Lacewood veneer

My learning project for the past week was brought on by access to a woodshop.  An offhand remark by one of the Toolmonger site administrators about wanting a lacewood veneered desk led, as these things do, to me purchasing an infeasibly large amount of veneer and accompanying jug of contact cement.  I bought an 8′ x 2′ roll from, primarily because I  this was the smallest size piece I could get that could cover a 2′ wide surface without me needing to join multiple pieces of veneer to do so.  Given my inexperience in these matters, I figured that I would try one thing at a time, and artfully joining veneers on a large surface seemed a much for a first outing with sheet veneer.

For those who know little about the subject, veneer is very thin-sliced wood, sold in sheets or rolls of strips.  It is often (but, importantly, not always) cut in a rotary fashion, peeling layers off of a log that has been put on a rotisserie.

Given that the supply of 3′ diameter mahogany, walnut, cherry, and indeed any tree has been sadly depleted by previous generations, we are left with two ways to make an attractive wood tabletop.

The first is to join smaller boards, butting them together along their long sides and gluing them.  (I’ve mentioned this in a previous article).  This gives you a strong surface, but you are limited in the “figure” of the wood; that is, the grain will almost always be parallel across the table, and individual boards can often be distinguished despite efforts to pick grain figure that blends the boards together.

The second way is to make a flat tabletop out of whatever you can (MDF, boards, plywood) and then glue a sheet of veneer over it.  You can also use multiple smaller sheets to make symmetric patterns (diamonds are popular), or, if truly masochistic, can use many many pieces of veneer and do parquetry and marquetry.  There are a few benefits to this technique; you can make more patterns, get the dimensional stability of plywood, and/or have the look of much more expensive wood than you could otherwise afford.

This is not to say that veneer is necessarily cheap.  The showy veneer figures, such as burl, birds-eye, and other “freak-figured” (really!) pieces, can easily cost several hundreds of dollars for large pieces.

I wanted something showy, but not hideously expensive.  Lacewood is an Australian tree (Carwellia Sublimis, for the taxonomists), and, unlike some fancy woods, is not endangered.  It is also, when cut properly, quite showy.

unstained lacewood

You can see how it looks different from, say, pine.  The whitish “rays” stand out quite a bit, even unstained.

Technically, the veneer I got was not a flitch, but several already joined onto a paper backing.  I don’t have a veneer press, and a little research on the Veneersupplies website indicated to me that using contact cement and a paper-backed veneer would work best if veneering by hand, so I got a quart of Titan DX Better Bond glue as well.

I took a piece of good-grade (read: flat) 3/4″ plywood, and cut a 22.5″‘ x 3′ section out of it.  If I want to make a desk out of it, it will be about the right size.  I wiped dust, sawdust, blood, etc. from the plywood, and picked up the glue bottle.  Unfortunately, the manufacturers of Titan DX assume that you know what you are doing, and provide no instructions on the jug.  After a little more research, I brushed it on both the plywood and the back of the veneer, making sure to get complete coverage and to pluck any errant bristles out of the glue.  I then held my breath, picked up the veneer, and brought the two surfaces together as if I were slowly closing a big coffee table book.  The concern at this point is air bubbles, since you will never get them out without cutting the veneer, once the glue is dry.  To drive out any bubbles, and to help the wood set together, I took a rounded off “chunk o’ 2×4” (TM) and worked it across the surface.  They say you are supposed to do this radially out from the center of the veneered surface, but the lacewood has a pronounced grain structure, and it was much smoother if I worked it along the grain.  I did this until I heard no more glue squelching noises.  To finish up, I clamped a similarly sized piece of plywood over the top of the veneer, thus making a poor man’s vertical press, using 8 clamps, my brother’s spare exercise weights, and some waxed paper between the plywood and the veneer, to avoid the embarassment of surplus glue making me a veneer sandwich.

It worked pretty well.  The next day, I took a new razor, flipped the newly veneered plywood over, and cut the spare veneer away from the edges, squaring it up.  Do this against a flat surface to avoid lifting the veneer away from the plywood at the edges.

One of my favorite moments when working on a carpentry project is staining the wood.  It is the point at which mistakes are made manifest, but also the point at which the wood ceases to look like raw materials and begins to look like something you might want to have in your living room.  Once again, I used Zar cherry 116.


You can see near the top of the picture how it iridesces as the angle of light changes.  It should look even better after I put a coat of polyurethane on it, making it look a bit “wetter” and sealing up the slight unevenness of the surface of the lacewood.

Now I need to use it for something.


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