Finishing Quilted Maple Veneer

Ideas on how to make a "wavy" material (with different grain patterns running every which way) take on a high gloss and smooth surface. December 27, 2006

What's the best approach to finishing an exotic veneer that is somewhat wavy? I need a full-fill, flat, highly polished gloss finish. I am afraid of burning through the veneer before it's level if I try to do it all with sanding. Is the best approach to sand as far as I can, do a thick build polyester, then try to sand that back flat before my acrylic urethane topcoats?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Why is the veneer wavy? If it’s not completely flat to begin with anything you put on top of it will also be wavy, especially with a high gloss finish. Is it possible that the veneer isn’t laminated to the subsurface correctly? If you notice a bubble in the veneer, it has to be glued down to the subsurface prior to the finish coats being applied.

From the original questioner:
The veneer is down tight - no bubbles. The waviness is because it is quilted maple and the grain causes it to not be completely flat like a flat cut veneer. Maybe "wavy" isn't the best way to describe it, but I know that if I finish it the way it is, I won't get the "smooth as glass" finish I'm looking for.

From contributor A:
Can you block sand it flat with a block that’s made of wood or marble? Quarter sawn oak is an example; the flake is proud of the rest of the surface and it as well needs to be block sanded or surfaced with a sharp cabinet scraper.

From contributor B:
There's "flakes" and there's "flecks". I think he means ray flecks but quilted maple hasn't got any. The problem is there are hard cells and soft cells and they're running in all different directions and they don't sand or even machine the same. You need to get some stuff in there that makes the soft ones standup and be sanded like the hard ones. I'm assuming you don't want to stain the wood. I would sand to 180 or so and then lock down the grain with a couple coats of Seal-Coat shellac which has been cut 1:1. Follow this with sanding - down to 220 or 320 using a hard block and maybe another coat of shellac. Once you have it flat and smooth you can build your finish it with acrylic. The seal coat will enhance the quilting by adding a touch of color and it will lock the grain in place so that it can be sanded flat. If you prefer not to add any color, you could lock the grain down with a couple coats of clear sanding sealer or even your acrylic finish. Key is to lock the grain down with something that penetrates as deeply as possible and sands easily. Then sand it flat with a hard block.

From contributor A:
My reference to quarter sawn Oak was meant as an example only. The Maple does not have the flakes that the Oak has but they can be treated the same way; a hard block. The term "fleck" usually is used when talking about another cut of wood - rift. The term "flake" is usually used when talking about a quartered sawn species. If you log onto, or look in a VanDykes catalog you will see pictures of different wood species and a representation of what the veneers might look like. They use the correct lumber description when describing the various veneer cuts they offer. I suppose you could spray some shellac and then sand it down, but a solution of regular water with a few drops of fabric softener will really get the soft ones to stand up and get noticed.

From contributor B:
To contributor A: I'll do that. I'm always up for learning something new. If you have a copy of Dr. Hoadley's wood book you may want to lookup "ray fleck". Or you could google "ray fleck" and find some interesting photos of those figure things that can show up when wood is rift cut or quarter sawn.

From contributor A:
Right here on WOODWEB’s Veneer forum are some very interesting discussions pertaining to various cuts of veneers, Oak being the most discussed.