Monday, 9 February 2015

"VENEER" Isn't a 4-Letter Word: Vintage Construction vs. Modern Mass Production

Ok, so I am here today to debunk a myth....a myth that I discuss with clients on a very regular basis...

VENEER = CHEAP (not true!)

There are two different kinds of veneer out there, and unfortunately, the newer version has led buyers to believe that veneer is bad, but in fact, wood veneer is a very common material used in high quality vintage furniture.

Let's start with what we are all familiar with....LAMINATE VENEER. This veneer is a man-made material that graces most new furniture (think Ikea, the Brick, etc). It is a very thin "plastic" that is glued on top of a cheap wood (or particle board!) and is made to look like faux grain.

Laminate is NOT sandable and NOT stainable because it is not made of real wood (note: yes you CAN paint it however!)

Laminate veneer looks like this....

It is basically like a fancy sticker.

Next up is WOOD VENEER, which is used on most vintage furniture:

Wood veneer is actually made of wood (yay!) and therefore CAN be stripped and stained (amount of times it can be stripped is more limited than solid wood though).
In fact, most pieces that I sand and stain are actually wood veneer, and not solid pieces of wood.

Typically vintage or antique pieces are made of solid good quality wood (walnut, mahogany, oak) but given a fancier wood veneer on top to add visual appeal (common wood veneers used on vintage furniture would be Tiger Oak, Burled Walnut and Bird's Eye Maple). The frames are still constructed out of high quality woods, but the manufacturers were able to charge an affordable price by not using a solid block of a rare wood (e.g. Tiger Oak), but instead cutting it into thin strips.

Here are examples of vintage wood veneers:

Tiger Oak Veneer

Burled Walnut Veneer


Bird's Eye Maple Veneer


Here are some examples of vintage furniture that has veneer on the top which I have stripped and re-stained.....looks just like solid wood!



Tiger Oak veneer....and my super cute newphew!!



What is notable here is that vintage furniture is most often made with SOLID WOOD construction underneath the WOOD veneer - drawers are usually made of a thin wood, and not particle board.
Drawers are joined together with dovetailed joints, and not staples or glue. 

Dovetail joint:

NEW furniture pieces, although they look shiny and modern, are more-often-than-not constructed with MDF/particle board underneath a laminate veneer (or even a wood veneer if its a higher end piece). 
Most high end furniture stores don't even carry solid wood-constructed pieces, since hardwoods would make these pieces even MORE expensive (wood is a commodity). 

Next time you look at an ad from a furniture store - check the item description, you will probably notice something like the following: "Made of wood, and wood solids", which means that the piece most likely has MDF/plywood/particle board construction and is not near as durable as the price tag might suggest!

I hope this helps clear up some misunderstanding about veneered furniture!
Thanks for reading!
-A


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