Veneering is by far my favorite aspect of furniture making; it is very simple, yet brings a new dimension to woodworking, as far as possible patterns, species, figure types and shapes. This traveling desk would make an ideal first project using veneer, since it uses rather small pieces of highly figured veneer on flat surfaces.

  I’m dedicated to hammer veneering. It requires almost no tooling, takes up next to no shop space, is versatile, has a proven track record, is extremely forgiving, and I believe in many instances faster than vacuum veneering.  I don’t own a vacuum press, but I don’t feel the least bit handicapped without one, for the kind of work I do.

  I began by preparing the crotch veneer, by brushing on a coat of hot hide glue sizing on each side. The hide glue is thinned to the point where it flows off the brush in individual drops. Wrap the veneer in plastic food wrap, and clamp between boards. Let the veneer out of the clamps and plastic wrap a couple of times each day for a period of at least seven days; keep an eye on it while out so it doesn’t go back to being wrinkled.
  I like to whenever possible plane the substrates as this leaves the best possible glue surface, but for a cross banded surface sanding is in order; just be sure to thoroughly clean the sanding dust. Despite a historical precedent I don’t “tooth” substrates, because I think it does nothing to increase the bond, and may serve to weaken it. The substrates are also, given a coat of the same thinned hot hide glue. This one step eliminates most of the problems associated hammer veneering, by insuring the glue used in veneering is not absorbed too quickly by the substrate, and allowing a thinner mixture of glue to be used, which is easier to hammer without creating glue puddles.

  I mix glue in soup cans to ease clean up, and allow me to quickly change between mixtures of glues. Pour in enough glue flakes for the job at hand and add water until they are completely saturated; let sit for at least a half-hour before heating. Once the glue has melted, add water to achieve the desired consistency.  The glue for the veneering should flow off the brush in a steady stream; unlike the sizing glue which forms drops, or coming off in strings, which is sign of being too thick. As you work water will have to be added to maintain this consistency.  I like to add about 5% white vinegar to the mix which seems to improve the initial tack (a great benefit when hammer veneering). 

  Brush an even coat of glue over the substrate; lightly mist the face of the veneer and lay it in place. I don’t apply glue to the face of the veneer, while this is certainly effective, it is quite a mess.  In all likelihood, the glue will gel before you can hammer it down, so with an iron set on low heat, (if it sizzles it is too hot) re-liquefy the glue. Using the hammer like a squeegee, going only with the grain, bond the veneer to the substrate.  Don’t let cooled glue pool in front of the hammer, since it can burst through the veneer, especially when working with crotch veneer. Typically I hammer a strip the width of the hammer, down the center of the panel, and with this affixed, I then work towards the edges. Often with crotch veneer there will be areas that won’t lie down; give them some time to set up and have another go at it. 99% of the time this will work to glue them down. For the other 1%, you’ll have to resort to a heated block and a clamp or a heated block held in place with a veneer nail, for those areas where a clamp can’t reach.

 After the veneer has dried for an1/2 hour or so, run you fingernails over the surface, listening for any areas that sound hollow. If you find any hollow sounding areas, re-heat and hammer them down.

 The drawer front is veneered in several steps, beginning with the crotch panel This panel is hammered down, and while still damp, use a sharp cutting gauge to remove the veneer where the stringing and cross banding will go; doing this now will save considerable work, because cured hide glue has a surprisingly strong bond and requires a lot of water and heat to remove. The stringing surrounding the crotch panel is a piece of 1/32” black dyed veneer glued to a piece of 1/32” holly veneer; the holly veneer had to be sanded to thickness on my drill press mounted thickness sander, since it is not available commercially. I make these in strips 2” wide and rip of pieces around 1/32” thick on the bandsaw, for inlaying. The miters are cut with a chisel using the reflection on the backside of chisel to gauge the angle; this is surprisingly accurate and very fast. The stringing is glued in place with hot hide glue using push pins to hold it while the glue gels. As soon as the glue has gelled, and it is still in its rubbery phase, remove the pins and clean up the glue. The curly satinwood cross banding. on the long edges, are hammered down, letting the ends run wild. The end pieces are mitered with a sharp knife, working from the long point of the miter to the short point to avoid having the point break off. These mitered pieces are then laid in place and the miters on the long edges are marked and cut; the ends can now be hammered in place. Using a router in climb cut fashion, a rabbet is run around the edge of the drawer to receive the solid ebony strip. This edging is glued in place with hot hide glue using blue masking tape as clamps. veneering
Hammering the front veneer

The front of the desk is veneer with a sheet of veneer cut to maintain the grain pattern of the piece around the opening and the edge of the lid. Because the ends of the sides are end grain, I applied two coats of thinned down hide glue to provide a secure bond with the veneer.  



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©2007 by Robert L. Millard
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