At a simple level, veneering is the process of applying thin layers of decorative wood over less expensive structural materials. There are many ways to do this, but some of the most refined techniques were developed centuries ago by 17th and 18th century furniture makers who perfected the technique we now call “hammer veneering.” As we learn here, a few modern-day artisans still prefer this time-honored technique to create the highest quality work. One of those practitioners is San Diego-based furniture conservator Patrick Edwards, an accomplished furniture maker, woodworking historian, and hand-tool expert.
In this video, without the benefit of powered vacuum presses or perfectly flat plywood substrates, Patrick reveals an entire hammer veneering process. You’ll learn step-by-step how to “tooth” or make perfectly flat the substrate wood, how to glue down simple veneers using a veneer hammer & animal protein glues, how to create an exquisitely tight veneered joint, how to insert decorative inlays, and how best to prepare the project for final finishing. Patrick has made a career out of preserving the extraordinary skills of the old masters and in so doing he’s become a modern master himself. Patrick is a fantastic teacher and woodworking scholar and I’m confident you’ll enjoy this very special WoodTreks video adventure. (13 Minute Woodworking Video)
Patrick Edwards is President of Antique Refinishers, Inc. which offers restoration, conservation and reproduction of pre-industrial American and European furniture for dealers, private collectors, and institutions. Mr. Edward also owns and instructs at the American School of French Marquetry, Inc. Both business are based on San Diego, California.
Keith – Wow! That was excellent. Thank you. This is one of my favorite topics . . . I will be watching this again!
Hello Keith, greetings and many thanks from Germany. Great video. I am very impressed. I’ve learned so much from your videos.
Keep it up!
Great video. Can’t wait to see the next one and I hope the recipe is included!
This is completely new information for me. I have never heard of this and its very interesting. Great video as always Keith.
Looking forward to the video about a traditional european workbench. Great site and videos. Thank you!
Keith, you have beyond the shadow of a doubt THE best woodworking video’s on the web! Keep it up!
Very nicely presented information.Thanks Keith and well done to Mr. Edwards.
Thanks for the new video, well it’s new to me. Anyway, that was enlightening. I had wondered how veneering was done. I have an older dresser that has a couple places that need to be fixed. I may not be able to do it (yet) but now I have a starting point for practicing.
Glad to see you back after your trek to the west. As always a great video – I have always had an interest in veneering and have been dabbleling – this was very well produced and informative. An add on would be the Woodwright PBS show on veneering – a little different presentation but very complementary. I think your production quality and presentation skills rival the Woodwright – a big complement in my opinion, keep up the great work. Also kudos to Patrick Edwards.
This is yet another wonderfully informative, skillfully produced video. I’m looking forward to more.
I still think your videos should be on TV.
Superb in both content and production! The last time I put veneer on the top of an old cabinet, I went headlong into the project and used contact cement. Through no fault of my own, it turned out well, and it still looks good after 30 plus years. But I like the old method better. Now I know how a veneer hammer is used. Thanks Keith for another great tutorial video.
I enjoyed the presentation. I used to work with hide glue as a boy working in a boat yard. This video brought back a lot of memories. Thanks for your hard work
I’ve never come across any web site with such great demos. Hands down, one of the best woodworking resources.
When Patrick Edwards shows how to put an inlayed decorative strip into his veneer, he cuts a “slot” with a veneer saw, and then drops a strip of precut veneer into it. But he did not measure the width of the slot or the width of the strip. So how does he insure that there won’t be a gap?
Keith’s Note: Ken, you win the award today for most inquisitive viewer! Most normal folks would indeed need to measure the width and cut a piece to fit. In Patrick’s case, he is so skilled that he could eyeball the cut to make use of a strip he had already cut. There are various ways of fitting inlays, which we didn’t have time to cover in this video. But stay tuned. We’ll get back to this topic in the future.
I’m a kitchen designer and our cabinet manufacturers tell us that some veneers are rift cut or flat cut, but are veneers made the same way as boards? Also is there more waste to cut veneers? Everyone wants the best green answer.
Keith’s Note: Veneers can be quarter sawn, rift, or plain cut in the same way that dimensional lumber is cut. When a fine hardwood log is veneered, there is significantly more yield from it than would be created by simply sawing the tree into boards. Ultimately the “green-ness” of the end product depends as much on how the veneer is applied to substrates (as in making plywoods) as on how the raw materials where sourced and transported. Some processes are more green than others. Knowing what is green or not can be confusing. There are a number of organizations that attempt to certify that lumber comes from sustainable forests and is processed and delivered with the least environmental impacts. For more information search on the keywords “Forest Stewardship Council” or the “U.S. Green Building Council”.
One final note, rotary veneers are the cheapest type of veneer and are creating by slicing the outer surface of a log like you would peel a potato. The slicer removes a thin layer of the log as it turns on a spindle. These types of veneers typically look unnatural.
When I was watching the video, the presenter mentioned in passing, that for plywood a toothing plane would not be needed – or did I hear that wrong. Or is hammer veneering not applicable to plywood or similar substrate material.
I have located the appropriate tools at Highland Hardware and for small boxes etc I was considering using this technique as opposed to another machine (vacuum) to clutter up my shop and only use occasionally.
Keith’s Note: The toothing plane is traditionally used with solid wood substrates. If you intend to use plywood as a substrate, then you are probably headed into a realm where you are combining old world techniques with modern materials in a way that might not turn out so well. Modern manufactured plywoods are made with veneers that are so thin, there is really not enough wood available for toothing. It’s not done in this case.
In your case, since you are making small boxes, it would seem that a solid wood substrate would work very well. With small pieces, the type you might use in small box construction, you won’t have much trouble with dimensional stability, i.e. cupping, twisting, warping. So you’ve got the perfect project for traditional hammer veneering using traditional materials. BTW, I think you’ve got great project planned.
Great. I have never veneered and I am about to. I have learned a lot just from this video. Thanks.
The toothing plane as an indicator is really interesting. I wonder if you could use one as an indicator to show high spots when flattening stock with bench planes as part of general stock preparation (not inlay prep).
Keith’s Note: There is no end to the ways you can creatively use your tools. I observed that most accomplished artisans are inventive in the way the use tools.
I would be very grateful to hear what veneer thickness you’d recommend for use in learning the art of this fascinating medium — for larger sized furniture applications… Thank you ever so kindly. Debbie, Professional Artist
Can you do the same thing with fein blades?
Keith’s Note: Not sure. You could try it. Good luck.
Great video, I enjoyed it immensely – thanks!
I’ve been trying my hand at marquetry, and everything I read warns me away from solid wood substrates because of expansion – MDF and plywood substrates are recomendended because of their stability. Is that not an issue here? Thanks.
Keith’s Note: Well this is a case of new technology versus the wisdom of the ages. The artisans of centuries ago mastered marquetry techniques without MDF or plywood, but there is certainly a case to be made for the stability of modern substrates. How you approach this depends on your interests, techniques, resources and skills. Experiment and have fun — and good luck with it!
Where would be the best place to get of these tools? Veneer hammer, toothing plane, saw and someway to heat the glue up? And if there are other tools that would work just as good that I would have at my shop.
Keith’s Note: I’m not sure where Patrick got his tools, but most of them are antique and he’s collected them over many years – many of them long before the hobby of tool collecting became so common and before prices shot up so dramatically. As for heating the glue, I recall that Patrick says you could look around online (on ebay, etc) for vintage baby bottle warmers. I think that’s one alternative. And of course, you can always come up with your own homemade tools. These “old world” techniques lend themselves to homemade tools. After all, that’s what the old-timers from another era did. They made many of their tools. Have fun.
Keith, Thanks so much for a great explanatory video. It seems so easy in the hands of a master. With good explanation, difficult things are not as intimidating as you think. Thanks again. BOB
Keith, Looks so easy when you watch a video like this. I will try and look for the tools here in the uk. This is going to save my pocket bigtime. —cheers Keith, happy days !!!!!!
I just found your website and think it is awesome. I got done watching the videos on hide glue. I have been trying to do veneer projects with several different types of glue. I have been having a lot of D-lamination problems. After a lot of research, I am hoping that hot hide glue may be my solution. In the video with the hot hide glue, he showed it being done on a very small piece. I need to do pieces that are large, such as, a half sheet of plywood.Do you think that the glue will dry out before I can get to the outside edge, or will this not be a problem. I know that they did this on large panels in the old days and am wondering if there is some specific trick that I need to know to use for large panels. In any event, your input would be greatly appreciated and please sign me up for any videos that you have when they are finished.
Thank you so much,
Keith’s Note: Hide glue traditionally would have been used to veneer solid wood panels. These panels would have been smaller in scale. Traditional furniture and architectural construction made use of smaller panels set into frames. This allowed for the expansion and contraction of wood. If the panels were too large, they could expand too much and cause construction issues. That is why you see frame and panel construction in almost all historic work.
With your project, which is using larger sheets of plywood – you are contemplating a project that would fall outside the realm of how hide glue was most often used. This is my opinion and not Patricks (so bear that in mind) but in your case, you are making something using plywood, a modern material – and you are veneering a large piece. For this type of project, I would suggest you consider the use of a vacuum press. Online, you can do a google search for how to use a vacuum press or you can get an idea here by watching this video on laminating curved pieces. If done correctly, you should never have a problem veneering a large panel of plywood using a vacuum press.
Veneering is a fussy business. The veneer wants to curl and lift up, especially with large pieces. It must be pressed correctly to get a good result. Also, don’t overlook your substrate, in this case your plywood. It must be of superior quality. Don’t use cheap plywood with voids or warps etc.
The primary requirement for any veneering method is that you must make sure that the veneer is pressed down uniformly over the entire surface while the glue sets. With hammer veneering, Patrick demonstrates here quite clearly how this is achieved – and for the right project it is a fantastic way of veneering. However, with large pieces that use plywood, most artisans will use a vacuum bag or some other clamping system to uniformly press the veneer to the substrate and keep that pressure applied until the bond is complete. When working in this more modern way, it’s typical to use modern glues. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts or workarounds with either method.
Good luck with your project.
Thanks so much for responding to my question. In regard to your answer, stating that they did not do big panels back in the day, I own an Art Deco armoire from the 30s. The doors are curved and measure 30″ x 72″ high. I know that they did not have vacuum bagging back then, and it definitely has some kind of a book match pattern that they did on these doors. They must have done it with it with a veneer hammer. They could not have clamped it because they are curved. They did not do it with a vacuum bag. They did not do it with a straight press because they are curved doors. They did not do it with clamps, because it has curves. So how did they do it. The wood is book matched so it is not like somebody made up plywood. Please let me know what you think. Appreciate it.
Keith’s Note: My original answer to your question dealt with how hammer veneering was used in furniture making in earlier periods. By the 20th century, furniture manufacturing had evolved to meet the needs of the industrial age. The mass production of furniture (by companies such as Ethan Allen) was well established by the 1930′s. Factories produced all styles of furniture including many furniture makers who produced pieces in the Art Deco style, which was a popular at that time. The Art Deco style often featured flowing curves and shapes and manufacturers of that period learned how to economically mass produce objects in that style using jigs and forms. Many factories would have invested in the tooling to build and press curved panels and to layup veneers in a cost effective way. They may may have used animal glues or synthetic glues at that time (synthetic resins became available by the 1930′s.
So to get back to your question. While, yes, it might be possible to hammer veneer a larger piece, it was not likely the way that your piece was made nor is it probably the easiest way to produce a large panel today. That being said, I suspect that Patrick (our featured artisan here and absolute expert on the subject) has the skill-set and experience to layup large panels. This is simply beyond my experience and beyond the scope of this video here. Thanks for getting me to think even more about the history of wood veneering though. I’ve really enjoyed discussing this with you.
I am an amateur braziliam woodworker, I love hand tools and old technics. I envolved in a restoration of an old cabinet, and this video saved my life! The doors and drawers are veneered, with inlay bands, and I think that the hammer veneering is the best choice for this work.
Found this video a month or so ago and just tried the technique today. It worked well for me and is more pleasing than I thought it would be. Thanks!