Say the word veneer and Hepplewhite comes to mind; an elaborate, decorated sideboard with curved forms and contrasting woods that looks as good today as it did two hundred years ago. So what about the notion that veneer is less desirable or sub-standard to solid wood. We decided to ask Guild craftsman Dave Boynton to weigh in. Does a veneered piece stand up to the test of time? He responded with a resounding YES. “Some of the finest pieces of furniture ever produced in this country include veneers in their construction, many from the early to mid-18th century,” Dave told us. “Think Goddard-Townsend pieces made in Newport [RI] during this period, still selling for record prices at auction.”
What exactly is this stuff? Slices of wood, cut or peeled from a log, Paper thin or decently “thick;” thick enough to tolerate a bit of sanding and refinishing. Figured patterns vary from Burl to Birds Eye, Quilted to Pommele, sought and selected to add detail and surface character. The most practical application is in curved exteriors but our craftsman love it for its decorative appeal. Sometimes it’s shop-sawn (we cut our own) or sometimes it’s sourced from a specialty supplier. Many of the pieces here feature a figured veneer over a solid hardwood core.
Such variety. Top to Bottom: Hugh Belton’s formal dining table for ten. Figured Mahogany veneer with a solid Mahogany border and base. Paul Zenaty’s Bowfront Sideboard a la Hepplewhite. Flame Mahogany with hand-wrought English brass pulls. And a blanket chest from Walt Stanley in Curly Red Birch, with Curly Maple accents and Maple Burl veneer panels.
Unique and Exotic Woods. Check out David Hurwitz (below). Carved ash table with a Walnut Burl top. Prone to splitting and cracking in solid form, Burl when veneered can be beautiful to work with; pliable and strong, with this incredible cascading pattern. Dave’s State of Craft console table is painted poplar, carved Vermont Ash and an exotic Tamo (Japanese Quilted) Ash top.
Functionality and Strategy. Dave Boynton’s side cases below are solid Cherry. Drawer fronts are bent laminations with a skin of fabulous Birdseye Maple. “Since the side cases see daily use, I was careful where I used the veneer. In this case I’d argue that a veneered drawer front has its advantages to solid wood. With this project, it was actually less expensive for the client (timewise) and the figure is more consistent across the facades than would be possible in solid.” That said, the drawers are banded in solid Walnut and the tops are solid Cherry.
When we visited Dave’s studio in Plainfield last spring, he showed us a packet of Elm Burl veneer. Veneer slices are bundled in stacks in the same order they are removed from the log. So the same book-matching premise applies as with solid wood but as Dave described with the cases, the sheets (when matched well) can create an impressive kaleidoscopic finish; high style meets organic flow.
Wild Patterns and Masterful Execution. From Dan Mosheim, Dorset Custom Furniture, an asymmetrical sideboard. One of his favorite pieces, with Birdseye Maple veneer top, Brazilian Rosewood edges, turned legs and handmade pulls in hammered copper. It’s a dramatic piece with visible energy. Not another one like it, but several more sideboards on his site. And closing with a recent project just leaving John Lomas’ shop. A bowfront sideboard featuring Quilted Makore panels, Walnut cross banding and ebonized cock bead around the drawers, inlaid Wenge lines. Pretty magnificent, all!
So a kitchen table top is probably not a good veneer candidate. But a formal dining table, a conference table, an ornamental piece, where application lends character but is not located in a piece’s “high traffic” zone. “Much like solid wood, longevity is equal parts proper construction methodology and reasonable application/expectation of material,” Boynton says. So you’re in good hands with us. Let the adventure begin!
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