Solid Wood  Verses Veneers for custom furniture

I use both types of construction in building my custom furniture and custom cabinets. Now lets look at these two options their strong and weak points.

Visit Our New Online Store

Solid wood furniture  

This means all exposed parts are made of the same species of all natural wood, with no other materials included, such as plywood or particle board.

Advantages of Solid Wood:

Practical. The durability of solid wood furniture is high on the list. Scratches, dings, dents, water marks, stains can all be repaired. Obviously, the worse the damage the more expensive, but it is certainly easier and less expensive than veneer furniture.

Disadvantages of Solid Wood:

split.  When exposed to extreme atmospheric conditions, solid wood furniture will expand or contract, and may split along the grain of the wood. I use a "floating case system" in which table and case-piece surfaces are attached using a bracket method or elongated holes for screws to slide. This enables furniture to respond to environmental changes without damage. As a rule, though, avoid exposing pieces to strong sunlight or direct heat sources.

Veneer furniture

Veneer Furniture begins with thin layers of wood glued together with the grain at right angles over a thick core. This crisscross design reduces the chances of splitting or cracking. Plus, the glue is the same strong, waterproof adhesive used in aircraft and marine construction, so the end result is actually stronger than the natural wood. Many people mistakenly assume that veneered furniture is inferior to or cheaper than solid wood; however,  I use veneers quite often for high end furniture pieces and it can be more costly than solid wood.

Good quality veneer furniture will have a solid core and the legs, posts, doors or drawer fronts will be straight-grain solid wood.

Advantages of  Veneer:

Beautiful. The best, most interesting logs are cut into veneer. This is largely an economic decision--sellers and veneer makers can make more money from a high quality log sliced into veneer than they can from sawing it into boards. And certain cuts, such as burls, are structurally unsound in 'the solid'. These beautiful woods can rarely be utilized unless they're sliced into veneer

Environmentally kind. Saw timber is typically sawn into 1" thick boards. The saw cuts a kerf between boards 1/4" thick that winds up as sawdust. Veneer is not cut from the log but sliced with a knife (like lunch meat) into 1/32" leaves or sheets. That produces 32 veneer surfaces for every 1 that is gotten from a board and with no wood wasted as sawdust another 8 sheets where the sawblade would have gone. That's 40 surfaces of wood veneer for every 1 of solid wood.

Creates new design possibilities. Since veneer is so thin and is glued to a stable substrate it allows designs and arrangements of the wood that would fail in solid wood. Solid wood, even kiln-dried, moves or works from summer through winter through summer again. A radiant table top would be impossible in solid lumber because the seams would open in winter and swell tightly shut in summer. Cross grain designs such as aprons and edge bandings are also impossible in solids. Solid burls are also largely unusable but frequently used in veneer.

Stable. Since veneer is glued to a stable substrate it produces surfaces not prone to warp or splitting or seasonal movement.

Substrates. Plywood and medium density fiberboard, the substrates I use for my furniture, are made from low quality trees. This means a market is provided the landowner for these trees. This leads to better forests over time since the trees remaining grow better and faster with less competition for resources. Its like weeding your garden only a lot bigger.

Disadvantages Veneer:

Thin. This is more of a problem for the builder than the buyer. Sand-through in preparation for finishing is 'touching the third rail' of woodworking. Such pieces are almost impossible to repair and frequently involve 're-design' (as in cutting off the sanded through area) or making a speculative, difficult repair which can be difficult to hide. Once the piece is completed thickness of the veneer is of no concern.

Blisters, delaminates, peel back at edges. These can only be satisfactorily prevented by proper construction materials and techniques. Early in the 20th century much mass-produced, low quality veneer furniture was made that haunts furniture makers to this day. Construction techniques and materials have improved considerably in the past few decades to the point that delaminating is no longer a legitimate concern. Hide glue is used only in a few special applications and has been superseded by aliphatic and resorcinol glues. 'Hammer veneering' and cumbersome, mechanical presses have been replaced by vacuum presses which insure good clamping (and facilitate design possibilities by allowing veneering of curved surfaces).

The edge thing. Since veneer is glued to a plywood or medium density fiberboard substrate the edges must be covered. The best solution involves a strip of solid wood that opens more design possibilities. The edging can be wide or narrow, match the veneer panel or contrast, can further incorporate veneer which can be cross grain or at a 45 degree angle, can be set off by a narrow strip of inlay, etc. A workable solution but one that I generally avoid is to run the veneer right up to the edge of the piece and cover the edge with a strip of veneer. This can make for 'hard' edges susceptible to peel back and is best avoided.

RJ Spomer

Visit Our New Online Store

Copyright © RJ Fine Woodworking, 2005

Company Policy | home | Resources
Call Now: 1-901-452-9011