"Light" and "dark" veneer bands

Avoiding the "striped" look in veneered ply. November 18, 2002

How do I prevent the light and dark banding effects of veneered ply from showing? I have some quartersawn maple ply with the veneer sections only about 4 inches wide and it's quite dizzying. I have tried a higher grit for every other band but it doesn't work. Still shows up after the finish is cured.

Forum Responses
Sounds like you're enjoying the beauty of wood. If you view the panel from one position and mark a dark band, then walk around the panel to change your viewing angle, you should see the dark band appear light and the light band appear dark. This is a natural function - the refraction of reflected light. This light and dark phenomenon occurs within all wood. It can easily be seen in highly figured wood - the stripes in tiger maple flash from light to dark depending on viewing angle.

From the original questioner:
I understand the reason for the effect but don't know how to suppress it. If I start on the raw ply using a sanding sealer, would this work? I prefer to use a poly or varnish for a natural amber-tinted color.

From contributor D:
Option one: Buy select wood without these grain patterns. Option two: Tone it so dark you can't see the grain. Option three: Paint it. Option four: Spray on a dye stain only, to minimize the effect. Option five: Learn to love it and make it part of the design.

From the original questioner:
Those were the examples I was looking for. The ply is A1, very nice and to my liking but not my wife. I have a tiger maple cab with 10 inch sections which looks simply marvelous but the smaller sections on the maple multiply the effect somewhat. I don't have spray so I probably would go with a diluted coat of polymerized tung sealer and then stain, although I prefer aniline dyes and I'd like to warm up the blond maple. Can you suggest alternative toners (which can be applied by brush, rag, etc.) or a specific aniline which would give me that warmer tone look?

From contributor D:
To warm up the maple, I suggest using an amber shellac. Brushable toners can be used. Minwax makes a poly they call Polyshades in various colors. If you can't find one to your liking, you can try making your own with varnish or poly by adding powdered pigments or Japan colors. Dyes may also be used but they must be oil compatible. I suggest a barrier coat of thinned down shellac between your stain and poly or varnish, as the solvents can rewet the stain, making a blurry mess when you brush. Time also does wonders for warming up maple.

What you are describing is called "barber-pole" in the plywood industry. The best remedy is to seal the surface (no wipe-spray) and then spray on a pigmented or dye toner. Pigmented usually works best. Whatever you do, do not wipe the sealer.

The only way that this can be eliminated is to purchase veneer that was made on a lumber slicer.

An alternative solution would be to glue size the veneer prior to layup. Glue size seals the veneer from the back side to minimize absorption rate differences. This improves the overall tone balance of finishes and top coats.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Hard maple is very dense and the "barbershop pole" effect is from the slicing of the veneer. All sliced veneer has a tight side and a loose side. This effect is more pronounced on hard maple. When you book this veneer you get the light and dark striations. This is even more apparent after the stain is applied. The loose side always absorbs more stain. To overcome this you can apply a washcoat before stain to lessen this effect. Or you can buy slip-matched instead of book-matched.