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Wood veneer is beautiful and aesthetic, but what is it?
Wood veneer is a thin layer of wood applied over a substrate, or piece of material. The purpose is to change the appearance of the material to make it look like something else. Wood veneer is between 0.5 and 0.8 MM thick depending on the wood used.
It is important to use maximum pressure when smoothing out the veneer by hand. Don't use a “J-roller” as with Formica to smooth out flexible veneer, but rather a scrap piece of wood approximately 14" long and 5" wide for your veneer scraper.
Lightly sand the edge to take the sharpness away and create a slight radius - the smaller the radius the better as it will produce the greatest pressure. (A 1/16" radius will produce 4 times more pressure than a 1/4" radius.) Hold the scraper in both hands and use it like a squeegee to smooth out the veneer from the center outward to the edges. A warm iron may be used to help reactivate the cement and put “bubbles” down tight if there is enough cement to re-contact the veneer. If cement is too thin, the bubble will pop back up.
When you put the iron on the veneer, be sure to use a piece of grocery bag paper under it to keep the veneer face clean. Keep the iron moving and never keep it in one place or you might soften the factory adhesive and cause the veneering to loosen. If veneer should come loose under heat, then reheat and scrape hard until the area cools down again.
Coat both surfaces with adhesive, just like Formica. Make certain to read up on the glue manufacturer's instructions on workability.
The size of the log, the species of wood, the grain pattern desired and other factors determine which type of cut will be made to create veneer. Here are some of the most common methods of cutting logs:
Veneer can be finished just like any hardwood. The first step is proper sanding starting with a medium grit paper followed by a fine grit paper. This can be done with an electric sander or by hand. From this point, you can either stain the wood or finish with a clear finish. When sanding veneer, be sure not to get carried away and sand through it.
First, the surfaces of what we are veneering need to be prepared before applying what they call “peel and stick” veneer. For surfaces that have already been finished, lightly scuff the existing finish with a medium sandpaper. All sanding dust must be cleaned off with tack cloth, wipe entire surface with a clean cloth or suitable cleaning solvent. When applying veneer over plywood, real wood or any other porous substrate it is best to seal the surface first with shellac, varnish, polyurethane or any sealer. Be sure to allow the sealer to dry before putting the veneer on.
Cut veneer to a little bigger dimension than the actual size of area you are covering. This will let you place the veneer without having to be perfectly aligned with the surface being veneered. Begin applying pressure from the center out to avoid trapping air pockets in the center. To apply pressure to the veneer, it is best to use a stiff bladed scraping tool or wooden scraping block. Push down with as much pressure as possible and draw the tool toward you in the same direction as the grain. Repeat this pattern until you are sure you've gone over every square inch.
When trimming the veneer to the finished size, use a sharp razor knife or utility knife and cut the veneer back to the edge of the work piece. It is best to score your cut a few times before actually cutting through to prevent wood tear out. This is especially important when cutting across the grain. After trimming the veneer you will probably notice a sharp corner or edge. (This procedure for putting on the veneer is a lot like putting on Formica.) To ease this edge you can use a fine cabinet file held at a 45 degree angle and lightly run along the edge or if this option isn't available to you, use a fine grit sandpaper and lightly feather the edge with the sandpaper.
Wood veneering can be finished just like regular solid wood. It must be sanded, cleaned and sealed. There are clear sanding sealers for wood that act like the primer for clear and semi-transparent stains.
But first, let's talk about the wood paste fillers available. Wood paste fillers come in either oil or water based formulas. In the old days, the white paste was applied to the open grained wood with a putty knife or heavy brush and rubbed into the grain using a burlap sack. When dried, it looks clear and ready for sanding.
Prior to installation, the veneer should be allowed to either come up or go down to the substrate (material) temperature for about 48 hours. To avoid sealing in too much moisture, it is best to finish the veneer
when the humidity is less than 51%, as it may shrink when placed in a
climate-controlled environment. Make sure that both the surface to be covered and the back of the veneer are clean with no dust, dirt, oil, grease or any foreign matter. Nothing is worse than getting a piece of veneer down only to find a bump in the middle of the sheet.
Wood veneering relies on 100% adhesive. Repairing an air pocket under the veneer after it's dry can be frustrating and complicated. The use of a veneer press to apply cold or hot veneer while using white or yellow glue is the preferred method of applying wood veneer. If a press is not available, good contact cement may be used. Look for contact cement with the highest level of solids and follow the adhesive manufacturer's instructions.
Atmospheric pressure is what makes a vacuum veneer press so strong. When vacuum is applied, atmospheric pressure presses down with tremendous force. Not only does this press the veneer onto the substrate, it also compresses the fibers of the materials being glued. As the fibers are compressed, the air inside of the materials is replaced with glue and within an hour, a bond is made. There are lots of good sites on the Internet offering interesting information on the subject of vacuum veneering.
From the world of wood finishes there are gloss finishes, semi-gloss finishes, and satin and matte flat. A “new” term on the finish circuit is "hand rubbed," which has a similiar look to matte flat. Another thing to consider when deciding on color for your stain is the level of opaque. If you still would like to go with a stain, blended colors are very popular today. This would be two stain colors blended together. If clear is more your taste, just remember that today's clears finishes will stay clear. If, of course, you choose one of the polyurethane's on the market and not the shellacs which are a completely different animal in themselves.