Wood veneer is a thin layer of wood that is usually applied over another material (called a substrate). The origin of slicing thin sheets of wood into veneers was to conserve the more precious woods.
Getting the most out of expensive wood is still one of the most common reasons to make veneers to this day, although there are other applications of slicing wood into thin sheets, such as glueing veneers together to make plywood.
Wood veneer is typically 1/16th of an inch thick, ranging all the way down to 1/64th of an inch thick.
The thinnest veneers will be used in manufactured inexpensive furniture, whereas the thicker veneers will be used by woodworkers to make higher grade custom furniture pieces.
Any type of wood can be cut into veneers. Common wood such as oak, maple, birch, or cherry will be cut into veneers to be incorporated into commercial manufactured furniture.
More expensive woods such as mahagony or wood burls will be sliced into veneers and used in higher end custom made furniture.
There are various ways to make wood veneer. The most common way is to rotate a log over an extremely sharp blade and thus peeling the entire log into one log thin sheet, called a rotary cut.
There are many different ways to cut wood to make veneer, and each way will yield a different grain pattern.
To achieve a grain pattern that is appealing, the log is sliced in various directions to achieve a different grain pattern. A common type of slice is 'through and through' which means that it is sliced along the length of the log, keeping the slices in order.
Veneers can be sold by the piece, in sheets, or by the flitch. Individual pieces can be bought in just about any wood species.
Veneer sheets are large pieces of veneer that are mechanically put together from smaller pieces. These types of sheets are usually made for application onto 4x8 sheets of MDF for example.
A flitch of veneer is a pile of sliced veneer that is conserved in order. It's like taking a tree trunk and slicing it up lengthwise. All the pieces are kept in order because this helps to keep the grain pattern similar from one piece to the next. This is important when making bookmatch patterns.
Veneers Pictured Above:
Mottled Bubinga - Lacewood