This week I’m working with Marc Adams on a series of articles for Popular Woodworking Magazine on veneer. Marc did all the work , I’m just editing and helping with the photos.
I hope these articles will convince many woodworkers to start working with veneer. Marc’s series will explain all the simple tools and processes necessary to get started (you probably own all the tools). And the series will provide inspiration. Some of the most beautiful furniture in the world is made using veneer.
Look for the articles later this year.
To get some photos for the series, Marc took us to the David R. Webb veneer mill in Edinburgh, Ind. I’ve been to other mills, but this one is the most advanced one I’ve seen. I took some quick video of the visit and have posted it below.
Here’s a brief explanation of what you are about to see.
The first scene shows a red oak log being debarked. Though it looks like a little stick, that’s deceiving. That log is nearly 3′ in diameter. These logs are straight from the yard and can be as high as 80 percent moisture content.
After it’s debarked, it rolls into the band saw mill (this band saw has a 40′-long blade). The saw slices the wood into slabs , they were about 6″ to 8″ thick (hmm, just enough for a workbench….).
Then the slabs are taken to be soaked in tanks. These tanks are about 18′ deep and filled with water at 140Ã?Â°. The water softens the wood to make it easier to cut. But each species is different and needs a different amount of soaking , anywhere from 24 hours to five days is typical.
The goal is to get the wood soft enough so it’s easy to slice, but not so soft that the grain becomes fuzzy.
After soaking, the slabs are off to the slicing machines.
The vertical slicers work like a mandolin slicer in the kitchen. The slabs are gripped by a vacuum (or sometimes hydraulic jaws) and then the slicer moves the slab past a huge knife (it’s much like a handplane, really). The other slicer we saw spun a section of a log past the knife.
Either way, the result is the perfectly thin sheets of veneer. With most species, they go immediately into a dryer. Within a few minutes they are down to 10 percent moisture content, counted and graded. Walnut needs to cure before it’s dried so it changes from green to brown.
I saw some incredible veneer today , 24″-wide cherry. Clear. No sap. No defects.
Be prepared to be amazed. (And thanks to Marc and Mike Maier, the vice president of operations at the mill, who made this possible).
- Christopher Schwarz