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What Is Veneer Wood? An Introduction and Guide to Veneer Wood Finishes

What Is Veneer Wood? An Introduction and Guide to Veneer Wood Finishes

Veneer wood is a versatile, handy element used by woodworkers everywhere. Whether it’s used as marquetry to finish off decorative wood pieces or book-matched along a wood-paneled home library to give an old-world look, veneer woods are used in various applications providing a cost-effective, eco-friendly method for a high-end look.

But what is veneer wood, exactly? Van Dyke’s answers this and more in this ultimate guide on all things veneer – from different types of cuts to staining techniques and more. 

What Is Veneer Wood?

Veneer wood is a slice of wood thinner than one-eighth of an inch, typically glued to another base material to give it a more aesthetically-pleasing facade. Beneath the surface, the base is made up of a different type of wood, particle board or even a fiber board. These base materials are often chosen for their durability or affordability. Simultaneously, the veneer wood acts as a topical treatment, if you will, to elevate the furniture piece or architectural detail. 

If you have ever taken a close look at plywood, you will notice it is built of several layers of glued, stacked veneer wood, giving it extra strength and stability. However, you can also find exotic wood veneers taken from high-quality rare lumber that would otherwise be expensive as a solid piece.

What Is the Difference Between Veneer, Laminate and Solid Wood?

library veneer flooring

Now that you understand what veneer wood is made of, let’s explore how it differs from laminate and solid wood. 

Wood Veneer vs. Laminate

Many people often confuse veneer and laminate, so what sets them apart? Faux veneer wood, also called artificial veneer, is not made of wood but laminate with a printed wood pattern overlay. In other words, it’s not the real thing. While artificial veneers and laminates have their place and offer a more durable, easy-to-clean surface for commercial applications, true veneer woods are what most woodworkers reach for when refurbishing or restoring antique or vintage furniture. 

One of the advantages veneer wood has over laminate is that it can be painted or stained, whereas laminate is already the color you can expect. Its polished coating would not allow paint or finish to adhere anyway. A veneer can also be sanded along the grain, albeit carefully by hand and not using a power sander.

Wood Veneer vs. Solid Wood

Solid wood is exactly what it says – a solid block of wood. However, they can still offer a base for applying a decorative veneer surface. While you can have a solid wood table, you can glue an exotic or grained veneer wood to the tabletop or side panels. With a solid wood base, the veneer offers a more controllable, flexible sheet that provides a uniform wood grain (or book-matched grain), creating the look you desire. 

As opposed to solid wood, veneers are also more resistant to cracking and expanding. This especially works in your favor if you have a surface that is exposed to weather and the elements. On the flipside, high-traffic areas – staircases, hallways and foyers – are better suited with solid woods.  

Shop All Wood Veneers from Van Dyke’s

The Many Benefits of Veneer Wood

Now that you understand what veneer wood is, let’s talk about some of its benefits over solid wood and laminate.

benefits of veneer wood

Affordability – As mentioned, veneer wood is a much more affordable way to create grand-looking furniture pieces without buying the wood it resembles. Using a standard, cheaper solid wood or wood-like base, you can apply veneer wood to the outside, elevating wood panels and more into an exquisite, expensive-looking architectural element or armoire.

Durability – Where solid woods are prone to splitting and cracking, especially in certain conditions, veneers can protect surface areas, keeping the furniture or project more durable so it can last longer.  

Sourcing Availability – Unlike solid hardwoods, veneer woods are much easier to source. Readily available, smaller slices of veneer will allow you to order all the parts and pieces you need in time to finish a project.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly – Veneer woods are an environmentally-friendly alternative. Instead of overharvesting exotic, rare trees, a single sheet goes a long way. Plus, you can use any leftover trim for another project or recycle small wood pieces into more veneers. 

What Is Veneer Wood Used for?

Veneer wood can be used in a variety of ways, from cabinet panels, furniture and even flooring. Quite often, they are also used to create decorative surfaces by using parquetry, marquetry and book-matching techniques. Able to create beautiful works of art, here are a few ways woodworkers and artisans use veneer wood to their advantage.


When hardwood flooring calls for an ornate design, instead of simply lining up the wood planks side by side, parquetry is the answer. Parquet flooring is constructed from smaller hardwood pieces with hand-glued veneer wood, often cut geometrically to create a pattern.  

Parquetry dates back to 17th century France, but also reached popularity in the 1960s. So, depending on the style, parquetry can look both traditional or retro. Parquet flooring is also making a comeback, primarily due to modern manufacturing techniques that make the motifs and patterns easier to produce and, therefore, more affordable. (In the olden days, cutting each individual piece took lots of time, as you can imagine.) Today, you can find classical, ornate motifs or chic herringbone and chevron patterns.


Not to be confused with parquetry, marquetry is somewhat similar, but with some defining differences. Marquetry is also created using small cut pieces of veneer wood, but is used to create a pattern across another surface. Typically, marquetry is also more detailed and intricate. To give a few examples, marquetry is commonly used for things like jewelry boxes and furniture pieces. Marquetry can still be used on hardwood floors, but is much more luxurious and, either custom-cut and applied by hand, quite laborious and expensive.  

ways to use veneer wood


Another look that veneer wood is often used for is book-matching. Book-matched wood is easy to spot. Taking multiple slices of wood veneer, each is flipped or rotated to give a mirrored effect. Since no two trees are exactly alike, the only way to achieve this mirror-like effect is to carefully slice thin pieces of wood to match the woodgrain’s designs as close as possible. 

While it’s safe to say that you could use book-matched veneers to create a parquetry or marquetry pattern, it’s more commonly used for adorning cabinets and furniture pieces with double doors, tables and wall panels. Book-matched veneer woods are also used for instruments like violins, cellos and pianos.  

Different Types of Veneer Woods

Veneer woods come in a variety of styles, cuts and materials, too. Let’s look at the more common types, such as raw veneer woods, paperbacks and rotary cuts. 

Raw Veneer Wood

Raw veneer wood can be made from just about any type of wood, from standard poplar to exotic species. Without a paper or plastic backing, this type of veneer can be flipped, displaying the side you wish to showcase.  

A laid-up veneer is raw veneers that have been already pieced together and assembled to size. Many woodworkers and restorers prefer to use laid-up veneers when they have limited time, glue and space to place individual sheets together at home. Instead, it comes ready to go! You only need to cut and glue it to the project. 

carpenter applying glue to veneer

Paperback Veneer Wood

Paperback veneer wood is precisely as the name says. This type of veneer wood has a permanent paper backing, which helps to stabilize the wood as it’s flexed. Usually, paperback veneer wood is used on small projects or curved areas, hence the super-thin flexible nature.

This type of veneer wood is also an excellent tool for novice artisans and beginner woodworkers. The attached paper backing makes the veneer pieces easy to manage and apply to the furniture piece or whatever project you have. 

Keep in mind that moisture and paper don’t mix. So if you plan to keep the project with paperback veneer wood in a moisture-prone area like a bathroom or kitchen, switch to a plastic resin-based phenolic back. This way, it offers some water-resistant qualities to prevent bubbles or cracks, while still being somewhat flexible like a 10 mil paper-backed veneer. 

Rotary Cut Veneer Wood

Rotary cut veneer woods are essentially made from raw wood, which is then dyed and treated to accentuate its grain pattern. Also known as an engineered veneer or reconstituted veneer, a rotary cut style is taken from more affordable woods such as poplar or oak. Once they are dyed and treated, they resemble a more luxurious high-end wood with striking, treated grains. 

Furthermore, rotary cut veneer wood is also environmentally conscious and green-friendly. Ultimately, the process makes a standard oak or poplar tree, that is much more sustainable, appear like an exotic wood. And in turn, this not only saves rare tree species, but cuts down on the carbon footprint it takes to be shipped from far-off destinations.

Staining Veneer Woods

When you begin to learn how to apply wood veneers so you can finally restore that furniture piece, you may want to change the tone. And if you want to change the tone or color of your veneer, you will need to apply a wood stain. However, staining is not required, especially if the veneer wood already has naturally gorgeous graining. Actually, it’s important to remember that staining will dull the veneer’s luster. Still, if this is the path you want to take, here are some tips and steps to staining veneer woods. 

tools staining veneer woods

Staining Tools

If you are a beginner, use an oil-based stain or solvent-based stain, as they are the easiest types to work with. Stain-choice aside, all you need to apply a coat is a brush and some clean rags.

Staining Steps

  1. First things first: Make sure to test a scrap piece of veneer wood ahead of time so you know exactly how it will turn out. Wood stains tend to darken veneers more than anticipated. 
  2. Next, sand the veneer wood until it’s smooth using a fine grit. However, make sure to check if your veneer is sold pre-sanded, as they sometimes are. If this is the case, your veneer wood may not need sanding or may need just a light touch-up.  
  3. After it’s sanded, wipe away any particles and clean the veneer. Now, take a brush or rag and apply a coat of stain. 
  4. At a minimum, allow the stain to rest for a minute or two. However, the longer the stain rests, the darker the veneer will turn out – just something to keep in mind! 
  5. Wipe off any excess stain with a new, clean rag. 
  6. At this point, decide if one coat of stain is to your liking. If you want it darker, apply a second coat. 

Before staining or finishing your veneer, remove it from the packaging and allow it to acclimate, just like you would before installing hardwood floors. Ideally, lay it flat for several days – 48 hours at a minimum at a temperature between 55 and 85 degrees. If it’s scrolled, clamp it down or add weight to the ends to flatten it further.

Take caution when using solvent-based stains on paper-backed veneers. Solvent-based stains tend to penetrate the paper backing and reach the glue layer. And if you are using contact cement, it can loosen the glue, making your job a bit more complicated. If you choose to use a solvent-based stain, stick to Woodwork’s glue brand like Titebond or Elmer’s. 

Once you find the stain color depth you desire, allow the surface to dry for 24 hours before giving it a final finish.   

living room veneer flooring

Learn More on How to Apply Wood Veneers Here

Finish a Restoration Project with Veneer Wood of Your Choice!

Van Dyke’s Restorers offers a wide range of veneer woods. Discover the perfect veneer to match your existing furniture restoration project or get inspired with some of our beautiful, exotic options such as Hawaiian koa, African mahogany or a cloud-like redwood burl woodgrain. At Van Dyke’s, we carry an extensive collection – even variety packs to start a small beginner project. 

So what are you waiting for? Try your hand at veneer wood applications and complete your project today!   


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