From the archives

Veneer Cuts

Working with veneer can be a fun challenge and there are some very sound reasons for adding this skill to your woodworking repertoire. Chief among them is the aesthetic one: you can create large objects with unbroken grain patterns (such as doors or table tops). Such grand expanses, if comprised entirely of boards that were edge-glued together, would at best be unpredictable. This is due to their ever-changing dimensions as they expand and contract in unison with changes in temperature and humidity levels. These fluctuations would eventually cause warping, splitting and other types of disintegration. By applying a veneer to a stable substrate such as plywood or fiberboard, this nightmare can be avoided. Veneering also can save you money. A panel created by applying a fancy cut of hardwood veneer to MDF (medium density fiberboard) will usually cost quite a bit less than an equivalently-sized panel in solid quartersawn stock. There are several ways in which mills cut veneers, and each of them delivers a very distinct grain pattern...

Figure 1A - Rotary cut
  Rotary Cut
The least expensive and least treasured is a rotary cut. The log is simply rotated into a knife (Figure 1A) and the result is a wide sheet of veneer with a broad, unimpressive pattern (Figure 1B). It's primary use is as a balance sheet - it is applied to the back of a substrate which carries a finer grade of veneer on the front face. Rotary cuts also can be found in some inexpensive, mass produced interior closet and passage doors. Some rotary cut applications are designed to be painted.

Figure 1B - Rotary pattern

Figure 2A - Quarter slicing
  Quarterliced Cut
The favorite cut of America's greatest woodworker, quartersawn solids and quartersliced veneers were found everywhere in the Mission furniture of Arts & Crafts guru Gustav Stickley. The cut (Figure 2A) delivers a close, tight and very straight grain (Figure 2B), which in some species - especially oak -features a flake or ribbon pattern. This is the result of slicing through medullary rays.

Figure 2B - Quarter pattern

Figure 3A - Rift cut
  Rift Cut
Cut at somewhere between 15 and 30 degrees to the radial (Figure 3A), the rift cut eliminates most of the medullary rays found in quartersawn veneer while still delivering a straight, tight grain pattern (Figure 3B). This is one of the more expensive cuts due to a large amount of waste and the fact that it calls for a lot of setup and milling time.

Figure 3B - Rift pattern

Figure 4A - Plain Slicing
  Plain Sliced
The most common cut in millwork grades, this method of slicing the stock straight across the log (Figure 4A) produces that familiar cathedral grain pattern (Figure 4B). It shows up most frequently on hollow core doors and kitchen cabinets. The log is ripped down the middle before slicing.

Figure 4B - Plain Sliced

There are some variations on these four cuts, such as a lengthwise cut along the log, or small quarters (where the center of the log has rotted). But almost every piece of veneer you'll see falls into one of these categories. The obvious exceptions are veneers cut from a crotch (where two large limbs grow together), or a burl (a diseased growth which can deliver astoundingly beautiful figure).

Here are a few websites where one can learn more, and also buy veneer:


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