Peeling back The Layers
The process of wood lamination has ancient origins. Traces of laminated wood have been found by archaeologists in the tombs of the pharaohs. The Chinese shaved wood and glued it together more than a thousand years ago. Wood lamination continued to evolve as technology refined the process for ever-changing laminate applications.
The English and French used a form of laminate using layers of hardwood in furniture making in the 17th and 18th centuries. Russia used a similar process in the 19th century. All of these early laminates were used to make cabinets, desk tops, chests and doors. Construction-grade laminates such as plywood, made from softwood, did not appear until the 20th century.
Wood veneer is a process where a thin layer of wood is glued over the surface of some other kind of wood or laminate. These days, furniture made from veneered lumber is often regarded as being of lesser quality than items made from solid wood. However, veneering is a process that dates back to ancient civilizations. There are pros and cons to using wood veneer.
Veneered wood is flexible and can be made stronger than solid pieces of wood. Put a veneer of oak over inexpensive particleboard and you have a relatively weak sheet of material. Put the same veneer over plywood made to be used in fine furniture and it can be as strong and durable as solid oak planks.
In recent decades, especially since veneer started being applied over engineered wood such as particleboard, products made of wood veneer have been perceived as being inferior. Many of them are inferior. Inexpensive veneer furniture often looks cheap. Part of the cheapness, however, lies as much in inferior workmanship.
Hardwoods such as oak and maple are extremely slow growing. Exotic woods such as mahogany and teak may only grow in rainforests or in relatively few areas. Since a veneer layer may be as thin as 1/32 of an inch, one log produces a large amount of veneered wood. Making veneer instead of sawing these trees into solid lumber means far fewer trees need to be harvested to keep up with the demand for these slow-to-renew resources.
The bottom line: veneer has its place in beautifully designed furniture and allows inlays, curved surfaces and yes, durability. So “peel back” the veneer layer and you might find a quality substrate and fine craftsmanship that creates a unique, high-end piece of furniture...one that will stand the test of time and whatever your family throws at it.