Cut the Grain: Wood Veneer Techniques


Wood veneer is a beauty in itself with its exceptionality in texture, color, figure and grain. Determined by the cutting method of the log relative to its growth rings as well as the selection of the veneer species, most architectural components are aesthetically enhanced through the natural characteristics of the wood veneers.

Flat Cut (Plain Sliced)
Regarded as the most common slicing method for wood veneers, flat cut slices through the center of the log in a parallel manner or tangentially to the grain, which results in cathedral (curves and ovals at the center) and straight grain patterns at the end. Also the least expensive, this cut along the growth rings of the mounted log flitch yields high production. Flat cut or plain sliced is mostly suitable for high quality architectural woodworking, furniture making, judges' panels, musical instrument components and wall paneling since leaf to leaf produces natural progression and consistency of grain patterns in book and end matches. Tree species that are normally cut with this method are amaranth, amarillo, lacewood, pine, mahogany, rosewood and beech.

Quarter Cut
Sliced along the log radius of the quarter log flitch which is perpendicular to growth rings, quarter cut produces straight grain patterns with no cathedrals. Often yielding lesser production and narrower components than flat cut, quarter cut is more expensive than plain slicing. Oak produces "flake" pattern when cut through medullary rays and large diameter logs are advised to be used for production efficiency. Commonly used tree species are walnut, mahogany, teak, oak, sycamore and fir. Zebra wood is often used for fine furniture, boat interiors and architectural millwork.

Rift Cut
Exclusively for red and white oak, rift cut produces an emphasized vertical grain with minimal flakes as compared to an oak with a quarter cut. To achieve minimal ray flake effect in oak, a 15-degree cut angle to the flitch radius is to be used. Since the log flitch on the half round lathe produces the least production, rift cut is the most expensive veneer cutting method. The tightest straight grain of the narrow striped pattern produces is called the comb grain. Rift veneers and lumbers are diversely produced which often results in an unlikely "match." Oak is mostly used in kitchen and bath cabinetry, casework, molding and flooring.

Rotary Cut
Set on a lathe, rotary cut is the peeling of an entire log along its general path of growth rings. Only the cutting method which has a production capability of whole piece faces and yields the most wood veneer per log, this broad-patterned grain is less expensive than flat sliced. With a resemblance of unwinding a roll of paper, the random and variegated appearance of the rotary cut makes it difficult to match at veneer joints. Mostly used for economical decorative veneer, cabinetry, millwork, fine furniture, chairs, automobile dashboards and accent trims, the tree species available for this cut are ash, beech, birch, cedar, walnut and elm.

What other cutting methods have you incorporated with your wood veneers? Leave your thoughts below!

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