CONTINUED FROM>> Veneer & Loathing – Part 1
A plan hatched without careful consideration is a plan doomed to setbacks and mistakes, if not outright failure. My plan to re-veneer the desk was conceived while panicking over a sanding error, with absolutely no thought given to what the job may entail. Before I really started any work, I had found a veneer supplier online (www.veneersupplies.com – awesome site!) and bought two different lots of veneer – a lot of European burled walnut and a lot of cedar bosse. A lot is a group of consecutive slices of veneer. Lots of two or more sheets are required for bookmatching or other designs made by joining identical sheets in different ways.
So down to the basement workshop I went, fancy veneers in hand. The first thing I noticed when I unrolled the veneer was how unbelievably thin it was. This stuff was like paper. But brittle!
Okay, no big deal. I’d figure it out. I put the veneer aside and got to work prepping the piece.
My first mistake was the method I chose to remove the old veneer. Had I spent some time at the computer researching the topic, I would have found all sorts of helpful tips such as ironing the old veneer to loosen the glue. But I didn’t, so there I was, chisel in hand, chipping and prying the old veneer off of the desktop.
I got the job done, but not without some damage to the desktop.
The gouges were not too deep, but the veneer I would be using is thin, so even these small imperfections would show through the veneer.
Here is the desk with the old veneer removed.
Veneering the top is a big job, and since this was my first time, I decided I’d start with the drawers, then move on to the fold-down desk (not pictured above), and finish with the desktop. Since I had such a difficult time removing the old veneer from the desktop (and since I hadn’t yet learned easier ways to do it) I decided to leave the old veneer on the drawers and just sand them down a bit before gluing on the new veneer. It is recommended to use a backing veneer with the new veneer, but since I hadn’t ordered any, and I was really impatient to get cracking, I just said “eh, probably not important.” I first measured the drawers, then carefully cut the veneer with a metal straightedge and a razor blade. I cut the veneer slightly larger than the drawer face, figuring I would sand down the excess. I applied wood glue to the drawer face and placed the veneer. The most critical part of gluing veneer is getting it perfectly flat. For the small drawers, it was easy. I covered the entire veneered area with a piece of scrap plywood and clamped everything down tight. I first laid a piece of cling film over the glued veneer so it wouldn’t stick to the plywood. The veneer is so thin that the wood glue seeps right through it.
Once it dried, I had a peek.
Wow, not bad! I sanded it down with 100 grit in a block until flush, then smoothed it out with 220.
I repeated the same process for the other small drawer, then turned my attention to the long drawer. This drawer posed a greater challenge since it not only required me to cut out a curved pattern, but I also wanted to bookmatch it.
That is, I wanted the left and right sides to be mirror images of each other. I had four consecutive sheets of the cedar bosse, so I played around with two of the sheets until I found a mirrored pattern I liked. I made two straight cuts where the pieces would join, fit them together, then taped the joint with painter’s tape. I then placed the drawer front on top of the veneer and traced its pattern.
Cutting this piece was much harder than it was for the small drawers. I just took it nice and slow. When the piece was fully cut out, I repeated the steps from earlier: glue, cling film, scrap wood (this time a piece of maple), and clamp.
Like an idiot, I forgot to take a picture when I unclamped it. Like a bigger idiot, I forgot to take a picture after I sanded it down. But I have the following pictures which show the drawer after several coats of poly.
It’s a beautiful veneer and shows incredible three dimensional depth.
The next piece to be veneered was the front of the pull-down desk. Remember it looked like this when we bought it:
I pulled out the four circles with a pair of pliers. They were just glorified thumbtacks. I pried off the rectangular trim and sanded the diamond. It was a glued-on piece of veneer. After filling in some damage from removing the trim, it looked like this:
In the top of the frame you’ll notice that walnut veneer, already bookmatched, joined and trimmed. I applied glue and repeated the process I used for the other drawers. This one was harder since it was so much bigger. I had to make some cauls to lay across the top of the scrap wood, so I could evenly apply pressure with the clamps. The difficulty of gluing this piece made me start to get nervous about gluing the big top piece. How the hell was I going to do that?
Well, that was a question for another day. The pieces I had done so far all came out pretty good. I was so curious how they would look when finished that I decided to put some polyurethane on. I used several coats of Minwax Clear Gloss Wipe-On Polyurethane. I lightly sanded with 1500 or 2000 between coats, applying just enough pressure to smooth the surface. The results are pretty awesome.
I love how this turned out. I think the shape in the center looks like some sort of bird-man.
I still think I will sand them once again starting with 600 grit and going up through 2000, then finish with some automotive polishes. But first I’ll have to finish the rest of the desk.
CONTINUE ON TO>> Veneer & Loathing – Part 3 (The Grand Finale!)