Black Bean Chili, The Magazine Business, and Veneer - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Black Bean Chili, The Magazine Business, and Veneer

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

When I cook a pot of chili, I tend to keep throwing in ingredients until I run out of room in the pot. Often I have to switch to a bigger pot, or split the batch among two pots. When we build projects for Popular Woodworking we go through a similar process. We try to photograph and write about all the things we think are interesting, but there rarely is enough room to print everything. We only have so many pages to work with so most of the time good things are left out. One of the great things about the blog is we now have a place to put this stuff. When the November issue comes out, I’ll be posting extra photos of the project I built.

In the meantime, here is a short lesson on veneering that I found in the back of the fridge. In the November 2005 issue I built a reproduction of a Gustav Stickley Bridal Chest.

I had hoped to include information about making the veneered panels, but there wasn’t space available. The panels are 1/2″ thick MDF with quilted, mottled maple veneer on the show side, and “backer” veneer on the inside. The larger panels are bookmatched. When the veneer is cut from the log, the leaves of veneer are kept in order. If you use two adjacent pieces and flip one over, the grain pattern is a mirror image. I got the veneer from Joe Woodworker who has a great website. You can see pictures of the actual veneer he has for sale, there are some great turorials, and he has the glue, tools and other stuff you’ll want to make the veneering go smoothly. He also gives good service, if you ruin a bookmatched panel, he can get another piece of veneer to you right away. Or so I’m told.

You need to be able to cut the veneer both across the grain and with the grain. You probably have what you need to make the cross-grain cuts:

With a knife and a straight edge, you make scoring cuts until you get completely through the veneer. Don’t push too hard, just make 3 or 4 light passes. To cut with the grain, you also use a straight edge, but you really should have a veneer saw. If you get it from Joe, go ahead and spend the $6 to get it sharpened.

You use it much like you use the knife. You take several light passes rather than trying to force your way through with one mighty cut. I’ve got a piece of soft pine below the cut, and a piece of mahogany for a straightedge. Nothing special about the mahogany, I pulled it out of the scrap bin and ran the edge over the joiner. The pieces of veneer should be cut a little bigger than the substrate. To make the bookmatched joint, fold one piece over the other in a stack, and cut both pieces at once. With a little practice you can get a good joint in the veneer right off the veneer saw. Much easier than trying to shoot the edges with a plane or router to correct a sloppy cut. When you’re happy with the cuts, you need to tape the joint together so that it won’t pull apart when you press it.

Working from the back side, line up the seam and hold it together with a few pieces of blue painter’s tape. Your lines should be nice and straight so you don’t have to force the joint together. If they aren’t, go back to the straightedge and saw and make them straight. This is another good reason to cut the veneer oversized.

Flip the veneers over and hold them together with gummed veneer tape
It’s a paper tape with a water soluble adhesive on one wide. Don’t be frugal and try to use something else. The gummed tape shrinks just the right amount as the water evaporates, holding the seam tightly together. I stuck a damp rag in the top of a spray paint can, then ran the tape over that to get it moist.

Start taping with a few pieces going across the seam, then one piece down the length of the seam.
t helps to keep the veneer flat if you can press it between something heavy while the moisture evaporates form the tape. I stacked up the veneers with sheets of paper in between, and laid a thick piece of wood on the seem and let it dry overnight. Don’t forget to take the blue tape off the back before you press the veneer.

Some people will use regular woodworking glue for veneering, but I think that’s asking for trouble. Yellow and white glues dry to a flexible glue line and tend to creep over time. That’s good for most furniture making-joints will stay together as the parts move without breaking the glue line. It’s not good for veneering,you want a more rigid glue line. If you want some solid information on gluing, here is a link to an excellent resource for technical info. I used a glue made for cold press veneering, and applied it to the back of the veneer with a disposable paint roller. Below the veneer is the 1/2″ thick substrate, and the bottom half of my “press”. It’s a piece of 3/4″ thick MDF with some solid wood cleats screwed to the bottom to keep it stiff. The cleats are about 1-1/4″ thick and about 2-1/2″ wide. The dimensions aren’t critical, the cleats just need to be straight and stiff. I cut it the MDF a little larger than my largest panel.

After applying the glue, I flipped it over and laid it down on the substrate. A couple of pieces of the blue painter’s tape will keep the veneer from sliding around. I pressed about half the panels for the project at one time, stacking them on the press. To keep the panels from warping you need to veneer both sides. I only veneered one side of each panel at a time to keep the pressing simple. I did a stack with the face veneer, let the glue dry overnight and then glued the backing veneer on first thing the next morning. That stack was dry at the end of the day, so I was able to glue another stack at the end of the day.

The top part of the press is another piece of 3/4″ thick MDF. The pieces of solid wood aren’t attached, and I planed about 1/16″ off each end of these, tapered from the center of the board. This gentle curve on the bottom edge of the cauls puts pressure from the middle of the panels out to the edges. After letting the glue dry, the panels get trimmed to their finished sizes. I cut a rabbet around the edges to fit in the 3/8″ wide groove in the stiles and rails.

Using veneer lets you do some things that are quite difficult to do with solid wood. In addition to the differ ent spectacular figure you can find in veneer, you can also have matched panels all the way around a piece. It really isn’t difficult to do, the investment in the saw, tape and glue is minimal, and the results are well worth the effort.

If you have any questions, or want to show off your own veneer work, just drop m e an e-mail. You can also e-mail me for my chili recipe. It’s spicy but not too hot, really tasty and nothing at all like what people here in Cincinnati call chili.

Bob Lang

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Showing 6 comments
  • Bob Lang

    This is one of the consequences of figured veneer, what makes it look good will also cause it to distort. If it isn’t too bad, it will flatten out when you press it. Misting the surface with water will help, but if it’s seriously buckled you’ll need to plasticize the wood. There is a concoction of glycerin water and glue, but I’ve never used it.

    Once again, Joe Woodworker has an in depth description on his site about how to handle this:

    Bob Lang

  • Alan Graham

    Enjoyed your article but it didn’t address one of my first questions. I have several rolls of veneer I would like to use but it has puckered with time. How do you treat your veneer to assure that it is flat enough to use before preparing the joints?

  • Bob Lang

    Thanks Joe,

    We are working on an article about how to photograph both work in progress and finished pieces. Chris and I take all of the step photos for the blog, and for the articles we write for the magazine.

    We use a couple of lights on stands in addition to our flourescent lights in the cieling and daylight from the windows. With a digital camera set the white balance to "automatic". You could use daylight compact flourescent lights in the clamp on shop light fixtures if you’re on a budget.

    We always use a tripod, set the F-stop manually, and let the camera set the exposure speed. F-stops of 11 and higher (numerically) give greater depth of field so more of the picture is in focus. This usually means a slow shutter speed-hold your breath and don’t move.

    One of the great things about digital cameras is the ability to preview. Check the compostion to see if it looks right. I try to get a point of view that is either over my shoulder so you see what I’m seeing, or from where you would be if you were standing in the shop looking at the action.

    We also take lots of pictures, which is another advantage of digital photography, don’t be afraid to shoot 10 images to get one good one.

    We don’t do much in Photoshop, mostly just cropping and adjusting the color, brightness and contrast a minimal amount.

    Until the article comes out, I hope this helps. We would like to use more pictures from our readers here on the blog as well as in the magazine.

    Bob Lang

  • Joe Hurst


    I just dropped by your blog and just wanted to say how impressed I am by the quality of you blog-shots…you even managed to capture some of the chatoyance (sp?) of the veneer.

    May I ask your secret? Constant, CFL lights? Strobes? Plenty o’ Photoshop? (I own a Canon EOS and just dropped some change on some new lights. Not all photo folks understand or appreciate what I’m trying to capture in my shop.)

    Keep it up! It’s clear to see that you’re one of the good ones.

    -Joe Hurst-Wajszczuk

  • Bob Lang

    Thanks for the kind words Keith. You have a sharp eye, as the bench In the photos did belong to the boss. Hopefully you noticed that I have a long piece of scrap directly below the cutting action.

    The bench is the famous "$175.00 Workbench" that has been featured many times in the magazine. You can find the article online at:

    Technically, the ownership of the bench was in limbo. At the time, Chris had just finished the Roubo workbench for our sister publication "Woodworking". You can read all about in in the Autumn 2005 issue, which is still available on the "Woodworking" website:

    If you want to spend an entertaining hour or so reading about it, there are close to eleventy zillion entries on Chris’s blog over there:

    Anyway, after the Roubo bench was completed, Chris abandoned the $175.00 bench. I was only using it because it looked like it needed some attention. It kicked around the shop for a while before finding a new home in Indiana.

    Bob Lang

  • Keith Mealy

    Nice article, Bob. I had to take a veneering class to get this much information. But one question: Isn’t that soft pine underneath your cut really Chris Schwarz’s (the boss’s) benchtop?

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