Veneering
6/22/03

I really, really didn't want to use contact cement to apply veneer. I read all of the posts telling me why I should use contact cement. But, I really, really didn't want to use contact cement! Contact cement is hazardous to your health. It is messy to work with. It is unforgiving of positioning errors, and there is some concern about its long term stability.

I use yellow glue, Titebond II to be exact. The "Peerless Pipe" was the first project I used this technique on. That cabinet is 45" tall and the combined sides and baffle, around the 1 1/2" radius round-overs, is 32". This would have been unmanageable without at least a couple of helpers if I'd used contact cement. It went without a hitch using yellow glue. Here are some points of interest:

  1. The Veneer: The veneer was 10 mil paperbacked red oak from Tape-Ease. I cut the veneer to size indoors, then took the pieces out to my shop area which is in the open air. This is Memphis TN, The temperature gets to 95 and the humidity follows. By the second day, unused pieces of veneer had curled badly because the oak swelled like a sponge. I think that this contributed to the minor bubbling problems I had. Next time, I will leave the veneer outside for a couple of days prior to use.

  2. Surface Prep: While surface prep is not as critical as it is for a paint job, significant blemishes can show through 10mil veneer. Light-weight spackling compound is very good for filling screw hopes and minor gouges. If you need to do build up a major thickness of material, water putty or bondo may be necessary.

    Use a wood sanding block to back your sand paper. This will go a long way toward keeping the edges square. Slight rounding of the edges of your cabinet will cause a lot of grief when you apply the veneer. Go over the entire surface with 100 grit paper to break the glaze on MDF or smooth the grain of plywood. Then sand the cabinet smooth with 220 grit. If you use an electric sander, be very, very careful that you do not round the edges.

  3. Glue up: The key to making this technique work is proper application of glue to the cabinet and veneer. Only work to opposite sides at one time. Don't try to apply glue to all six sides at once. You must trim and sand the edges of each piece of veneer prior to applying adjacent pieces. If you apply glue to an adjacent surface, you will not be able to sand the edge of the veneer level with the adjacent side. By far the easiest way to trim the veneer is with a flush cut bit in a router. Finish with light sanding

  4. Applying the Veneer: The key to making this technique work is heat, lots of heat. Set the iron to "Cotton". (Running the iron on "Linen", or full hot, will scorch the glue and the bond will suffer. Keep the iron moving to prevent scorching, but, then, a little surface scorching is no big deal, at least on red oak. It will sand off easily. Keep heat on each surface for a couple of minutes to insure that the glue melts. The surface should be too hot to hold your hand on. I attribute what bubbling I had to insufficient heat. If your veneer is susceptible to scorching and this will be a problem, use a piece of parchment paper (as used in baking) between the iron and the veneer.

    Give some thought as to what surfaces to veneer first. This technique will leave a very thin line that will not accept stain. Also, the end grain of the veneer may stain darker that the flat surfaces. I usually do sides, front and back, then top and bottom. You will need to trim each pair of pieces of veneer before applying the next pair.

  5. Bubbles and Edges: I got a few bubbles overnight the first day. Since I gained some experience with veneering, I rarely have bubbles any more. Slit the bubbles with a utility knife along grain features. Iron the bubbles down, almost to the point of scorching the veneer. Check that all of the edges are secure. If not, heat the veneer and then apply pressure with a scrap of MDF until the glue cools.

One of the beauties of using Titebond II glue for veneering is that it does not fully cure for days, possibly longer. This gives plenty of time to fix any bubbles that form, and if you can't complete the veneering process in one day, it is not a problem. I wouldn't wait beyond two days to compete the veneering. It probably would be fine, by why press your luck?

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