Veneer Maintenance


Veneer Maintenance:
Amber Bailey likes to make sure her veneers are in a respectable condition.

Amber Bailey likes to make sure her veneers are in a respectable condition

As anyone knows, the further into a hobby or craft you get, the harder it becomes to store all your ever-accumulating materials and equipment. As a buyer of veneers, I find myself constantly rearranging my stock for more advantageous storage and access. Although it can be relatively easy to store timber, it isn’t quite so straightforward for delicate veneers. There are a number of factors that really need to be taken into consideration to maintain longevity and usability within veneers.

Occasionally bargains are just too good to miss, the aftermath can be a bit of a problem!

Preparation and care of veneers
Rehydrating the wood
Over time and in less than humid conditions, veneers will naturally dry out and begin to crack if you aren’t careful. If veneer leaves become in a very bad state and begin to warp it is advisable to rehydrate them slightly and certainly to do so before use. This can be done by applying a fine mist from a water spray gun or if necessary for very badly curled or thick veneers, leave to soak in water for a while. Always after dampening make sure the veneers are pressed flat as they dry out again. 

A spray gun can be picked up extremely cheaply from your local garden centre

I have made a very simple drying rack with mesh that allows the veneers to air dry flat

Repairing damage
The thinner veneers that are cut, the more they are susceptible to splitting. When it comes to working with the veneers, these splits may be avoidable and worked around. Despite this, if there is a split in a piece of veneer it is never advisable to leave it until the day you actually use it. Any jostling that may occur while in storage is likely to encourage the split to develop further as the wood will have a natural tear line down the length of its grain.To temporarily hold the veneer in place, cut and wet a strip of veneer tape to cover the length of the split and a series of short horizontal strips to go across, binding the split together as tightly as possible. Once pressed into place, work over with a scrubbing brush to ensure there are no air bubbles under the tape. When working with veneers it is always advisable to back them with newspaper or kraft paper, adhered with diluted protein glue (hide or fish glue – which is easy to remove later). This sort of preparation can easily pre-date the making of a project, particularly when you have veneers set aside for the task.

Paper is pressed on to glue covered veneer

Once glued up, cut away the excess paper to keep the veneers neat and manageable

Colour testing
When working with veneers it is always worthwhile remembering that natural veneer will always look different after it has been treated with a finish. To give you an idea of how your veneer will eventually look, dampen with water to reveal its true potential.

Different finishes will drastically alter the colouring of wood

Storage solutions
Hanging racks
For extremely long leaves of veneer, having them at ground or workbench level simply isn’t practical. The best way to store these to keep them from damage is actually to create hanging storage. For me, this is simply made up of hooks and lengths of rope, a very cheap but extremely effective storage solution. Workshops with the room and resources often go for a series of long wall storage or hanging drain piping for stringing and banding. It all depends on the surroundings that you are working in. Choose a darkened area without direct sunlight or artificial light that will cause bleaching of the colour. 

For easy access to small or waste veneers, having a system of drawers makes life incredibly easy. Boxes are all well and good until you have to keep sifting through them to look for what you want. The best types of drawers are normally used by artists or architects to hold wide technical drawings. They are an expensive buy if not found secondhand but give ample allowance in veneer sizes.

I often work with offcuts, so have plenty of small pieces of veneer to store

It can help to keep veneers or banding in bundles so they do not get mixed up

Labelling systems
When your veneers are packed up in storage it is always a good idea to have clear labelling, this avoids unnecessary rummaging through to find what you need.
There are several ways that this is conventionally done, labelling by species works well if you have a large volume of a veneer species (although this can be quite space consuming if you only have small amounts of each veneer type). If you are a real wood identification buff you could even include the Latin family genus for each species.
The traditional labelling technique noted throughout history and often still used in workshops today is to label up by colour. In marquetry workshops, makers were looking to match colours for their designs; they weren’t trying to follow a strict pattern of species. Even in restoration workshops today, replacing missing veneers you tend to look at matching the wood grain and colour up the wood afterwards for a closer match, this means you won’t always use the correct original veneer type.

I prefer to keep my veneers divided up between coloured veneers: blonde wood, red woods, brown woods, decorative veneers and then species specific drawers where I have an exceptional amount of certain veneers (such as oak and walnut)

This is my own personalised design, which I use for identification

Storage conditions
Hazard proofing
Like with any workshop, materials are an investment and you want to do your best to keep them safe. Workshops are a naturally hazardous scene of electrical equipment, chemicals and flammable goods. The best way to protect certain materials is to make sure they are stored encased in metal rather than just left in the open air. Actual metal cabinets can be very expensive but filing cabinets can be picked second-hand extremely cheaply.

I use metal filing cabinets to store some materials and others for storing flammable goods. This helps to reduce the chance of a serious fire occurring

Temperature and humidity
Like all wood, veneers are susceptible to the environmental climate, anything too dry or damp will cause the leaves to distort, try to maintain a steady environment where possible. Keep an eye for dramatic changes in temperature and humidity as this is where the problems will lie. 

Integrated pest management
Always be aware of the outside getting in when it comes to your workshop, it is the perfect environment to harbour critters or all shapes and sizes. I might be horrified by the enormous spiders that can be found making home in my workshop but they are by far the least harmful to wood and veneer. Keep an eye out for the various forms of furniture munching beetles by monitoring activity with insect traps placed in prime positions around the workshop. Any immediate dangers need to be dealt with to avoid your veneers being left with a series of holes spread across them.

A proper temperature and humidity monitor can be quite an expensive purchase, but a standard thermometer will do for keeping a general eye on the environment


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