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Woodworker's Guide to Veneering and Inlay


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About the Author

Jonathan Benson is a professional furniture maker who specializes in contemporary curved pieces with extensive veneer figures. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he has won numerous prestigious design awards and is the author of Wood Art Today. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa.


"Will prove to woodworkers of all skill levels that recreating the beauty of exotic woods with veneers and inlay is not as hard as they thought." --"Woodshop News"
"An excellent book that deserves a prominent spot in the woodshop."
Woodworker's Guide to Veneering & Inlay by Joanathan Benson covers the veneering bases. This book discusses the history of the craft as well as how to buy and store veneer. Also included is information on cutting, taping, gluing, pressing and edging, and a lot more. Woodworker's Guide to Veneering & Inlay goes on to explain the basics of marquetry and parquetry. In addition, there are more than a dozen demonstration projects and step-by-step instructions to create a beautiful tabletop, a parquetry chessboard and a curved mirror frame.
All you really need to know about veneering, marquetry and parquetry. Benson has really put this book together and bares it all. The author doesn't make the art of veneering easy, he shows you how to do it right. Benson is an achieved cabinetmaker and the full color photos of his work are certainly proof of that point. He walks the reader through the methods of producing veneer and how to deal with some of the problems involved with some specific veneer species. Special adhesives are discussed as well as the varied applications of the wood. Marquetry and parquetry are discussed in depth and the author, through some excellent photographs, details the processes. Edge banding is covered as well as the best substrate types to use. Book matching is detailed along with special complex veneer matching. Benson devotes a chapter on cutting, taping and grain matching and shows the woodworker what tools are best to use and how to use them. This is an excellent book that deserves a prominent spot in the woodshop.
Woodworker's Guide to Veneering & Inlay, by Jonathan Benson, will prove to woodworkers of all skill levels that recreating the beauty of exotic woods with veneers and inlay is not as hard as they thought. As a professional furniture maker and veneer expert, Benson takes the mystery out of how to use veneers, and walks readers through dozens of demonstrations that result in a beautiful table top, parquetry chessboard, and heirloom mirror frame. Skills include the basics of cutting, matching and taping veneers, using substrates and adhesives, matching inlays and borders and band sawing veneers. The color photographs and clear, easy-to-understand language make learning this respected technique easy. A troubleshooting and repair section ensures woodworkers are successful. Benson's work has been exhibited in 40 galleries nationwide. He taught woodworking at the college level for more than 10 years and has held workshops and lectures across the country.
Jonathan Benson of West Des Moines, IA (formerly Santa Fe, NM) has written the new book, Woodworker's Guide to Veneering & Inlay. This book covers all aspects of veneering and marquetry techniques, from purchasing materials to step-by-step furniture construction projects. This essay is adapted from Woodworker's Guide to Veneering & Inlay by Jonathan Benson, copyright 2008, with permission of the publisher Fox Chapel Publishing. The book (159 pages, paperback, $24.95) is available at your local woodworking bookseller or directly from Fox Chapel Publishing at (800) 457-9112 or visit the web site: www. Jonathan Benson is a professional furnituremaker, whose work was been exhibited in over 40 galleries nationwide. He has taught woodworking at the college level for over 10 years, as well as conducted seminars throughout the country. He has written for Woodshop News and Woodwork Magazine and authored a chapter in Furniture Markers Exploring Digital Technologies. For more info on Jonathan, visit his web site: Wood veneer is an attractive, thin slice of wood that can be glued onto a furniture surface or wall panel, creating a rich look for very little expenditure of expensive stock. Historically, veneer was used to decorate the very fi nest furniture, though in recent times, it has also been used to disguise some of the worst. Today, however, increasing numbers of makers are embracing these materials to produce very fi ne veneered furniture, as has often been illustrated in this publication. Though veneers are available from many commercial sources, producing your own veneers can give you greater control-and satisfaction- over the available materials to be utilized in your project. Some applications might require a thicker veneer of a certain species not available commercially, or if available, may not contain the unusual fi gures or in the size that you desire. It may also be easier for you to produce book-matched pieces. SAWING BASICS Veneer should be sawn and planed to end up with pieces no thicker than 1/8" (1/16" is better). Otherwise, it may continue to move due to seasonal changes. If veneer is cut too thick, the bottom surface attached to the substrate will stay in place, while the top surface of the veneer will still be able to move. This will cause cracks to appear on the surface of the veneer. Wood movement also can cause the veneer to separate from the substrate. I have heard of a case where the veneer, that was not cut thinly enough, popped off the surface of a table during a gallery opening. That makes a strong case for getting the veneer thin enough and gluing it down properly. Making sure machinery is properly tuned and has sharp blades and knives will get maximum yield from the log or board. In addition, the sawn veneer needs to be properly handled and stored to prevent loss. The material to be cut must be dry and ready to use. You can saw green lumber and logs into veneers, but the drying process becomes much more complicated. With this in mind, the procedure for sawing your own veneer is simple. by Jonathan Benson JOINTER TIPS The jointer needs to be properly tuned and have sharp knives. The outfeed table and the knives need to be properly aligned, so that a uniform amount of material is removed from the wood. A cutter head with 4 knives makes a smoother cut than one with 2 knives. A higher rpm setting will creat a smoother cut. Feed the material at a rate before burn marks begin to appear, creating a surface as smooth as glass. The fence needs to be sturdy and set at exactly 90 to the cutter to maximize yield. Check the fence for square occasionally to be certain it remains square. PREPARING THE WOOD Before sawing veneers from a thick piece of wood, it is necessary to create two smooth perpendicular surfaces. Start by smoothing one surface of the board on the jointer (Figure 1). The fi gure pattern of this face will become the fi gure pattern for all the subsequent sheets of veneer cut from the board. If working from a log or an irregular shaped piece of wood, you may have to balance the desirability of the fi gure pattern with the yield that results from that particular shape. After the face has been smoothed, joint the edge with the smoothed face against the fence to create two perpendicular surfaces. You may also need to rip the opposite side or edge on the bandsaw or tablesaw, creating a fl at surface for the marking procedure that follows. Keep veneers in sequential order throughout this process, so that they can be matched later. To accomplish this, mark the bottom edge of the board with some type of triangle or angled line pattern that can be recreated by stacking the leaves in their original order. The pattern can also be drawn on one end of the board. Another way to keep the veneers in consecutive order is to number each leaf on its face immediately after cutting it. The fi rst method is quicker and easier, because you do not have to think about numbering while cutting and planning. To be totally safe, use both methods together. Note that numbering the edges of the veneer does not work, as the number will disappear when you plane the leaves to their fi nal thickness. Before ripping the fi rst sheet of veneer from the board on the bandsaw, you will need to make a line 1/8" in from the face along the top edge of the board, to use as a reference when cutting. It is easiest to use a marking gauge (Figure 2), because the operation will be repeated for each cut. A leaf that is 1/8" thick, or just a bit thinner, after one face has been smoothed on the jointer and ripped on the bandsaw, will leave just enough material to yield a fi nished thickness of about 1/16" after planing, with some margin for error. THE RIP FENCE There are two types of rip fences to help guide the wood through the bandsaw accurately. The most common type, included with most bandsaws, resembles a tablesaw rip fence. It is essentially a straightedge secured parallel to the blade. The wood stays pressed against the fence as it is being cut. If you do not have the standard fence, you can clamp a board or straightedge to the saw table as a rip fence. The fence must be properly aligned with the blade, and the blade must be sharp to get an accurate cut; otherwise, the cut can wander away from the line. If the blade does wander off the line, it will burn the wood and dull the blade, as you attempt to get back in line. A dull blade can also bend or belly inside the cut, causing cupped and bowed surfaces on the wood. The guide blocks and rollers on the bandsaw must also be properly aligned. The straightedge style of rip fence works well in most cases, if these guidelines are addressed. The point style of fence allows for the wood to be steered as it is being cut, as shown in (Figure 3). The point of the fence must be aligned with the teeth of the bandsaw blade. It also helps to have the fence be as tall as the wood. This type of fence allows the wood to be steered back in line if the cut starts to wander. SAWING THE VENEERS When using either type of fence, it is crucial to keep the wood fi rmly pressed against the fence from top to bottom, to prevent producing veneers thicker or thinner along one edge or the other. It is also important to feed the wood steadily and evenly. If everything is set up properly and the blade begins to burn or the cut starts to bow or cup in anyway, it is time for a new blade. When beginning the cut, be careful to guide the blade right down the center of the scribed line (Figure 4). As with any type of cut on a power machine, when the materials get too thin to hold or when nearing the end of a cut, use a push stick to protect your fi ngers. A board can split like a piece of fi rewood, while being cut on a bandsaw, sending your fi ngers right into the blade. A push stick can prevent this. After sawing the fi rst sheet of veneer, set it aside and run the just-sawn face of the board over the jointer to smooth one face of the next leaf of veneer before you saw it. Repeat this jointer-saw sequence for each veneer slice. For best results, do all of the cutting, jointing, and plan- BANDSAW TIPS Must have sufficient throat height between the table and upper guide. This dimension will limit the width of the veneer. Must have enough power to avoid slowing down or stopping when making a deep cut. Slowing down during the cutting process will dull the blade, cause burns on the surface of the wood, and make it difficult to maintain a straight cut. A resawing type of bandsaw works well for this operation, as does a good 20" or larger bandsaw. It is possible to get good results from the common 14" bandsaw, with a riser block added to give the machine a 12" throat height. I like to use a new blade when beginning any bandsaw veneer project. A 3/4"-1" wide blade with 4-6 teeth per inch (TPI) will work quickly and help keep a straight line easily. The saw should have a good set of roller bearings and guide blocks properly installed. The table needs to be exactly 90 to the blade. Any variance in the angle will decrease the yield by removing more material than necessary. Check the fence occasionally to be certain it remains square. GRAIN ORIENTATION The orientation of the grain relative to the cutters has a large impact on the quality of the surface that emerges from the planer or jointer, which is particularly important when making veneer. For best results, the long grain of the wood should feed squarely into the planer knives. As the knives cut through the wood, they should shear off the wood fibers cleanly, not pull and rip the fibers out. When you plane veneer cross grain or diagonally to the grain, the fibers can easily be pulled completely out to the other side, leaving holes through the veneers. The smoothest possible veneer with the largest yield per board can be achieved if the grain direction is properly considered, the knives are sharp, and both the cutter head and feed rate are adjusted properly. FIGURE 4. Start the cut with the wood pressed tightly against the band saw fence. Steer the cut by pivoting the wood on the fence. ning to thickness in one work session. There are several reasons for this. The veneer may dry unevenly, resulting in cupped and bowed sheets of veneer that will not go through the planer. Even if the cupped or bowed pieces do go through the planer, they can emerge with uneven thicknesses across the width. Also, it is diffi cult to set the planer to exactly the same thickness twice, resulting in veneers of different thicknesses. Should you leave it for several hours after sawing half the veneers, the board itself may cup and bow, if the interior is not as dry as the outer surface. PLANING THE VENEERS When all the veneer has been jointed on one side and sawn to 1/8" thickness, the sawn face needs to be planed to remove the bandsaw marks. Veneer is diffi cult to run through the planer by itself without damaging it. If the planer has rollers on the bed (lower table), the thin material will not stay pressed down fi rmly. If the material is unsupported under the cutters, it will cut unevenly, split, tear, or even disintegrate entirely. I have seen veneers go in one side of the planer and never come out-the thin material breaks apart and goes up the chip chute. There are several ways to avoid this problem, allowing many types of veneer to be planed down to 1/16" or even thinner. A backing board can help to keep the veneer pressed down fi rmly throughout the cutting process. Two types of backing boards are commonly used to plane down veneer: one that does not travel through the machine with the veneer and one that does. The nontraveling type of backing board is usually surfaced with Melamine or some other smooth material over which the veneer can easily slide. The material for the backing board is cut to the width of the planer bed and slightly longer. A cleat is fastened under one end to prevent the backing board from traveling through the planer with the veneer. The planer's bed rollers are lowered below the table surface so the backing rests fi rmly on the table. The veneer is fed into the planer one sheet at a time (Figure 5). It would be easy to feed several leaves through the planer side-byside at the same time. If the veneer is fed into the planer in this way, it can catch, slip, and bind, leaving burn marks and risking serious damage. Feeding each leaf into the planer at slightly different sideto- side locations, relative to the cutter, prevents damage and ensures uniform wear on the knives. The traveling type of backing board, which passes through the planer with the veneer, seems to work even better but may take a little longer to use. The backing board needs to be uniform in thickness and slightly larger than the veneers. In addition, it should be made of a material with a rough surface, to prevent the veneer from slipping as it passes through the planer. Fine sandpaper applied with contact adhesive to the surface of the backing board will eliminate slippage and keep the veneer well secured as it is cut (Figure 6). Accomplishing the planing step in one or two passes is benefi cial-the fewer passes through the planer, the less chance there is for something to go wrong. To avoid a rough surface, however, not more than 1/16" of material should ever be removed in one pass. STORING THE VENEER After being planed down to the fi nished thickness, the veneer needs to be stored to allow air to reach all sides evenly. If too much moisture escapes from one side of the veneer relative to the other side, the veneer can cup, twist, bow, and then crack when glued down or pressed down fl at. Even if a board appears to be dry, the moisture content deep inside will be different than that near the surface. There also might be tensions within the wood that will only appear when the wood is cut apart. Narrow strips of wood, or stickers, need to be place across the grain and stacked with the veneer (Figure 7). Allowing the veneer to dry in this manner for 24 hours should be enough time for it to stabilize properly. Once the leaves have been sawn, planed, and dried, shop-cut veneers can be used like any other veneer. PLANER TIPS A properly-tuned planer with sharp knives is essential for producing good-quality band-sawn veneer, without a lot of waste. Sharp knives keep thin pieces of veneer from tearing out or breaking apart, thus increasing the yield. Having the feeds and pressure rollers cleaned and properly tensioned keeps the veneer moving through the planer at a consistent speed, without stopping and starting, avoiding burn marks, ridges, and valleys on the surface. Grain orientation has tremendous impact on the quality of the cut (see side bar). The machine's bed rollers may or may not be an issue, depending on the backing board that you choose. Increasing the planer's cutting speed produces a smoother surface. The faster the cutting speed, the less material each knife must remove every time it contacts the wood. Using a cutter head with 4 knives will make a smoother cut than one with 2 knives, in effect doubling the cutting speed. Cutting speed can also be increased by slowing own the feed rate of the wood through the planer.

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