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How To Apply Wood Veneer

How To Apply Wood Veneer

The wonderful thing about wood veneer is that it can be used in a variety of different ways. To get the most out of the wood there are some fundamentals you should be aware of, which will help you get the best possible finish for your project. Here we explain in more detail how to apply wood veneer and much more.

Wood veneer tutorial

Step 1: Pick out two pieces of consecutively sliced veneer and ensure there is alignment with the grain patterns before stacking them together. To prevent the sheets from shifting during the following steps, add painter’s tape to the ends of the mated pair.

Step 2: Run a utility knife along a straightedge to trim the edge of one of the sheets. Be careful not to trim too much, as you’ll want to preserve the book-match pattern.

Step 3: Using a self-adhesive you now need to join the edges. Take a scrap piece of MDF and put the sheets on top, making sure that the cut edges are about 1.5mm overhanging. Now you can sand the cut veneer edges square and straight using 180-grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Remove the painter’s tape from the sheets and take care to open them like a book. You can push the edges together (ensuring the good side of the veneer is facing upwards) and bring the joint in tight against the short lengths of the painter’s tape that are stretched across the seam. Down the full length of the joint, you then need to lay another strip of tape.

Step 5: On opposite edges of the substrate panel draw the centrelines before putting the substrate onto the veneer. Make sure that the marked centre is aligned with the taped joint line. Trim around the substrate using a utility knife and this process can be repeated so you then have a veneer sheet for the opposing panel face.

Step 6: Open the clamps after you layered the cauls with a platen and waxed paper. Half of the cauls should be on risers, so the crown is facing up. On one face of the substrate spread a thin coat of wood glue. Now align the veneer with the substrate (ensuring the tape side is facing away) and then press down. Leave the glue to dry for 4-5 hours and then the clamps can be removed.

Step 7: If the pattern has shifted during the last step and isn’t square to the edges, use a double-faced tape to secure the panel to a sled. Run this against the table saw rip fence so you can true up one of the edges. The panel can be trimmed to size using the same sawn edge against the rip fence or mitre gauge. If the pattern didn’t shift and remained square, sand one edge with an 80-grit sandpaper on an MDF block. This will remove any glue that squeezed out after it was pressed and then the panel can be cut to size.

How to cut wood veneer

There are two main ways you can cut wood veneer by either using a:

  • Utility knife
  • Once the veneer has been sized correctly, you can use a utility knife to score the back of the material. Before starting, check that the blade is sharp enough, as a blunt blade can damage and mark the veneer. Run the blade along the mark a few times and then it should come through with a nice clean cut.

  • Rotary saw
  • To avoid splitting or splintering, a small rotary saw can quickly make cuts in the veneer. Before starting you should ensure that you have a solid work surface and that you only begin cutting when the veneer is tightly in place.

    How to glue wood veneer

    Extra care should be taken when glueing the wood veneer as this is a crucial part of the process. If you are using a water-based adhesive, a foam rubber glue roller is the best to apply it to the substrate, plus they are cost-efficient and can also be reused. Be careful not to add too much glue and take your time to spread it evenly across the surface.

    You can test the thickness by marking the substrate with a pencil before applying the glue. If you can still see the mark after the glue has been applied, you are more likely to have used the right amount. Should the veneer be overexposed to glue, it could cause rippling.

    When it comes to choosing the right glue for the job, wood glues are usually the best way to go. Alternatively, you can use ‘cold press’ veneer glue, as it often dries fast, cures hard and doesn’t require you to carry out any mixing.

    Wood veneer to curved surfaces

    Not all substrates have straight lines and many feature curved surfaces that may require a slightly different approach when it comes to applying the veneer.

    UF (urea formaldehyde), PVAs or contact adhesives are the mostly commonly used adhesives for curved surfaces. You’ll need to form a male/female jig to use a UF or PVA adhesive to minimise movement during the process. 

    A contact adhesive is good for large pieces of furniture and is coated onto both materials, although they are better suited for back veneers rather than unbacked veneers because they offer no movement resistance.

    Wood veneer edging

    Wood veneer edging is used to finish off shelving, bookcases and cabinets to create a smooth, finished look that fits in with the rest of the design. Here are the steps you need to follow to apply wood veneer edging:

    Step 1: Add strips to the longest sides

    It’s a good idea to start with the longest edges first if you are working on an item like a cabinet. Measure the strip and ensure it is a few centimetres longer than required. Making the strip longer at this stage ensures you have enough length and do not have to make a fresh strip because the first one was too short. Square the edge and ensure the strip is flush with the side so you can trim off the excess length.

    Step 2: Iron the strip

    Using a regular household iron set to just below the highest temperature and run it over the strip while keeping it in place with your thumb and forefinger. The technique you use to iron is important – make sure the iron is applied to a 10-15cm section of the strip at first and keep the heat element moving. It should take around 30 seconds for the strip to adhere to the plywood. After finishing each section, use a wooden block or roller to press the strip onto the edge.

    Step 3: Remove any excess

    When you reach the end of the edge, turn over the body of the item so you see the strip facing downwards toward the floor. Now you can cut off any excess strip pieces that may be overhanging.

    Step 4: Seal and finish

    Sand down the edges of the strip using a 150-grit sandpaper until it is completely flush with the rest of the item and no joins are visible.

    Wood veneer to MDF speakers

    If you want to transform the look of your MDF speakers you should follow these simple steps:

    Step 1: Prep work

    Any screw holes that are present on the speaker will need to be filled in. This can be done using wood filler and a putty knife. Make sure this is done on all sides of the speaker and scrape as much of the filler off the surface as possible.

    Use an orbital sander to smooth out the sides of the speaker, using a combination of 80, 120 and 200-grit sandpapers.

    Step 3: Cutting the veneer

    Draw a diagram of how the veneer will be cut out of the sheet. Make sure the side, top and opposing side are all in one long strip, while mapping out the bottom, front and back sections.

    Lay down the speaker on top of the veneer and trace each side of the speaker cabinets using a utility knife. Make them a little over-sized so you have some room to play with when it comes to lining up the veneer with the speaker. Label each piece so you know where each one will go and its orientation to maintain a consistent grain pattern

    Step 3: Gluing the veneer 

    Use contact cement as the adhesive and a 4-inch foam roller to apply it to the relevant section of the cabinet. Be sure to apply the adhesive to the MDF and the veneer panel. Start with the bottom section first, followed by the back, then the sides, front and lastly the top. Doing it in this order will help to hide the edges of the veneer from the front and side sections.

    Add one coat of glue and then leave it to fully dry on both surfaces, then you can add a second coat and before applying the section of veneer you are working on. 

    Once the second coat is dried, lay either wooden shims or free paint sticks onto the cabinet surface. Doing this allows you to precisely line up the veneer with the edges of the speaker without it touching the MDF. This is important because you are using contact cement, so once the two surfaces make contact they cannot be separated. When you are sure the veneer is correctly aligned, you can remove the shims and push the veneer down onto the speaker.  

    Step 4: Adhering the veneer

    Use a small wooden roller to ensure the veneer is fully applied to the speaker. Go over every section of the veneer, pushing down as hard as you can. Take the utility knife and trim off any overhanging pieces (for the side sections) and use 220-grit sandpaper to smooth out the edges once you are done.

    You can then stain and finish the veneer to create the final look you want, and the adhesive should take a few days to fully cure.

    Wood veneer to kitchen cabinets

    To apply wood veneer to a kitchen cabinet, follow these steps:

    Step 1: Resurfacing

    Remove the cabinet doors and drawers from the cabinet. Clean them down to make it easier for the adhesive later on in the process. Measure the dimensions of the cabinet doors and fronts and using a utility knife cut the appropriately sized veneer, adding one inch in both directions so you have a little room to work with. Label the pieces so you know which section goes where.

    Step 2: Sanding

    Sand down the cabinet doors to break the existing finish to help with the adhesive and remove any dust after you finish.

    Step 3: Applying the veneer

    Choose a door to start with and place it on your work surface along with the relevant piece of veneer. Add a thin coat of contact cement to the front of the door and the back of the veneer using a paint roller. Let the cement dry for 5-10 minutes until it feels tacky, rather than wet. Then place the veneer onto the door, taking extreme care because once the two glued surfaces touch, they will fully bond and the veneer cannot be removed without it being broken.

    Before laying the veneer onto the cabinet, it’s a good idea to lay several dowel rods over the cement on the door before placing the veneer on top. This will help you find the right alignment without the two materials touching and you can then remove the dowels one rod at a time and adhere the door and veneer together.

    Finally, trim any excess edges with a utility knife and sand down the edges until it is flush with the other sides.

    How to stain wood veneer

    Adding a stain to the wood veneer can add a whole new dimension to the veneer. To do so, follow these steps:

    Step 1: Preparation

    Prepare the veneer by wiping it down to remove any dirt and dust. You many need to sand it to make it a little smoother and you can use a 180-grit sandpaper for this job, following the direction of the wood grain.

    Step 2: Apply the stain

    Wipe away any sawdust before you apply the stain. Before application, check that you have the correct colour on a scrap piece of veneer or in a hidden spot. A soft bristle paintbrush or foam brush is the best thing to use for staining. Follow the instructions of the product during this stage.

    Step 3: Drying time

    It’s important to allow enough trying time before you use the veneer. You may also need to add another coat if the colour is not deep enough – and be sure to leave the right amount of drying time in-between each coat application. If you want to add sealer, you will usually have to wait at least 24 hours until the veneer is completely dry.

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