Two-Ply Veneer Versus Crossbanded Plies

      A custom cabinetmaker carefully considers the veneering process on a custom project for demanding clients. January 12, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
Cost and labor considerations aside, what is the difference visually between using pre-made 2-Ply veneer vs applying two layers of veneer crossbanded? Of course assume the same species of veneer is being used in both cases. With the two-ply you are limited to choosing a pre-made veneer and whatever particular veneer choice in the species you want that the manufacturer has chosen to fabricate the 2-ply with, whereas in the latter case you have infinite choices of that veneer species by sampling the logs at suppliers, but is that it? Is two-ply an inferior type product? From a design perspective is there anything about it that detracts from it visually? (Not that I think it matters for my question, but two layers are being used to increase the dimensional stability of the veneer as it is being wrapped two different substrates - MDF door and drawer panels that have been hardwood edge-banded with 1/4" thick walnut and then calibration sanded before being veneered).

Forum Responses
(Veneer Forum)
From contributor D:
I purchased two ply faces when we had requirements for internally lumber banded cores. At that time, these were for occasional tables that had square edges. We used two ply for a couple of reasons:

1. To help with telegraphing.
2. Lebanite would have left an ugly edge.
3. Stabilize the reverse diamond pattern.

We also did another product line with internal solids on the desk tops. We were able to use lebanite on those. The shape had a step down that made the lebanite much less noticeable. You have the same options with two plying as you do the other method. I know you said the walnut was smn. Supply the veneer shop with your specified veneer, and have him use walnut as the two ply backer.

From the original questioner:
Yes I realize all that. The possibility of telegraphing is precisely why we are using two layers of veneer and running the panels through a calibration sander. But my question was about why you would use 2-ply vs two separate veneers crossbanded. Do they have the same end result? Do they look the same visually? Also, what do you mean by stabilize the 'reverse diamond pattern'.

From contributor D:
No difference in look, whatsoever. The two ply faces took out one hot press pass vs. pressing one layer at a time. The reverse diamond had four pieces of veneer bookmatched on 45 degree angles. These were terrible to split during the press operation.

From Contributor K:
Doing two separate veneer cross bands gives you more control over customization of the look or pattern you want. However it is a lot more labor intensive. Two ply veneer faces will save you some time. If you are looking for a certain appearance in the veneer, you will have to be very specific in what you want your sheets to look like when ordering them from your supplier. This might increase the cost of the sheets as well. It comes down to how much time and experience you have to devote to applying two separate layers of veneer. Another consideration would be how important is it that you have to build your own faces. If you are just looking for nice book matched or even slip matched veneer that should be easy to get in two ply faces. Two ply faces are also shop sanded so there would be less sanding to do to get the face finish ready.

From the original questioner:
Ok, maybe I am not understanding this properly. I should explain who is doing what. We are farming the veneer portion of this job out to a veneer pressing company that has a lot of experience doing crossbanded veneers and SMN'ing the veneer, since we don't. We are choosing the veneer from a particular single log with the client, blueprinting the sequence match for all of the drawer and door faces (including a collection of doors in a large pair of 'bookend' fireplace cabinets that each are 10'h x 7w), cutting the boards, etc. and all other aspects of the job. Even though we have an (apparently) very well qualified pressing company doing this, we have received some conflicting advice from others and so I am trying to get a read on all of this as we have a very finicky high end client (not to mention I am a perfectionist!).

When you say '2 ply faces' I am not sure what you are talking about - the veneer or the door face itself? I am not sure because you refer to veneer when you said one could get 'nice book matched or even slip matched veneer [would] be easy to get in 2 ply faces'. But then you said '2 ply faces are also shop sanded so there would be less sanding to do to get the face finish ready' which sounds like you are referring to the door face before being veneered. But in both cases you are calling them 2 ply faces. One does not sand the face after veneering with 2 ply. Or are you referring to the door with 1/4" hardwood edge being a 2-ply and saying those are available calibration sanded ready for 2-ply to be applied. Or, are you saying doors with 1/4" hardwood edge finished with 2-ply veneer to the edge are available? Maybe you could elaborate as I am confused by what you just said.

From Contributor K:
Sorry for all the confusion. When I say 2 ply veneer faces I mean flexible veneer sheets which are usually 4x8 or 4x10 but can be made in custom sizes. These faces are spliced from veneer flitch. This you can apply to your substrate. These are sanded as sheets (they require further sanding to put a good finish on them). Veneer faces spliced and built directly to the substrate typically require more sanding. I am not referring to the substrate being sanded before being veneered. Why does "One not sand the face after veneering with 2 ply?" All veneer should be sanded before applying a finish.

Since you have already spec'd a log and have a company doing this. It will be up to them how they splice the faces (according to your blueprints), apply them to the substrate, and whether they sand them and to what grit. I guess all I can suggest is that, because you have a picky client and are a perfectionist, you are absolutely clear on what the client wants and that you relay that information to the company doing the veneering. Communication here is going to be the key as to what is acceptable to you and your customer. Since you are blueprint matching this job using pre made 2 ply veneer sheets won't really work unless you have those sheets custom made to your blueprint specs. This is really now a moot point. I originally thought you were considering the difference between pre made flexible veneer sheets or splicing your own faces on your substrates. Having a veneer company doing blueprint match for you takes some things out of the equation.

From the original questioner:
All the client cares about is that they see the veneer before things go ahead and that it is properly sequenced and matched over the panels. We, of course, are responsible for the process. We have a lot of experience working with wood but have never crossbanded veneer over two different substrates, hence hiring someone else who has experience doing this, but then we also double check everything even when subbing out to 'experts'. We started getting a bit concerned realizing the veneer is only 0.005" (1/150") thick and that the first veneer might be visible through the face layer, although there are synthetic monochromatic crossband veneers available that might alleviate this concern. Two-ply became an option as we realized that, other than the large fireplace cabinets, the other cabinets are all lowers, none more than 4' in length, are not close to each other and some in inconspicuous places.

Attached is pic. On the right are the samples we made to show the client with 1/4" hardwood veneer visible. Both we and the client were not happy with the way the hardwood interrupted the flow. On the left is what I consider a perfectly sequenced and matched veneer (with even the veneer on the panel below the counter matched with that on the bulkhead and doors above. I don't know whether these panels have hardwood edges but this is exactly the look we are trying to achieve on the large fireplace booked cabinets. In our investigation we heard from one party that 2-ply which is a lot thicker and which we thought we could use on the bulk of the panels, just doesn't look as good, hence this post.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From Contributor K:
The left side of the picture is what we would call a blueprint match. Even in a premium log some anomalies like pin knots might appear when the flitches are sequenced. This can sometimes be objectionable to clients. If it is to you and your client then the veneer company needs to know to avoid or cut out the "problem" areas. Otherwise they might include those flitches in order to maintain the integrity of the sequence.

1/150 of an inch seems awful thin for veneer. Typically logs are sliced at 1/42 to 1/55 of an inch unless spec'd otherwise. With veneer at 1 /150 of an inch your concern for telegraphing and transparency in not unfounded. Two ply veneer is thicker. It would be two veneer faces with perpendicular grain at 1/ 42 of an inch each, which is 1/ 21 of an inch total thickness minus whatever sanding. As far as it not looking as nice, I don't see how that can be. You do not see the underlying layer at all which is usually a lower grade of veneer. Your good face(s) which should look to your blueprint specs no matter what they are backed with or what substrate they are applied to. If your veneer is indeed as thin as you have stated then I would suggest seeing a cross banded sample just to make sure that none of the cross grain is visible through the good face.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for that well-considered response. This veneer is from a supplier in the Toronto area and we thought it was quite thin but he said that's what they cut them now. Your suggestion about making a sample first is a good one and something we had already planned to do. We are also going to suggest to the client that we only hardwood edge-band and therefore crossband veneer the panels in high traffic areas such as the kitchen and bathroom vanities and to not hardwood edge the large fireplace bookend cabinets. I've heard of possible telegraphing and edge delamination of the veneer with crossbanding over two substrates even when they were precision calibrated to be in absolutely the same plane. Given these large fireplace cabinets are the showpieces of the home and in a low traffic/use area I think eliminating the hardwood edgebanding in order to achieve the 'look' is appropriate and prudent. What do you think? I looked at your company website and was impressed. Have you experienced telegraphing or delamination in crossbanding over two subtrates?

From contributor J:
Why don't you just use thin veneer edgebanding instead of the 1/4" solid wood? This will eliminate the possibility of telegraphing and the need to 2-ply. It's also pretty much industry standard and accepted in AWI premium grade.

From the original questioner:
The client wants edges that will withstand heavy use but you're reading my mind if you are suggesting a thick veneer edgebanding. Any of the typical thin veneers are not going to satisfy them. So, we're actually going to be doing up some samples with a 3mm thick veneer edgebanding to show the client or are you suggesting something thinner? I also see there are up to 4mm+ available but I think this is getting to much into the visible edge territory we were trying to get away from.

From contributor J:
You have veneer that is 1/150th of an inch thick on the face. Why would you need anything thicker than 1mm on the edge? We have tens of thousands of doors/drawer fronts/panels out in regular use and with proper installation of the edging (we use .022 edging) and finishing we have near zero repair. The biggest issue we ever have is water on the top edge of the doors near sinks. You can try to convince yourself that you need thicker edging but I'll tell you my real experience is that you don't!

From Contributor K:
No problem on the response and thank you for checking out our website. If the supplier rep says that is what they slice it at then you have to take their word for it, although I am skeptical. I think you can avoid the hard wood edge in low traffic areas. I have not heard of de-laminations across differing but properly calibrated substrates. However, that does not mean that it can't or doesn't happen. The veneer company doing the pressing for you should be able to answer that. A lot has to do with heat pressure and type of glue. Telegraphing might happen with thinly backed (i.e. paper backed) veneer but that would depend on how much humidity the hardwood edge is exposed before finishing. There is a chance of that hardwood edge taking on moisture and swelling a little and showing up as a line around the edges. This risk is greatly reduced when a finish is applied soon after the pressing of the veneer. As you already know two ply veneer helps to make less conspicuous if that should occur. I think you have a good plan in place and when in doubt ask questions and for samples.

From contributor R:
Maybe I can shed a little light on this. Letís start at the beginning. Typically veneer will telegraph any imperfections in your substrate, thats why it is important to have a nice clean uniform surface to apply veneer to. Although veneer appears to be consistent it is not. When you glue veneer to veneer you have what appears to be a nice flat uniform piece, however you really don't. The crossband in effect is a form of substrate. How do you calibrate a crossband? So any imperfections in the two ply is not readily apparent until you glue it to your substrate. By gluing your crossband to your substrate first, then letting it cool and re-calibrating the substrate, you eliminate any imperfections in your crossband and any telegraphing you get from your lumber edge and you get a nice uniform surface to apply your face veneer. In short, by taking the extra step in crossbanding your substrate then re-calibrating you have better control in eliminating telegraphing and final overall look.

From Contributor K:
What Contributor J is suggesting would eliminate the need for two ply veneer and it might not be necessary to go to a thicker edgebanding, but if the client wants it then that's what the client gets.

From the original questioner:
Sometimes things are driven by what the client wants/demands and this is what it is in this case. As Contributor K says, what the client wants the client gets (if they are willing to pay for it and the extra time frame is acceptable). And, it is generally the edge that takes the abuse, not the face. We've finally got them away from wanting to do this on the large fireplace bookend cabinets but not yet the rest of the house.

Contributor R - thanks. That really helps my understanding of this to know what is happening on a microscopic basis. No one had suggested a second calibration sanding before (after the hardwood edge goes on and after the first veneer goes on). What is the minimum thickness of the first veneer layer that we should be looking at?

From contributor R:
Typically veneer is .020"(export cut). But you can get it .032"(domestic cut). You can also get it at .060 but your limited on species. Obviously the thicker the better, but .032 should suffice. One important note - let the substrate cool down for at least 24 hours before you re-calibrate, this will allow the glue to cure and the substrate to stabilize therefore allowing you better workability and consistency.

From contributor C:
What's turning on the red light for me here is the .2 mm face veneer. That is crazy thin - most architectural veneer is .5 to .6 mm. The only time I've even heard of .2 mm veneer being used in a custom application was at the Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, where they had to do an entire concert hall from one log and were also really pushing the limits of the material for some compound bends and a translucent application.

Why would you use .2 mm face veneer in a residential application? You are barely going to be able to touch this stuff without sanding through. Also, at that thickness you might see telegraphing of the wood crossband itself. If it were the last Truffula tree I could see it, but this is walnut, right? You should have many choices of beautiful logs at a thickness that can be handled by humans. Who is engineering this? The customer can indeed have what they want, but they are not always right and if they are calling out these specs they need to know the potential consequences ahead of time or they might end up very, very unhappy. And I'd be willing to bet that they won't blame themselves.

From the original questioner:
I totally agree. This is just in the process of being designed and engineered and nothing is carved in stone yet. Perhaps I misunderstood the veneer thickness the supplier had told me over the phone (and even expressed surprise to them about the thinness). This whole process of crossbanding over two different substrates is new to me. I am going to do some further investigation, visit the veneer supplier and the pressing company and report back. Thanks for everyone's comments. This has been a real education.

From contributor B:
Doing two ply faces and crossbanding doesn't change the thickness of your final veneer face. Since you canít sand the face down to the crossband you still only have a little sanding that can be done, same as on any other veneer surface. Doubling the thickness of your veneer sheet by adding a crossbanding layer underneath does not give you more sanding depth. 0.005" thick veneer should be avoided at all costs, you'll be able to see through it and see whatever is under it. If that's the actual thickness they are cutting then don't buy from them, buy from a reputable supplier of standard thickness veneer 0.020"-0.040" (which is already way to thin). Don't waste time and money on the thin stuff, you'll regret it in the end.

From contributor A:
I've been using solid wood edgebanding under veneer for years, and can't really recall ever crossbanding other than some really crinkly crotch mahogany. I've come to realize that 1/4" solid edging is just too thick and will telegraph eventually. 1/8" on the other hand seems to be the perfect number. I'm sitting at a Pau Ferro table right now that is at least ten years old with no telegraphing of the solid edge. The substrate wasn't thickness calibrated after the banding either. Just a well set up lipping planer, and a quick hit with an orbital before veneering. If your project is in walnut, this can be done with hardwood band everywhere without crossbanding or telegraphing solid. A for .005 veneer, never heard of such a thing and I'd hate to see it! Good luck with the project. Itís nice to have a client once in a while that actually appreciates the lengths we go to.

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