My clients often tell me they don’t want veneered furniture. Instead they want real “solid wood”. I understand that concern, but the truth is veneered furniture can actually be quite good. Like so many things in life, the devil is in the details.
Unfortunately one of the “details” is the veneer itself – and the substrate to which it is applied. Today’s mass marketed furniture is made with paper-thin veneers as thin as 1/64”. Worse still, they are often applied over particle board. Particle board is simply sawdust and glue that is pressed into a flat substrate, and so is sometimes called “solid wood.” The extremely thin veneer, and poor quality of particle board combine to make furniture that cannot stand up to the rigors of daily use.
Higher quality veneers are somewhat thicker. They range from 1/16” to 1/8”, and when applied to a more substantial substrate, can last for generations. Sadly, this is almost never found anymore on modern store bought furniture.
While we normally use actual solid wood (with no veneer) in the pieces we make in our studio, there are times we do use veneer. Why? Several reasons:
1. Solid wood is always in a state of expanding or contracting. It expands in warmer, more humid weather, and contracts in cooler, dryer conditions. This can create “wood movement” problems in cabinet doors, for example, causing them to stick in the summer. By using veneer over a quality plywood substrate, the door becomes more stable.
2. Sometimes a piece of wood has beautiful grain patterns that we want to repeat across a surface, making the right and left grain mirror images of each other, like pages of a book. By slicing the wood into thinner sheets, that pattern can be repeated in a “bookmatched” process.
3. Veneer can be bent and formed into shapes not possible with thicker wood.
We cut our own veneer for some projects which typically is just a hair less than 1/8” thick. Other times we buy veneer from boutique marketers who can provide a fantastic selection of beautiful wood that is somewhat thicker than the mass marketed variety. Either way, these are durable, beautiful veneers that we apply to high quality substrates of solid wood, laminated solid wood, or specialty substrates.
So which is better: veneer or solid wood? Of course there isn’t any single answer to this question. But by understanding some of the basics of each, and more to the point, by understanding how some furniture sellers use lower quality manufacturing techniques, buyers can be prepared to ask questions that will lead to informed choices.