Veneer is not a modern invention. History shows us that the ancient Egyptians were the first to saw thin boards from logs in order to best utilize the material. Egyptians developed tools for shaving veneer from logs imported from Lebanon, Syria and Phoenicia. Thousands of years ago, incredible veneer work made of ebony and ivory was put into King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.
The history of veneer actually starts with the idea of conservation. Egypt consists mostly of desert, timber was rare was highly valued as the precious stones that were used for the elaborate decoration of furniture. As a result, veneers came into being where no lush forests marked the landscape, but instead in a place where timber, as a raw material, was rare and its products were highly sought after as a personal possession. The beautiful shrines in the tomb of King Tut show that, although the woodworking techniques of that time were still quite rudimentary, people in this age people already knew how to reveal the inner natural beauty of wood.
Eventually, the veneer techniques during the Renaissance became very sophisticated, using tiny pieces of exotic woods and burl grain to create intricate designs or lavish scenes, called marquetry or intarsia work. Much of the finest royal furniture for hundreds of years employed lavish veneer construction, using the finest species of wood and tiny pieces of burl or exotic grain.
Beginning in the 1800’s, veneer was employed to make valuable woods like mahogany or walnut go farther by gluing them to less prized species, like maple or birch. Around 1900, highly prized quarter-sawn or tiger oak was often veneered over regular cut solid oak.
Furniture manufacture, originally elevated to artistic perfection by the great masters during the Renaissance and Baroque periods as well as subsequent centuries, demonstrates how a simple need can become a cultural legacy, eventually developing into a form of expression for each era.
More recently, although largely unappreciated, veneer construction in furniture form appeared as early as the 16th. Century.
The heritage of furniture manufacture has been refined and perfected in modern times in response to demand, and has grown from a handicraft into a highly mechanized industry. At the same time, veneer manufacture, although an industry, has remained very much a craft.
"Peeling" of logs with machines
Sawing was replaced by slicing with knives instead of saw blades
New production techniques slowly gained acceptancVeneer production has developed into an industry since the 1950s
It was in the nineteenth century that veneering started to develop a bad reputation when some furniture manufacturers were using veneer mainly as a method of covering badly constructed furniture.
Starting about 1970, industrial furniture manufacturers developed the technique of gradually making veneer thinner, and today, hardwood veneers are as thin as 1/64 of an inch! This modern veneer looks like typing paper, it is almost transparent, and can never be sanded, refinished or significantly touched up if damaged.
Veneered wall panels appeared in shops, restaurants, offices, banks, insurance companies and public building. Advanced manufacturing techniques and growing public awareness of the virtues of real wood veneers together with the need to conserve energy and resources have made the craft of veneering more popular than ever.
Veneers Pictured Above:
Birdseye Cherry - Anigre Fiddleback