Veneers: Natural vs. Dyed vs. Engineered

publisher: Polina
Time: 2011-10-31

Three veneer companies describe the differences between natural wood veneers, dyed veneers and engineered veneers.

Tony Boothman — Export sales manager, Atlantic Veneer Corporation

  • What is the process used to create wood veneer? What is different about it than processing engineered and dyed veneer?

The process used to create wood veneers at AVC is commonly referred to as "slicing." This is when a log or a portion of a log is sliced (not sawn) using an incredibly sharp knife creating many thin consecutive "sheets" or "leaves" of veneer. Engineered (reconstituted) veneer is another process again where veneers are laminated together creating a large block of wood that is "resliced" to create weird and wonderful new grain patterns. Similarly, dying veneer presents sliced veneers in a different light.

  • Discuss the cost of dyed veneer vs. natural wood veneer vs. engineered veneer.

The cost of these three processes varies. AVC slices only natural wood veneers, endeavoring to present nature in its purest form with every log. Engineered or dyed veneer producers tend to enhance lesser known or lesser valued species in order to add value and character. It would be difficult for me to suggest the costs of each veneer process as there are so many variables to consider.

  • What species of wood veneer are the most popular right now? Where are these being used?

Right now, the most popular species we find are cherry, maple, walnut and oak (red and white oak). The big consumers are the furniture and flooring manufacturers all over the world, most notably Asian countries such as China. Every year the output from the factories in China producing furniture for the U.S. market increases substantially.

  • Is there anything new being done with veneers, such as new species or new applications?

There are many people all over the world trying new things with wood veneers. The Chinese are slicing their veneers incredibly thin while the Japanese are able to create "Figure" with the slicing of nonfigured species. Also, these days it never ceases to amaze me how reconstituted veneer producers have the ability to mimic the real thing. Similarly the dyed veneers are always looking more and more like natural wood veneers. Having said that, however, nothing will ever be able to replace what mother nature has been providing us for so many years — unique natural species of wood veneer.

Leonardo Fiaschi — President, Tabu/WTP Corp.

  • What is the process used to create dyed veneer? What is different about it than processing natural wood veneer?

The bleaching and dyeing process occurs after the logs are sliced in the same conventional manner used to manufacture natural veneers.After slicing, the leaves of natural veneers are first bleached to remove most of the natural color variations and flaws of the wood. The benefit of bleaching is a better yield in manufacturing, as fewer leaves need to be discarded because of the color inconsistencies or variations that are typical in natural veneers.Afterward, the dyeing process results in a predetermined and homogeneous color of the treated veneers. Thanks to Tabu's aniline dyes and a computer calibrated coloring process, the color is consistent from batch to batch. Our process also enhances the appearance of the grain, which is considerably clearer and deeper than in a stained natural veneer. So the need for labor intensive staining and color matching is eliminated, and fabrication can occur in multiple locations or over an extended period of time.

  • Discuss the cost of dyed veneer vs. natural wood veneer vs. engineered veneer.

The manufacturing cost of bleaching and dyeing a natural veneer is essentially fixed, regardless of the specie of wood being treated. The more exotic and expensive the natural veneer, the lesser the impact of the dyeing process on the overall cost. Currently the manufacturing cost is approximately 40 to 50 cents per square foot.This additional cost must be weighted against the savings in manufacturing due to increased yield and improved efficiency, since the staining process is either reduced or no longer required.

Engineered veneers tend to be considerably cheaper than natural dyed veneers. They benefit primarily from the low cost of the fast growing woods used in manufacturing. This more than offsets all the labor that goes into gluing and reslicing of the man-made logs. Furthermore the standard size of each leaf of engineered veneers reduces waste and results in further cost savings for manufacturers.

  • Besides natural colored wood veneers, what colors are the most popular? Where are these being used?

Natural veneers dyed to their natural colors are the most popular.Architects and designers enjoy the benefit of selecting a color that is homogeneous rather than relying on the traditional color matching done manually by a fabricator. All that is needed is clear coating since the color is predetermined. The uncertainty typically associated with specifying a natural veneer is eliminated.White is a unique outcome of our bleaching process and, as a color available in a variety of wood species, it represents a considerable portion of our sales. Specifiers and manufacturers are also intrigued by the ability of Tabu to obtain very bright and crisp colored veneers. These colors tend to be used primarily in the retail industry for store fixtures and custom cabinetry.

Traditionally, our dyed veneers have been used extensively for retail and hospitality projects. However in recent years several corporate and high-end residential projects have compensated for the slowdown in the retail industry. In that respect our customer base has spread out more evenly.Recently we have also made some inroads with the large office furniture manufacturers and the automotive industry.

  • Is there anything new being done with veneers, such as new colors or new applications?

Among the largest end users of Tabu veneers in the United States are a manufacturer of windows (PVC windows wrapped in veneers) and a manufacturer of steering wheels for the automotive industry. We are currently working with manufacturers that use veneers as lamp shades, or sandwiched between glass panes and between acrylic sheets.

Tabu is always trying to anticipate the design trends, both in Europe and elsewhere, introducing new colors or wood species. This year as part of our collection of natural dyed veneers for the North American market we have introduced mostly natural subdued colors in Mahogany Pomele, Figured Movingue, Lati, Taba and Oak. Bleached Oak in particular, used mostly cross-grain, is the most visible new trend coming from European furniture manufacturers.

Jeffrey S. Levin — Vice president of sales, VenTec

  • What is the process used to create engineered (reconstructed) veneer? What is different about it than processing natural wood veneer?

VenTec's reconstructed (engineered) wood veneers are made from natural wood veneers (Obeche). This West African log is cut into veneer, dyed to the color that is required to create the desired pattern or specie, and then reassembled into blocks 24 in. wide by 24 in. high by 120 in. long. The block is than resliced into veneers just like a natural log.

By using different color glues, different cutting angles and in some cases cutting and reassembling and cutting again, VenTec is able to provide reconstructed veneers that replicate common natural species, rare natural species, endangered natural species and wild geometric patterns.

VenTec's reconstructed veneers are available to woodworkers in the same formats natural undyed veneers are available in. Woodworkers can purchase these veneers laid up on MDF core, particleboard core, 2-ply (veneer on veneer), 20 mil paper backing and phenolic backing.

VenTec's reconstructed veneers, like our full line of dyed natural wood veneers, are processed and finished by the woodworker using the same in-house systems they use for natural undyed species.

  • Discuss the cost of engineered veneer vs. natural wood veneer.

The cost of reconstructed veneers is similar to that of more popular common species like oak, ash, maple, etc. The real cost difference between reconstructed wood veneers and natural undyed wood veneers is in the waste factors that are applied to veneers during lay-up and manufacturing of architectural plywood and sheet goods.

Natural undyed veneers can have standard waste factors ranging from 300 percent for the more popular common species to 500 to 800 percent for highly figured and rarer species. In contrast, reconstructed veneers, which are very consistent in color, grain (no knots or mineral streaks) and leaf size, carry waste factors of 100 to 150 percent.

When you multiply these waste factors by the cost per square foot for the raw veneers, you can see that a raw undyed natural veneer that may have started out at a similar price to a reconstructed veneer can become three times the price after lay-up.

  • How popular are the geometric patterned veneers? Where are these being used?

VenTec's Wildwood collection which includes zig-zags, waves, herringbones, stripes as well as many more wild geometric patterns are by far the most exciting real wood veneers in the marketplace. Everyone who sees them falls in love with them.

Architects and designers will specify these patterned veneers as accents in specialty areas or theme applications or in areas where they want to attract attention.

  • Is there anything new being done with veneers, such as new patterns or new applications?

The market for reconstructed dyed wood veneers is continually growing. As more and more natural wood species become scarce or worse — endangered — the need for creative attractive options becomes greater.

VenTec's line of reconstructed veneers offers architect, designers and woodworkers ever-increasing options of new specie look-a-likes, color consistency, grain consistency and cost savings. In today's marketplace, there are very few products that can make that claim.

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