Veneer Quality: Is Veneer Getting Thinner?

Veneers these days are much thinner than they used to be. This makes finding a quality source of supply more critical than ever. February 17, 2012

Back in the early 80's, I worked with 3/4" walnut and oak panel (MDF exclusively). When I sanded these materials with the finish sanders back then, I would have to exert heavy pressure for a long period of time before I burned said material. A year ago I purchased 3/4" red oak plyboards from Home Depot to construct a dresser. Where I had a mismatch between a solid piece of red oak and the plyboard, I started to finish sand (220 grit) this area. To my horror, I had burned the veneer at this juncture in less than 5 seconds. To my amazement and on closer inspection, I noticed the veneer was extremely thin and really would not support any kind of finish sanding.

What's happening? It's bad enough that some plywood is now measured in mm and my poor brain can't handle the calculations to determine if the piece is between 3/4" or 1/2". And now the market is selling router bits to compensate.

I know this is a rant, but I am getting ready to build a furniture grade vanity in my bathroom with red oak and the panels will reflect that also. Nicely stained and polyed, I am going to be looking at this work for the next 30 years. Where do I find quality materials for this project? I don't trust any of the big boxes for supplying what I really need.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor G:
Cannot help with the metric system. I understand it but everything in my head is wired to the inches and feet system.

As far as veneer, I have some padauk veneer left over from a project I did in 1969. It is 1/24th of an inch thick. Most everything was that thick then. Now the standard for loose veneer is 1/42nd of an inch. When I have seen sites that offer more thicknesses, the 1/42 is usually the thickest. (Yes, they have a few things available in 1/16 or 1/8th, but only in a very few items for antique repair or laminating plies.) I presume at the site that offers three thicknesses (with 1/42 as the thickest) that the thinnest would be bought by people who manufacture veneer faced plywood panels.

I have some 1/64 inch plywood which has 3 plies. That is 1/192 per ply or less, allowing for the glue. The only way I can get veneer thick enough for the musical instruments I construct is to resaw and then sand. Usually to 1/16th or occasionally to 1mm (let's see, that would be 1/25.4). Keep your head up.

From contributor P:
To answer your question about where to get quality sheet goods, anywhere but the big box stores. Anywhere that specializes in selling to the cabinet trades should have a decent 7-ply veneer core ply that is much better than what you're seeing. It typically requires very little sanding.

From contributor V:
You can't use the term "quality" and Home Depot in the same sentence. You're getting what you pay for. If you can't find a local trade source for cabinet grade goods in the phonebook or online, call a good local lumberyard or one that carries hardwoods. They should know of one in your area.

From contributor P:
Two things are happening:
1) Better sandpaper (really!).
2) Pressure to use the forest more efficiently translates into thinner veneers. The old ham-fisted techniques won't work. Time to bring your skills up a few notches. You need to particularly watch your glue-ups. Solid edges should be as close to perfectly flush to the veneers as possible.

From contributor U:
Yes, the veneers are very thin, because they make more veneer, which makes them more money. Plus if you are using a plywood core, no matter if it is from HD or any other supplier, the core is not flat like MDF and I bet you burned through the peak of the panel. As contributor P says, better sandpaper, and really watch your glue ups. The closer you are, the less work you will have to do. I cut my own veneers so that I have full control of what I want, or will have a veneer cut to the thickness I want. If your budget does not allow you to do this, then it sounds like another client that cannot afford custom furniture. I see that every day.