Veneer Gone Wild - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Veneer Gone Wild

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The shop-made veneer had a mind of its own this past week as I taught a class at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, KY. The plan was to hammer the thick veneer onto the front of a Baltimore card table, from Popular Woodworking Magazine in June 2005 (click here to read the article).

In the original article, I took a lot of heat for using contact cement, which manufacturer’s suggest, to apply the paperback veneer. Last time we held the class at Mehler’s, we used paperback veneer and the contact cement. Application was easy and fine, but many students sanded through the very thin wood that’s stuck to the paper.

To eliminate that problem, I milled a bunch of veneer in the shop. There is a bunch of work that goes on around the veneer during this project. There is stringing in all three of the panels on the face of the apron. And there is a line of banding that is installed then leveled to the surface. With the hopes that no one could scuff through the thickness, I milled up thick veneer was , about 1/16″ , and it was cut to configure the grain at a 45° angle, just as it was on the original 1790 table.

I experimented with my plan early in the week after class ended for the day. When hide glue hit the veneer, the piece began to twist. Within ten minutes, the veneer corkscrewed to the shape of a gnarly roller coaster (check out the opening photo). That’s not good. Of course, hammer veneering this to the apron was not going to work, but I gave it a try. With hide glue loaded on the show side of the veneer to help balance the moisture content, I hammered for a while before conceding to defeat.

The next experiment was to size the veneer with a thin coat of PVA glue and allow that to dry before another hammering took place. This time a hot iron acted as my hammer, but the results were the same. I assumed that the thickness of the veneer and the fact that it was cut as it was caused the problems that I was having.

The next evening I returned to experiment with contact cement. I remembered a conversation I had with another woodworker who said they used contact cement with wood-backed veneer years back, so I thought I would give it a try. I brushed the cement on the veneer and the piece didn’t move a muscle. The veneer laid completely flat. I had hope. When the cement was dry and ready to test, I moved into position in a last-ditched attempt to get a face to the apron. The veneer held to the apron with ease and each participant was successful in the application.

I know there are those out there that will scoff at the idea of using contact cement to apply veneer, but if you were taking this class (or teaching it) which would you choose? I think it best to succeed with contact cement than to fail using a time-tested technique that works great on a flat surface with the ultra-thin veneers that we have available today, but not so great with a thick veneer on a curved surface.

Interested in more information about veneer?

  • Click here to watch Rob Millard lay down a piece of crotch veneer onto a drawer front
  • Click here to read the numerous blog entries from last year’s Baltimore card table class. The entry is a wrap-up, but you can link to the earlier entries, too.

– Glen D. Huey

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Showing 4 comments
  • Glen

    I used that approach on the first attempt. What happened is that the veneer curled so quickly and had such a pull that the corners – opposite corners – continuously pulled from the substrate. Even when I added spring clamps to the setup, the veneer pulled from the edges. After 10 minutes of hammering and sliding the hammer through glue on the show face, I had nothing but a mess.

  • Clint Struthers


    All veneer will curl when only one side is wetted with hide glue! Try applying the hide glue to the substrate and then applying hot hide glue on the show side as you hammer it down. No curl no fuss and the hammer slides like butter! Tage Frid said it best when he said with enough glue and veneer he could cover the world with veneer and not a single clamp! Give it another go and see how this approcah works for you, I use it almost everyday in my work

  • Nick Webb

    I’ve had the same problem with curly veneers, but found using PVA (OK Titebond 1) no problem. Apply TB to the mating faces of both pieces, it needs to be a reasonably heavy thickness coating on both of the faces, and leave to dry thoroughly. Then iron the veneer on – just like shop-bought iron-on veneer.

    Photos here
    just to show I’m not bluffing.

  • Steve

    The perils of contact cement are probably overstated, but it will definitely creep, especially at high temperature. I found that out the hard way when I tried to use contact cement to replace some veneer on an automobile dashboard.

    I’d be concerned about furniture stored in a hot attic, for example.

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