Here's the Truth About Wood Veneers
Here's the Truth About Wood Veneers
Here's the Truth About Wood Veneers
When you learn that a piece of furniture has a veneer, does it make you cringe a
little? Admittedly us, too. But wood veneers, in fact, are a traditional and structurally significant aspect of furniture-
making that still come into play in contemporary design. Wood veneers have been used in furniture-making and millwork
techniques for over 200 years, says interior designer Cate Caruso, of Studio C, who uses them for all kinds of high-quality
custom furnishings. In woodworking, a veneer is actually a paper thin cut of wood that's applied to both sides of a
strong core surface, like furniture-grade MDF or substrate material, to seal and stabilize it—which is critically important
when you're fashioning built-in furniture or anything with a mechanism. The reason is simple: Solid wood expands and
contracts as the temperature changes, and your apartment isn't temperature controlled no matter how powerful your A.C.
unit is. A dining table, for instance, can be made from solid wood (and many are), but a wood piece with moving parts cannot.
With kitchen cabinetry, drawers, and anything built-in or paneled, you really have to have veneers, Caruso explains. A
solid piece of wood just isn’t always structurally sound enough to fabricate a millwork.
What she is not using is fake wood. Oftentimes, when people see a veneered furnishing that’s cheap, it’s actually not
wood at all—it’s a laminate material, Caruso explains, putting a name to the faux surface that gave all veneers a bad rap
somewhere along the line. (Those are made from plastic, paper, or even foil that's been printed with a wood grain pattern
that often wears away at the edges—a sure way to spot them.) But of course, there's also a range in quality of proper
veneers depending on who makes them. All woodworking can be done well or it can be done poorly—but an expert millworker
will make veneers look seamless, with perfect corners, Caruso says, which explains the misconception that a wood
engineered veneer is cheap when it’s anything but.
Besides keeping a wood panel stable, veneers have other perks and purposes. They're considered an environmentally
conscious option because you're maximizing that log in thin little sheets, Caruso says, and then the core is
furniture grade MDF or substrate material. In extreme cases, they can even be cost-saving. Think about Brazilian
rosewood, which is rare, endangered, very hard to get, and very expensive, says Patrick Muecke, Caruso's general
contractor, who was a millworker for 15+ years before opening his own GC and management company. If you want to do a
rosewood paneled room in solid wood, you’d have to be the Sultan of Brunei in order to afford it. The same would go for
any project in an expensive wood; veneers would bring down the cost. Beyond millwork,
natural bamboo veneers are also required for
certain special techniques: Book-matched wood doors (or book-matched wood anything) would have to be fashioned using
bamboo veneers because you'd never find wood planks with grains
that perfectly match—it's necessary instead to have a series of veneers cut from the same log. Then there are labor-
intensive inlay arts like marquetry and parquetry, which require veneers cut to certain sizes and shapes that are then fit
into the top of a structure. A far cry from laminate surfaces, right?
When you’re choosing your residence hall furniture and deciding on the specs, you’ll inevitably choose what materials
Should it be totally solid wood or a laminate variety?
If you choose to go with the latter, you’ll have to answer another important question.
What kind of wood edge banding do you want?
For many people who are new to buying residence hall furniture, that’s going to elicit some questioning faces.
What’s edge banding? Good question.
Or, if you’re a veteran, you already know how painful the wrong edge banding choice can be. That is to say, peeling,
ongoing maintenance, and mounting work orders.
What Is Edge Banding?
So let’s start at the beginning. What is edge banding?
It’s actually kind of simple, and the video below will help you understand it even better, but this is a simple overview
to get you started.
Here’s the basic non-technical idea.
Plywood, particle board, and other manufactured wood cores like MDF have rough, unfinished, unprotected, and generally
To account for that, some clever folks developed technologies that allow you to glue different bands of glossy finished
material to those rough edges to match the tops and sides.
Those narrow bands or strips are called edging tape, and they range in thickness from 0.018-inch to 5mm thick and in 250
The thicker edging is used in high traffic and commercial environments because it provides greater resilience and impact
resistance. For example, the military requires a thicker ?” solid wood edge banding for maximum impact resistance.
And edge banders are the industrial grade machines that apply the edging tape to the raw edges of the wood panels with a
hot-melt adhesive or glue.
The Purpose of Edge Banding
Edge banding serves both functional and aesthetic purposes.
Functionally, edge bands perform some key duties for your furniture. First, it keeps moisture out serving as a de facto
seal on the edge of the core material. Second, edge banding improves durability and resilience by providing impact
resistance. If you’re using solid wood edging, it can also add to the overall strength of the furniture.
Aesthetically, edge banding covers up unsightly rough edges and creates a glossy finish to match your tops and sides. You
can also create radial edges to soften sharp angles.
What Is Edge Banding Made From?
What are the edging tapes made from? There are different materials, and we’ll just focus on a few here.
1. PVC is the most popular material for edge banding. Pros: It’s inexpensive, durable, and boasts a long life. It doesn
’t require any finishing process. It’s also easy, albeit tedious, to repair. Cons: You can’t recycle it. It doesn’t
biodegrade. Once it’s blemished, you can’t refinish it. (NB: ABS—Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene—is an eco friendly
alternative to PVC because it’s both recyclable and safe to incinerate.)
When it comes to PVC, we recommend 3mm edging in general because it goes on cleaner, quicker, and with better adhesion.
Another advantage is that you get a graceful radius and a nice soft-looking finish. In general, we avoid .5mm edging because
the corners tend to be too sharp.
2. Solid Wood is still a favorite in many woodworking camps. It’s durable, recyclable, easy to fix and refinish, strong,
stiff, and economical. Benefits: is more resistant to chipping than veneer edge tape. Solid wood glues are more reliable and
less prone to peeling than veneer and PVC. It provides additional dimensional support to plywood and mdf. Climate neutral
manufacturing. Cons: Difficult to use for curves.
When it comes to solid wood we recommend 9.5mm on case good tops.
As we explain below, at DCI, we believe the best way to apply wood edge banding is “internally” with a HPL top. Why?
Because in our experience, it’s incredibly durable and never requires additional service.
3. Wood Veneer, including reconstituted veneer is another
common edge banding material. It’s made from thin slices of wood—typically oak, maple, ash, walnut, birch, and mahogany—
that are joined together in a roll using finger jointing. It usually features a heat-sensitive glue backing.
Pros: It’s attractive, durable, and strong. It provides a clean solid-wood look, and it’s pre-sanded to easily absorb
stains and finishes to seamlessly match your wood. Cons: It’s not heat resistant. Avoid putting it near a heater. It doesn’
t do well in high-use environments.