Back to the Future, and it’s still here!

Posted on Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 at 9:00 pm

The photo on the left is of a digital veneer caliper measuring a thickness of 1.65 mm (0.0649”). The piece being measured is sawn French walnut veneer. Yes, I saw my own veneers, or purchase veneer from Patrick George in France (I have that URL on my links page).

When my clients step up to the plate and make the decision to invest in a piece of my art, (yes I wrote art) they want the damn thing to last. I hope they want it to last, this is what gives fine objects increasing value. A decorative art piece should be able to be handed down from one generation to the next.

Now your thinking: “What does this have to do with sawn veneers?” Lemme splain… For furniture pieces, and I mean furniture pieces, sawn veneers or antique veneers are what “should” be used in the construction, that’s my judgment.

If one is going to veneer wall paneling in a hotel lobby or an office, of course I recommend commercially sliced veneers. What’s the difference between sawn and sliced? Cost for one, nor will it ever be feasible to surface large areas with sawn veneer. The hotel or the office will be in a person’s lifetime gutted and dumped in the nearest landfill.

Let’s go back in time, about two-hundred-fifty years, to a furniture workshop in Stadt Neuweid, Germany. We’re at the workshop of David and Abraham Roentgen. From 1672 through 1760 the father and son worked together. Roentgen employed fifteen cabinet makers, this number swelled to an impressive two hundred at one point. These men created some of the worlds most sophisticated and mechanically complex pieces of furniture ever seen — for a very important clientele.

These exalted pieces of furniture were veneered with incredibly colorful marquetry, created with exotic wood veneers sawn to 1.5 to 2.5 mm thick. All woodworkers understand that wood changes color (fades or darkens) with exposure to ultraviolet light. The Roentgens knew this as well, for clients would call periodically to have a piece returned to the shop to have the faded marquetry scraped. By scraping only three or four thousands of an inch, all the brilliant colors would return. This process could be repeated many times throughout the life of the piece.

Back to the Future! One can see the Roentgen’s furniture in museums the world over. Why? Simply because the thickness of the sawn veneer propelled these pieces far into the future; our today, our children’s tomorrows.

The photo on the left shows a piece of commercial sliced veneer crumbled by my hand like a potato chip. The veneer’s thickness is 0.018” or 0.4572 mm straight from the mill. When glued to a substrate, it’s sanded, now it is even thinner. Imagine this piece somewhere in the future being refinished.

The probability of the veneer being sanded through to expose the substrate is really, really good. So, I try to find veneers that were sliced at least twenty or thirty years ago. Of course there are “certain” times that using sliced veneers is unavoidable, and I do use them — from time to time.

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