocobolo, and Brazilian tulipwood. I have purchased veneers of all of these but they are rare, tend to be narrow, and are quite expensive.
There are also a few woods that do not lend themselves to veneer production because the veneer would be too brittle and would self-destruct even with the most careful handling. My own direct experience with this is limited to wormy chestnut and it is possible that the particular veneer I bought was not representative of that species, but it was extraordinarily fragile. Quartersawn wenge veneer is also a problem since it splits REALLY easily along the grain.
Three other forms of wood that do not generally lend themselves to veneer manufacturer are crotches, burls and spalted wood. There are a few trees that grow burls so huge that they are regularly cut into veneer form, and some trees have crotches big enough, but this is very much the exception, not the rule. Probably the most common burl veneers are redwood and walnut. Redwood burls and mahogany crotches regularly occur in huge sizes and are sliced for decorative veneers. I have purchased burl veneers of several dozen species, but again, these are relatively rare, especially compared to the solid burl form, and they tend to be very expensive compared to veneer from more common species.
Spalted wood is something I have almost never seen in commercially prepared veneer. Both burls and spalted wood are favorites of "home/hobby" veneer producers who make veneer for their own use in jewlery boxes and/or marquetry, and burl veeners are common for a significant number of species, but spalted wood is not.
Some woods, most notably walnut, produce really striking veneer from the very bottom of the tree near the ground. "Angel step" is a particular figure that is found almost exclusively in American black walnut stump veneer and claro walnut can produce an amazingly swirly and streaky stump veneer.
Logs that are slected for conversion to veneer are specifically called "veneer logs" and are relatively few and far between because they have to be very straight, free from knots and other defects, and of consistenly high quality wood.
Most veneers tend to be quite flat, but burl and crotch veneers are frequently an exception to this and may require moistening and flattening before use. I have seen some extremly malformed burl veneers such that if you laid a sheet of this veneer on a table and laid a piece of paper on top of the veneer, the paper would be a full inch off of the table. That's extreme, but for the paper to be 1/4-inch off the table would not be unusual for a burl veneer.
Just as an aside on burl size, I once saw a newspaper picture of a burl that was bigger than an SUV and weighted, as I recall, about 10,000 pounds. I can't remember what species it was, but I do remember that it was not destined for veneer but rather for very high-end huge slabs for very expensive tables and such.
Depending on the quantity and quality, you can obtain veneer for anywhere from 10 cents a square foot up to 10 dollars a square foot, with really exotic and fancy forms going for even more and huge quantities of common veneers going for even less. Veneer of fairly common woods, in modest quantities, should cost you from about 50 cents a square foot to a few dollars a square foot.
If you are interested in large quantities of craft-style veneer (nothing long than 12" but a huge variety), I have many tens of thousands of square feet that I am looking to sell at clearance prices for large orders. I was very active in the craft veneer business a few years ago but my interests have moved to other areas and I would like to clear out my stock, which is taking up a large part of my very large basement.
There are literally thousands of pictures of various wood veneers on my wood ID site, from hundreds of wood species. This is a non-commercial site for information only --- nothing there is for sale. Click here: WOOD ID SITE