Tips on Working With Wood Veneer

Written by elaine severs
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Tips on Working With Wood Veneer
Veneers can turn simple woodworking projects into pieces of art. (la table image by xavier guichard from

Veneer, a thin slice of wood cut from a log with a special type of saw, can make your woodworking projects look more professional. Because veneer requires such small quantities of material, using it makes even the most expensive exotic woods more accessible to every craftsman. But working with such a thin material requires special considerations, and some specific tools. If you don't handle or apply your veneer correctly it could buckle, peel, bubble or otherwise mar your finished product. The following tips should keep your veneering project looking like a work of art, even after several years.

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Selecting a Substrate

While veneer can be applied to almost any surface, the one you choose will dictate how you will need to prepare it, what type of backing your veneer should have and what type of glue you should use. Medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, is one of the most commonly used substrates, and can take a veneer after it has been sanded. But veneer with the right backing can even be applied to metal or glass. If you are using plywood, make sure it does not have a cheap veneer already applied that peels away easily, making it useless to apply your more expensive veneer on top.

Buying the Veneer

Be aware that veneer will have different colours and grain even in the same wood species. Buy all the veneer you will need for your project at once, and keep in mind that you can save money by applying cheaper veneer to less visible surfaces, such as the underside of a shelf. The glue you use and the substrate you select for your project will determine what type of backing you will need. If you are not certain which backing to use for your project, ask your supplier.


Excess humidity will cause unused veneer to curl. To prevent this, don't unwrap your veneer more than 24 hours before you start your project. Keep any unused veneer covered in plastic and stored flat. If your veneer does curl, the distributor Quality Plywood Specialists recommends covering it in a blanket to protect the surface and applying heavy weight overnight.

Selecting Glue

Gluing your veneer to the substrate is one of the most important steps in the project because the veneer relies exclusively on the adhesive for bonding strength. The manufacturer Oakwood Veneer Co. recommends using a hard-setting glue such as carpenter's glue--often called PVA--or urea formaldehyde whenever possible. But using these glues requires clamping or specialised tools such as a vacuum or cold or hot press. Many hobby woodworkers will be satisfied with contact cement, which requires a proper backer but has the advantage of not requiring clamping. Contact cement will not work on projects that require multiple pieces of veneer to be joined together, though, because the rubbery texture makes it impossible to properly line up the pieces, and it is not compatible with all finishes.

Applying Glue

No matter which glue you select, make sure you remove all dust from the surface before you start, and apply the glue to 100 per cent of the surface. In most cases, you will need to apply a second coat because the first will be absorbed into the substrate. If this is the case, allow for proper drying time between adhesive coats and make sure the glue is completely dry before applying the veneer. This will create a stronger bond and avoid problems such as bubbling.


Allow the adhesive to dry for at least 24 hours before applying any finish. If you are staining, apply the stain and allow it to dry an additional 24 hours before applying the sealer coat. A light coat of sealer, allowed to dry completely before applying finish, will protect your veneer against moisture and from penetration from finish coats. But you can also use several coats of finish, allowing the first coat to dry completely before applying the next.

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