Don’t Get Tricked into Buying Oak Veneer

When it comes to buying furniture, one of the most popular options is to go with solid oak. This is for good reason, of course. You just can’t match how beautiful oak looks and how well it will maintain that look for itself over the years.

That being said, simply because a piece of furniture appears to be oak, doesn’t mean it necessarily is. So before you go spending any of your hard-earned money, be sure you understand the following telltale signs that it’s really just oak veneer.

In woodworking, veneer refers to thin slices of wood, usually thinner than 3 mm (1/8 inch), that typically are glued onto core panels (typically, wood, particle board or medium-density fiberboard) to produce flat panels such as doors, tops and panels for cabinets, parquet floors and parts of furniture. They are also used in marquetry. Plywood consists of three or more layers of veneer, each glued with its grain at right angles to adjacent layers for strength.

Veneer beading is a thin layer of decorative edging placed around objects, such as jewelry boxes. Veneer is also used to replace decorative papers in Wood Veneer HPL. Veneer is also a type of manufactured board.

Veneer is obtained either by “peeling” the trunk of a tree or by slicing large rectangular blocks of wood known as flitches. The appearance of the grain and figure in wood comes from slicing through the growth rings of a tree and depends upon the angle at which the wood is sliced.

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It’s Too Good to Be True

One of the easiest ways to know if you’re buying real oak or just a veneer is if the cost is substantially lower than what you’re seeing on the rest of the market. That should set off immediate alarm bells. Depending on the piece of furniture you’re buying, the cost will vary considerably. But let’s say you’re looking at a dining room table. Take a look at what other companies are charging for one. Any model that falls substantially below comparable models should probably not be trusted.

The only exception to this rule would be if you’re dealing with a company that is going out of business and throwing a liquidation sale or you’re dealing with a secondhand option which can be great for buying in bulk.

A solid top ‘plank table’ is very likely to warp or crack, especially if it’s made of oak. Using a good quality veneer on top is much to be preferred for durability and stability. In any case, the best solution is usually to combine the best attributes of both types of production methods and create furniture that has both  components. Furniture which has been designed with the correct timber selection and highest quality choice of material used for each component will create a strong, durable and high quality product.

Inspect the Surface

If you can actually get close to the piece of furniture you’re curious about, you have another big advantage. A veneer is nothing more than a coat put over another surface. So in this case, we’re talking about some kind of wood that’s been covered with an oak veneer to give off a different look.

So you’ll want to get right up close to it and see if you notice this issue. Look at the top of the furniture from eye level and see if you can notice a two or three millimeter veneer on top. Sometimes simply touching or tapping the surface is enough to let you know if you’re dealing with an actual veneer or real solid oak.

A veneered product is made out of thin, decorative slices of high quality oak, affixed to a lower density core that will resist warping and moisture and therefore offer a good value alternative to solid oak. They can also be stained to produce a warm, rich finish.

Solid oak products are just that – oak all the way through – making them more expensive, but their naturally dense material delivers a much better quality feel.

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Take the Real Thing with You

Alright, so we’re not actually suggesting you bring real oak with you when you go shopping; that would be inconvenient and, frankly, odd. But it is a good idea to bring a photo with you. Depending on the type of phone you have, it’s probably possible to keep a high-definition color photo on you.

The advantage here is that oak has a very specific grain to it that can be hard to mimic with artificial veneers. So by having a picture of the real deal on you, you’ll be able to make instant comparisons.

There has always been good and bad workmanship in veneered furniture, just as there has been in solid wood furniture.  Old veneer that has bubbles, loose edges, missing pieces and so on is difficult to repair.  Old veneer that is in great condition will probably stay in great condition, and can be refinished or restored when it becomes necessary, perhaps far in the future.  Modern veneer is another matter entirely.  Ultra-thin veneer has its place in new furniture that is intended to be used and then discarded when worn, rather than restored for future generations.

Consider the Piece

While oak is durable, it definitely isn’t immune to abuse. So you should be suspicious of any pieces of furniture that claim to be solid oak, yet are going to be made to take some punishment. Oak furniture tends to be more high-end, where its appearance is more important than whether or not it can take a beating. A children’s desk made from solid oak would seem highly suspect. On the other hand, a beautiful solid oak dining room set would make a lot of sense.

Check Where Others Won’t See

Another easy way to spot when a veneer is being used is to simply look at areas the eyes wouldn’t otherwise see. Look under the table, the arm rests, etc. and compare the wood to the surfaces that are always visible. If you notice a difference, it’s because you’ve spotted a veneer.

There’s nothing wrong with paying for a veneer if that’s what you actually want. However, if you are paying solid oak prices, you better be sure that’s what you’re getting.

Thin. This is more of a problem for the builder than the buyer. Sand-through in preparation for finishing is ‘touching the third rail’ of woodworking. Such pieces are almost impossible to repair and frequently involve ‘re-design’ (as in cutting off the sanded through area) or making a speculative, difficult repair which can be difficult to hide. Once the piece is completed thickness of the veneer is of no concern.

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