by Don Williams
One of the great hurdles for many woodworkers new to traditional craftsmanship is applying veneers to a wooden substrate. This becomes even more problematic when the task involves something more than laying down a single piece of veneer, or at least something beyond several parallel pieces of veneer, onto a perfectly flat substrate.
Often an expert might recommend some overly complex approaches to the task, involving a tonnage of clamps, vacuum bags or robust presses, all in the employ of holding the veneers in place while the glue sets up. Let the application occur on a curved surface or with a composition in veneer and things can get outlandish.
More creative woodworkers might resort to applying either hide glue or polyvinyl acetate (white or yellow glue) as the adhesive and letting it dry, then using a heated iron to tack things down. These strategies begin to approach the traditional and nearly foolproof technique of hammer veneering.
Many artisans interested in historical craft have tried hammer veneering, and even more have observed it.
Why it Works
Without going into a recitation of the process, nor an exhaustive troubleshooting discourse (hint: The two biggest problems are not preparing the substrate or veneer well enough, and using the glue when its viscosity is too high), some fundamentals about the materials science involved might be useful. The question that keeps coming up is a simple one, which fortunately has a pretty simple answer: Why does hammer veneering work?
The answer lies in the nature of the hot hide glue used as the adhesive. More properly, it lies in the processes by which the hot liquid adhesive becomes a rigid, strong glue layer.
Blog: Read more about Don Williams’ conservation work.
Blog: With proper technique and a few quick tips, use your band saw to cut quality veneers.
Web site: Get the back story on Don’s new workshop in the mountains of rural Virginia.
In our store: Learn Bob Flexner’s take on how and when to use hide glue.
To buy: Discover practical techniques to cut, join and press veneers in a small home woodshop.