Veneered Panels: Buy Or Make?

If you're a cabinetmaker, veneering your own panels is a last resort, not a way to save money or simplify your life. June 11, 2014

Not counting the capital cost of the equipment, but including the operational cost of the equipment, what is the relative cost of:
1. Buying flitches, stitching them and pressing the veneer onto either a PC or MDF core.
2. Buying 4X8 sheets of veneer and pressing them to a core.
3. Buying the material already laid up onto a core.
I'm particularly interested in teak and mahogany.

Forum Responses
(Veneer Forum)
From contributor C:
Using what kind of equipment? Horribly open question. Unless you have a full bore veneer plant, #3 is cheapest, followed by #2, then #1.

We cut, splice, press and sand 100% of our panels. I could save a ton of money and have 5000 sf of free space if I bought stock panels. But:
The quality would suck

Odd thickness would be difficult
Panels would rarely be balanced
Most would be bookmatched (bad)
The material would be thin after factory sanding
Sketch faces would be difficult
The lead time would be greater so our JIT system would crash

That's just to start. We do a lot of custom panels for other shops, manufacturers, and plywood distributors so we are doing something right.

From contributor J:
To answer your question head on, I'd call the relative cost of your three scenarios:
Factory Sheets = 1x
Press purchased faces (not paperbacked) = 2x
Cut, splice and press = 3x

Those are very crude ratios. There are tons of variables including methods and equipment, quantity, frequency, etc.

Our core business is doing custom pressing for other woodworking companies, and I can tell you that the reason for custom pressing is most definitely *not* cost savings!

If your needs can be satisfied by factory sheets (or even what I call commodity custom - runs of full sheets in which you don't need to tightly control face appearance), that is hands-down the most cost-effective way to go.

You go to custom or in-house pressing because you can't get what you need from factory or commodity custom. Examples: Material selection, matching within panels, matching between panels, edge treatment, size or thickness, special cores, special adhesives. In plenty of applications, it's just got to be custom. Despite the fairly big price difference, we stay pretty busy just doing what I call "true custom," uniquely specified panels.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. I have access to a veneer guillotine, a decent (I think) glue line splicer and a hot press capable of 4X8 sheets. One other question I have is the skill level required to do the stitching.

From contributor C:
What is it that you manufacture at your shop?

From the original questioner:
Mostly cabinets and MDF doors, but I'm exploring a furniture possibility that would require the use of teak and mahogany veneers.

From contributor J:
Don't forgetů

Sanding: you can't sand raw veneer on the average cabinet shop widebelt. You will need either a veneer-capable widebelt sander (expensive) or a stroke sander (very skilled operation required).
Floor space: lots required for storing raw veneer and cores, faces in process, panels cooling, trimming operations.
Electricity: Hot presses suck a lot of juice.

Splicing is a skill that takes some practice, but it can be learned. I'd be more concerned about keeping your splicer running well.

You said you have access to a lot of the equipment. Not to pry, but does that mean you have their use for free or you can buy them? Because if you're buying them, you'll want to factor in the capital expense, maintenance, etc. Also, the type and condition will make a difference in how efficiently you can produce. All hot presses are not created equal (nor splicers and guillotines for that matter) and a bad one may be more trouble than it's worth.

I can't see how this could possibly be worth setting up a pressing line, especially if the volume is not huge (let's say at least a thousand square feet per week for a minimum). But that's your call!

From the original questioner:
My decision is much easier. Ignore the equipment and buy material already laid up.