You’ve heard some about veneers in our recent post about wood types, but we want to dig in a little deeper and tell you what they really are. And that includes debunking the main myth about veneers: Not every piece of furniture that uses veneers is poor quality.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Keep reading to find out more about veneers (and check out our selection of gorgeous wood furniture here).
A veneer is a piece of real wood that has been cut into a thin sheet. Those sheets can then be applied to the outside of other solid wood, plywood, or MDF (called substrate). It’s a way to cut down on the cost of a piece of furniture since you can just take a thin layer of a more-expensive wood and adhere it to something less expensive. It’s done by applying a thin layer of glue on the substrate, placing the veneer on the glue, and applying pressure with a press until the glue is dry.
High-Quality vs. Low-Quality Veneer
Veneered furniture can be high quality if the underlying wood is solid—just look at the pieces from the 50s and 60s that are still going strong. Veneer is also often the only option for some fine furniture features like curved drawers, bookmatching to create a unique pattern or using an expensive, exotic wood species. Just look at this beautiful veneered dresser from Skram.
But veneered furniture can also be poor quality. And unfortunately, you’re much likelier to come across a poorly made veneered piece these days. The surest indication is price: Inexpensive veneered pieces will be around $1,000 while fine furniture is closer to $3,000 (or much more). But beyond price, it can be tough to tell what you’re getting in a store. All veneered furniture looks great when new, no matter the real quality.
How to Tell the Difference
Veneer quality relies on three things: the thickness of the veneer, the adhesion of the veneer, and the substrate the veneer is attached to. Unfortunately, the thickness and adhesion methods are difficult to discover when shopping for furniture. So rather than try to use these pointers as shopping guidelines, use the information as a cautionary tale of likely issues with inexpensive veneered furniture. Fortunately, finding out what the substrate is made from is relatively easy and you should use that info to identify better veneered furniture.
- The thicker the veneer the better –repairs are easier since you can lightly sand nicks without exposing the material underneath.
- Thinner veneers are also likelier to chip.
- The standard thickness for veneer in the US is 1/42” (.6mm or .024”), so stick to veneers of that dimension or thicker.
- International standards are much less: .5mm (.0197”), which means that a lot of imported furniture will have a thinner veneer that is more prone to chipping and harder to repair.
- There has to be a glue product to attach the veneer to the underlying piece of wood.
- Veneers are adhered to a less expensive product (usually plywood or MDF) with a glue and then it is pressed together until it is dry.
- There are several different types of glues that can be used successfully, but avoid any wood veneer that is adhered with contact cement. Wood glue or resin should be used for veneer adhesion.
- The glue should be spread evenly and have an appropriate moisture content to not cause veneer or substrate to expand.
- Poor glue bonding can be due to a problem with the glue mix, glue spread, drying time or press time.
- Poor adhesion will contribute to veneer chipping and checking (small hairline cracks and ridges caused when wood shrinks and swells).
- The substrate is what the veneer is adhered to – it can be simply a less-expensive solid wood, but is more likely plywood or MDF.
- Differences in moisture content of the substrate and veneer can cause what’s known as checking issues. The moisture content causes wood to shrink or swell and if the substrate and veneer change differently, you’ll get cracking and peeling.
- Both the veneer and the substrate need to be dried appropriately and the moisture content maintained throughout the pressing step.
- All pieces need to be kept in environmentally controlled conditions before, during and after the veneer application
- We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Avoid MDF.
Pros of Veneered Furniture
- It is an economical solution for pricier or exotic wood species like walnut or zebrawood.
- You are able to create beautiful designs with wood grain since the thin pieces of veneer can easily be positioned.
- Can enable manufacturers to do more complicated styles like those with curved drawer fronts.
Cons of Veneered Furniture
- The majority of veneer in today’s market is poor quality that chips easily or develops widespread hairline cracks.
- Since it costs less, veneer is often a sign that the manufacturer may have cut corners in other ways, like by using MDF or poor joinery.
- Damage is difficult to repair since the wood underneath is a different species – any stain will not look the same.
How to Shop for Veneered Furniture
While most veneered furniture is poor quality, it can be a great option if you want to have a piece made with an expensive wood species or something with a curved design. Plywood veneered furniture can perform better than solid wood furniture in places with extremely humid or super dry environmental conditions. Here’s what to look for:
- Avoid inexpensive furniture made with veneer as it is most likely poorly done and susceptible to chipping and cracking.
- Avoid any veneered furniture made with MDF.
- Look for veneer thickness of at least 1/42” or .6mm
- Inspect showroom pieces for signs of chipping – door and drawer fronts may show this.
Like what you read? Visit thestatedhome.com to shop our collection of made-in-America furnishings.