Typical veneering substrates? Solid hardwood?

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Forum topic by Woodworker123 posted 02-06-2011 08:48 PM 2086 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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89 posts in 2850 days

02-06-2011 08:48 PM

I’m considering a larger project, a bed or a large book case. I like walnut but I’m currently making two night stands out of solid Walnut, and as small as they are, it’s >$200 worth of lumber. I cannot foresee being able to afford a larger project out of solid Walnut anytime soon, so I’m considering giving veneering a shot.

So, my question is, what are the options for veneering projects, and their advantages? Of course a lot of manufactured furniture is engineered wood like particle board or MDF with veneer. Is it common to use a cheaper wood with a more expensive veneer? If so, what would one suggest? Are there enough advantages in strength and ease of use to warrant that extra cost over MDF? What is everyone’s thoughts on this? To me, veneering something seems like a compromise, so maybe this would be a lesser compromise?

17 replies so far

View CoolDavion's profile


434 posts in 3821 days

#1 posted 02-07-2011 03:59 AM

I’ve not done much veneering, just a small project using mdf.

Question what about using Walnut plywood? Depending on size, that could be one way to go.

-- Do or do not, there is no try!

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4122 days

#2 posted 02-07-2011 07:05 AM

I like veneer over a good plywood, but I’ve heard people make the MDF argument. My wife forbids MDF, so it’s not an issue here, and I have to make the case on an individual basis for plywood, but now that we’re starting to get more furniture made she’s warming up to ply as a veneer substrate.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

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89 posts in 2850 days

#3 posted 02-07-2011 07:37 AM

Good point, I hadn’t considered plywood, for some reasons. If I’m using veneer all the way around, I suppose there is no point. Do people use a hardwood plywood and then use veneer on the end grain often?

I hadn’t thought of the issue of a furniture piece not being completely sealed releasing MDF toxins (VOC’s). I don’t know if there is an easy way to deal with these in construction, or if it’s really a concern of mine.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4215 days

#4 posted 02-07-2011 04:02 PM

Good quality plywood is the way to go, mainly because of dimensional stability.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4122 days

#5 posted 02-07-2011 05:08 PM

Our local cabinet and casework shops do a lot of veneered MDF, a little less plywood (the pros seem to like MDF better because it’s more consistent). One of the tricks they’ll use on slightly higher end work (look for it in premium hotels, for instance) is veneered MDF with a 1/16” or 3/32” ripped stick down the edges. Just glue it on with Titebond, “clamped” with blue tape.

Provides a little more bump and dent resistance than just ironed on veneer strip. Too thick and you actually have to clamp it rather than taping it, though.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View levan's profile


472 posts in 2977 days

#6 posted 02-07-2011 06:49 PM

I have always used a good ply with 2-3”hardwood banding. I think is a lot more durable than just a veneered edge.

-- "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right". Henry Ford

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89 posts in 2850 days

#7 posted 02-07-2011 10:58 PM

Sweet, good advice everyone. Dan, I think I follow what you are talking about, the top surface veneer goes all the way to the edge in that case still, right?

Lynn, by 2-3” hardwood banding, do you mean like what Dan mentioned, but instead of a thin strip, you use a couple of inches?

I guess if I end up veneering the entire thing, I might as well use a cheaper hardwood plywood than walnut. I’m assuming the costs of different hardwood species is reflected in their respective plywoods.

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4122 days

#8 posted 02-07-2011 11:22 PM

I took Lyn to mean a 2-3” wide strip of hardwood the same thickness as the veneered plywood. That’s roughly what I’ve done on my home cabinets, biscuit jointed on. It’s more than most of the commercial shops do, and you can clearly see that the wood is not the veneered face, so I understand why they stick with something that looks almost veneer all the way to the edge, but pick your compromises.

On the costs of plywood, I think you’ll find that most plywood comes in two forms: Alder or Birch (ie: the ApplePly or Baltic Birch variety), and “unspecified”. Both of those can come with various different veneers on them (from red oak to birch to figured walnut crotch), but they’re the same underlying wood substrate.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3033 days

#9 posted 12-14-2011 10:27 PM

Three simple letters.

M – machinable
D – dimensionally stable
F – flat

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View DS's profile


2917 posts in 2417 days

#10 posted 12-14-2011 10:35 PM

An alternative plywood that has a lot of the benefits of MDF is something called “Classic Core”. In this case, the outermost layers under the veneers are 1/10” MDF while the center of the core is typical plywood.

In most cases this provides a Flat, Stable surface for veneering and is considerably lighter than straight MDF.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View doorslammer's profile


108 posts in 3566 days

#11 posted 12-14-2011 10:54 PM

My bias here would be for a good birch plywood and similar to what Dan suggested I typically edgeband the plywood substrate all the way around with a secondary wood like poplar (1/4” wide or so) before veenering the panel. This method is know as “bake ins”. The veneer helps lock the poplar edge banding and now you have solid wood edges that you can tweak with hand planes and this also gives a better glue surface than plywood for your real edge banding.

-- Aaron in TN -

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3007 days

#12 posted 12-15-2011 12:14 AM

Martyn – I thought the F was for heavy as f—-?

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View shipwright's profile


7980 posts in 2795 days

#13 posted 12-15-2011 01:59 AM

I’m with Martyn and many other high end craftsmen. MDF is a (the?) premiere substrate for veneering.

I think I understand you when you say that to you “veneering something seems a compromise” but I can’t agree.
Much of the finest furniture ever built is veneered and could never be duplicated in solid wood.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Woodworker123's profile


89 posts in 2850 days

#14 posted 12-15-2011 02:19 AM


You’re right, and since I’ve posted this, I’ve come to realize that that is the case.

But, I’ll stand by my opinion that it may have that impression of low end for a lot of people who aren’t woodworkers. Hell, until recently it did to me, and I’m not entirely unfamiliar with woodworking. Whether you care about what those people think might be a good question.

Something about an engineered, mass produced (not that hardwood isn’t both of those things) material doesn’t seem as high end. I think a good example is how you can find high end speakers that are made from solid wood despite a common understanding among acoustic engineers and audiophiles (who can believe in some pretty stupid things, granted) that denser MDF makes a better speaker cabinet.

DS251: Classic core sounds interesting, but why would you want to save weight? Besides maybe a boat interior, or a murphy bed, some very specific applications, I don’t see why you would want to save on weight. Is the classic core generally cheaper than MDF?

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4122 days

#15 posted 12-15-2011 06:45 PM

Jack, I’m with you on perception. Getting my wife to allow a high quality non-voided plywood, let alone an MDF, is a challenge.

However, on weight: It’s really easy to end up with a piece that’s a couple of hundred lbs. Our local woodworking society has had presentations from several very experienced custom furniture designers and builders, and each of them had several horror stories about not just making sure that they could actually get the piece in to the client’s home or office, but about trying to move a 400 lb desk around in the workshop.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

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