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Home > Projects & DIY Toolkit > How-To Articles > Decorative Hardwood Veneer

Decorative Hardwood Veneer

You've probably admired the detailed work on elaborately-veneered pieces in furniture stores, and you may have even wondered about the process of veneering. How long has it been around? Well, when Cleopatra was making her gift list for Julius Caesar, she included a veneered table richly decorated with inlays. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a service to you.

A Bit Of History

To begin our overview of veneers, we must turn the pages of history all the way back to the the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. Nearly 4,000 years ago, cedarwood was used to build houses, palaces, temples, fleets and the huge wooden rollers used to move enormous stones for the pyramids. Around 1500 B.C., this early civilization found another use for their remarkably durable wood - veneering. Some Egyptian mummies were even entombed in cases constructed of veneer and plywood. The Chinese, Greeks and Romans were also early veneer users.

What Exactly Is Veneering?

This is the gluing of a thin sheet or layer of wood - a veneer - to another or to some other underlying material.

Types Of Cuts

Depending on how a log is cut, strikingly different visual effects can be achieved with the wood's grain and characteristics. This is part of the beauty of working with hardwood veneer - that two logs of the same species, cut in different ways, can produce veneers that are distinctively different.

Now let's look at the six principal methods of cutting veneer.

Rotary Slicing

Produced by centering log in lathe and turning it against a broad cutting knife set into a log at a slight angle. Can be sufficiently wide to provide full sheet (one piece) faces.


Produced from various species of oak, which has medullary ray cells that radiate from the centre of a log like curved spokes of a wheel. This straight grain cut is at a slight angle to medullary rays to minimize ray fleck (flake).

Quarter Slicing

Achieves a straight grain appearance by slicing approximately perpendicular to annual growth rings.

Half-Round Slicing

Cutting on an arc roughly parallel to the centre of a log to achieve flat-cut veneer. "Cathedrals" can have more rounded tops since grain is formed by innermost growth rings as veneer is cut through the flitch.

Plain Slicing (Flat Cut)

Sliced parallel to centre of log to achieve flat-cut veneer. "Cathedrals" are formed by innermost annual growth rings as veneer is cut through the flitch.

Lengthwise Slicing

Board of flat sawn lumber passed flat over stationary knife. As it passes, a sheet of veneer is sliced from bottom of board, producing a variegated figure.

Figure Characteristics

The figure of the face veneer is very important to the designer and architect because the whole character of the completed installation may be determined by the choice of veneer. When discussing figure in wood, those who deal with veneer usually describe the characteristics of the "movement" in the wood - whether it has wide or narrow heart, cathedral, crossfire, or is highly figured.

Tools, products, materials, techniques, building codes and local regulations change; therefore, Lowe's assumes no liability for omissions, errors or the outcome of any project. The reader must always exercise reasonable caution, follow current codes and regulations that may apply, and is urged to consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Please visit our terms of use.

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