Cabinet Maker takes a look at the opposing reactions to the use of veneer in furniture.

In this day and age there can’t be many among us who haven’t, while enjoying a quiet evening of television, been confronted with an all too familiar sequence of events. Between an all too catchy rendition of ‘Knock of Wood’, and the sight of a cheery salesman doing just that while proudly proclaiming ‘there’s no veneer in ‘ere!’, adverts for furniture retail giant Oak Furniture Land are among the most distinctive around. With the point they are seemingly trying to promote being that, should a customer find any veneer in their furniture, the world could come crashing to an end. Some days it can feel like we are being taught to no long fear a childhood monster in our cupboards, instead we should be fearing a much worse encounter.

Veneer is a thin slice of solid timber, usually between 0.6mm and 4mm thick. Sheets of veneer are sewn together and glued and pressed onto a composite material, such as chipboard or MDF. It has been widely used throughout the furniture industry for a number of years now, and there are some who seem determined to treat it as a taboo subject, as though the practise was untruthful or illicit.

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Indeed, a blog post on Oak Furniture Land’s website tackling the thorny subject itself, states:

“A surprising amount of retailers who claim to be selling high quality wooden furniture will actually be selling wooden furniture finished with a veneer. In general a lot of customers won’t know what a veneer is, and even less will know what could potentially lie beneath.

“Cost is the key word when it comes to veneers. As you can imagine, if you’re building a piece of wooden furniture that is going to be covered in veneers you won’t worry very much about the quality of the timber you’re using. If there are splits in the grain, or knots that have fallen out you could easily put some filler in and forget about the loss in rigidity – after all, nobody’s going to see it! You can also afford to be slap-dash in your approach to building it, so long as the veneer is well stuck down it will hide a multitude of sins. In short, you can think of a veneer as a cover-up job.

“Without the use of veneers you need the highest quality solid pieces of wood, whereas if you want to cut costs you’d just use a cheap bit of wood with a veneer. This will cause a lack of strength and a far shorter lifespan of the product. Imagine a large piece of furniture, such as a dining table. These have large areas of wood that are highly visible at all times. A veneer could cover wood that isn’t strong enough to bear the loads required, and when exposed to heat could even start peeling! Not such a good look anymore!”

As with most thorny subjects in the furniture industry, an open mind to what is possible with modern methods are key to understanding the use of veneers in more and more furniture pieces. To hear another side of this story we got in touch with furniture design and manufacturer, Another Brand. Styling itself as a ‘simple collaboration between designer and manufacturer working directly as partners to create a business’, Another Brand has been turning heads recently with its Cubo range of storage, tables and seating made from solid oak and, you guessed it, veneer. Looking at the pieces there seems little doubt that Another Brand’s furniture has been designed to appeal to customers with an eye for design. So why the inclusion of veneer?

 “At Another Brand we design with the customer in mind, we work directly with the manufacturer to produce furniture at the best possible quality at the best possible price. The use of veneer is an essential element in the designer’s tool box. Not only is it more economical, but it enables you to do things that you just can’t do with solid wood due to its instability.

Andrius Minicius, Another Brand director

“When designing a well refined product, the limitations in using only solid wood will often compromise the design. Another Brand’s furniture is a combination of good design, made extremely well that will stand the test of time. But this is only due to using a careful balance of both solid wood and veneer.

“Using veneer extends the use of a solid piece of timber. A narrow piece of solid timber can cover a far greater area when used as a veneer. It is a much greener and economical way to make furniture and utilise such precious resource as wood.

“Veneered board is a cheaper material than a solid board, however, it is often better for construction purposes. Veneered board does not swell or shrink, it does not warp and does not split. It is a perfect material for side panels, door panels, drawer bottoms, back panels, shelves and many other areas. Usually the cost of using solid wood in these areas hardly justifies the cause. Veneered board usually looks as good, lasts as long as and costs much less for both the consumer and the environment.

“Solid wood, on the other hand, is a much stronger material that will sustain more wear and tear. If design permits, it could be used on surfaces and parts that need to last long and endure heavy use, e.g. product tops, drawers, door frames etc. It is a much more rigid material that one would want to use for product legs and essential joints. Solid wood can be refurbished many times and can be made to look as new over and over again. It is therefore fair to claim that an intelligent use of both solid timber and veneered board is the best way to build proper furniture.”

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As issues go in the furniture industry, the question of when and where it is appropriate to use veneer looks set to rumble on and on. What is immediately apparent, though, is that an honest approach to both manufacturing and marketing are essential to weed out any unscrupulous companies that may be, as some retailers fear, using veneer as a way to cut corners and make money off unsuspecting shoppers. As trends move on and fashions change, it is possible that techniques such as veneering may offer the best option for designers to achieve their desired affects, and as long as this is made clear from the word go, why shouldn’t they be free to experiment as needed? Maybe it’s time we all began to think a little bit outside the box.