Veneer – Never Out of Style

By Kenn Busch

California’s GL Veneer Meets Demand with Innovation and Added Value

When you ask, “What’s new in the veneer world,” you might just get a puzzled look. Unless you can, with a straight face, classify “classic looks” as a trend, changes in demand for veneers are really mostly ebb-and-flow variations on the timeless themes of colour, character and cut.

That said, where and how veneers are used absolutely does change with the times, but this is driven largely by application technology and fresh ways to add value to raw wood.

“This is what drives our entire business,” says Daniel Levin, vice president of GL Veneer in Huntington Park, California. “It’s a little unpredictable, but colours and textures come in and out of style over the years, and over decades. One species might be hot for a while, then is suddenly dead and gone. Similar to the fashion industry, a certain look gets popular, fades away, and shows up again years later.”

In recent years, North American walnut and white oak have been leading demand, says Levin. 

“Rift walnut, and rift white oak cuts with very linear grain structures are the desired look. The exotic staples are always popular which include ebony, rosewood, and burls of all flavors.

“Walnut and oak have always remained a constant choice for woodworkers, designers and architects. The push and pull between light and dark tones have been happening forever and will only continue.”

Red gum – an exotic domestic species is one veneer that has gained popularity. Its high contrast and wild yet refined appearance is easily designed into any space.

Softwoods are also in the conversation because of their long, vertical grains, says Levin, including Douglas fir, cypress, hemlock and Western Red cedar. They are not as hot as the oak and walnut, but are used in the same ways.

Fumed, or Smoked Woods

Smoking, or fuming, of high tannin-content woods is popular because it creates grey or rich, darker tones, Levin says. According to Eggers Industries in Wisconsin, fuming wood is the process of exposing wood to ammonia vapours to achieve a warm rich chocolate brown colour. Many enhancements have been made to the process that was at one time achieved by placing unfinished furniture in a horse barn where the horses’ urine gave off ammonia vapours resulting in a darkening of the surface of the wood.

Today, the fuming process takes place in a professional multi-chamber machine and utilises environmentally-friendly vacuum technology. After a short time of moisture extraction, the wood is exposed to ammonia gas. Once the desired reaction has taken place, a post-vacuum removes the excess ammonia. The entire process takes three to four weeks to complete and results in a dark colouring going all the way through the wood.

Fuming is an environmentally-friendly process producing no waste products. During the process ammonia is drawn from the smoking chamber directly into a washer and is neutralised there.

Fuming can be successfully performed on any wood containing tannin with the concentration of colour being dependent upon the amount of tannin within the species. The most common species that is fumed is oak but larch, sycamore, eucalyptus and sapele may also be fumed.

“Cherry’s red colour was popular for quite a long time as an example, but demand for red woods has dropped,” says Levin. “But fuming cherry to a brown or grey colour can help boost demand.”

Bleaching and dying woods is another approach to adding value, says Levin, and it can be done to any species of any colour.


Distressing for Texture

Rustic wood looks have been “on trend” in recent years, and GL Veneer is answering that demand with wire-brushed veneer panels.

“Textures are continually becoming more common in the market, and there’s no limit to what species can be wire brushed to expose a unique texture,” says Levin. “It’s fun to see what happens; each piece reacts differently to the process. In more porous species like oak, where the texturing process ends up digging further in. Softer species like maple can get a bit more torn up. The intensity of the effect depends on the density and the grain.”

Veneer adds life to interiors, suchas the Cole Capital office

Value Added Veneers for Special Applications

GL Veneer offers a line of veneers with special backers for specific applications as well as ease of handling. Leveneer, as it is known, has been “tenderised to crack the grain on a micro level to make it flexible enough that you can wrap it around tight radiuses or poles without snapping the face.”

The Leveneer product line encompasses over 150 different veneer species of flexible veneer products with backers of 10, 20, or 30 mil paper as well as PSA, Polybak, Fabric, WallWood and veneer backers. The tenderising process has no effect on the veneer’s character, or its ability to accept stains or finishes.

“The paper backers are best for tighter radiuses. The other backing materials make it easier for woodworkers to handle and lay up their own panels for a variety of different applications.

“We offer the same Leveneer species in hardwood plywood, making it very convenient to match materials throughout an entire project.”

GL Veneer sells mostly in the Western U.S., but a new website and online store will make it easier for customers around the world to order their products.

GL’s veneer can be found in the offices of Google, the lobbies and room of Las Vegas hotels, on Fender guitars, in Starbucks coffee shops, and hundreds of other beautiful applications.  


This article was first published in the Sept issue of Panels & Furniture Asia