Common wisdom today says that the way you do veneer is to cut out all you pieces, stick them together with veneer tape, spread the glue, stick it in the vacuum press with plain veneer on the back side of a stable substrate, and glue the whole thing together at the same time. This is what you read in most book about veneering that were written after the 1950’s. I accepted this until number of years ago when an antique dealer brought me a piece to restore that changed the way I thought about veneered furniture, how it was done in the past, and caused me to read some older books on veneering furniture. The piece was a large secretary desk unlike any I had seen or worked on before. When it first came in it was a washed out, opaque mustard color which turned out to be a thick coat of shellac that appeared to have been stored in a steam bath. In addition to the finish problem the piece had missing areas of veneer and molding and several broken and collapsed areas of substrate. It was also a style I was not familiar with, I knew right away it was not American and was pretty sure it was not British. The dealer told me he got it in New Orleans so I thought ”maybe French”, but it turned out to be what I believe was an Italian Rococo piece. At that time I wasn’t photographing my work so there are no pictures but it was similar to this.
The piece was totally covered with rosewood veneer with tulip wood cross banding. All of the moldings and bandings were made up of numerous cross grained pieces glued together. The way that the piece was designed, there were areas of the case that you could not access from the inside or rear, so in order to repair the substrate it was necessary to remove several areas of the veneer. It was during the removal of the veneer when it dawned on me that the largest piece of veneer on this entire piece was no bigger than 6”x8” and most were smaller. While working on this piece it became apparent that it had been hammer veneered one small section at a time after everything had been assembled. What follows is the method of veneering I taught myself thru doing repair work and reading, it’s probably not the accepted method but it seems to work. This method is very fast all the veneer on this piece was done in two days.
Veneering The Drawers and Apron
First I cleaned up all the surfaces to be veneered with a toothing plane including the back of the shop cut veneer. I cut the veneer with a band saw not by hand, I’m old and lazy, and don’t have enough time left to be cutting veneer by hand.
Here I have glued down the center field on a drawer front, with hot hide glue, it was glued down oversize. Once the glue had set, but before it had dried, the edges were trimmed with a cutting gauge. The panel was made up of 4 pieces of end grain butternut.
I have begun to glue on the feather [herringbone] banding. When the glue for two runs set I mitered the corners and glued down the end pieces. What you see is actually 6 pieces glued down.
The front of the case and the bottom drawer veneered. The space on the edge of the drawer is for a trim strip to be glued on latter.
Front with drawers veneered. The bottom drawer has been scraped.
When veneering the sides I started in the center and worked to the edges.
More pieces of veneer added. The pieces are added oversize when possible and trimmed when the glue sets.
The table drawers and apron veneered but not scraped and cleaned up.
Next time the top and final assembly.