Make a veneer-cutting jig
Veneer is a great material to incorporate into a project, but it’s not machined in the same way solid wood is. This jig will allow you to trim veneer edges straight so they can be joined and pressed onto a substrate.
Veneer is incredibly underappreciated by most woodworkers. Both highly figured and incredibly straight-grained options are available, and are generally a lot more cost effective and sustainable than solid wood, as you use much less of them. Veneer, and the substrates it’s adhered to, is much less likely to move with seasonal humidity changes, making unique and boundary-pushing designs obtainable. On top of that, the ability to use veneer to cover the faces of flat or curved panels is another huge benefit.
The general public’s dislike for veneer mainly stems from the massive amount of poorly designed and constructed furniture available in many stores for low cost. Sadly, veneer gets blamed for this, even though it has little to do with the real problem.
If you can, choose a router bit the exact diameter as the slot in the underside of your track to rout the groove in the base. Making multiple passes with a narrower bit is also an option. A proper fit between the track and the cleats is a must.
Brown attached his router to a piece of 1/4" plywood, then screwed a guide to the underside of the plywood. The guide runs along the edge of the jig base while the router bit machines a groove to accept the cleat towards both ends of the base.
With the cleats in place and the veneer positioned where you want it cut, position the track over both cleats. Notice the two marker lines at the edge of the base. These assist with positioning the track, and are drawn at both ends of the base.
Brown aims to cut about 1/8" below the underside of the lower layer of veneer. With multiple layers of veneer, you’ll have to take their combined thicknesses into account when setting the depth of cut. Different veneers require different approaches, but Brown finds a shallow cut the best approach for the vast majority of situations.
Tape it Together
Veneer tape comes in a few different forms. Here, Brown is using a tape that needs to be dampened immediately before use, but some other types can be applied straight from the roll.
Large, Flat Area
Although it doesn’t have to be perfect, ensuring the jig is supported properly along its length, and that it’s relatively flat, will make it easier and safer to use. Using a table saw and router table for support is Brown’s approach, but you’ll also notice some solid wood blocks under the rear end of the jig.
Veneer challenges woodworkers
The downside for a woodworker is the fact that some specialized tools are needed to harness the power of veneer and incorporate it into a project. Lumber can be edge-glued to produce wider panels. Veneer can, too, but it’s a much different process. It first has to be trimmed straight before it can be joined with other pieces of veneer. At that stage it can be pressed onto a substrate and incorporated into a project. This simple jig will help you with trimming veneer edges straight, so they can be joined to any mating pieces of veneer.
I use a track saw to do the actual veneer trimming, but some sort of shop-made circular saw jig could be used also. The level of accuracy would have to be high, as you want the blade travelling in a straight line at all times, with no side-to-side movement.
A sharp blade is a must, as is a good method to apply downward pressure to the veneer where the cut is being made. This pressure ensures the veneer edge is clean and will mate with another freshly cut edge of veneer.
A large, flat base makes up the vast majority of the jig. I used 3/4″ thick MDF, but plywood and particleboard have their own pros and cons. From a full-length sheet, I ripped a strip about 24″ wide, then routed a simple 1/4″ round over on all the edges and corners to protect against chipping.
The only other parts of this jig are the two small wood cleats that align the track. These are glued into a groove towards either end of the base. To the best of my knowledge, all track saw tracks have a slot on their underside. This slot is what the cleat will protrude up into. The cleat needs to be the exact width of the track so there’s no movement between the track and the cleat.
Measure the width of your slot. The Dewalt track saw I have has a 1/4″ wide groove, so I used a 1/4″ bit in my router to make a shallow groove in the base, about 3″ long. The exact location isn’t important, however, I would recommend doing some math in order to keep the cutting edge of the track at least 6″ away from the edge of the base. This is to help support the offcuts during the cut.
I set up my router on a simple jig that would allow me to keep the two cleats equidistant from the long edge of the jig, and routed 1/4″ wide grooves towards either end of the base. If you don’t have a router bit the exact width as the slot on the underside of your track, make multiple passes with a narrower bit. An exact fit with the slot is the only critical part of this jig build, so take the time to obtain a perfect fit. I then dressed hardwood strips to fit perfectly in the grooves, and glued them in place.
When dry, I eased the edges of the cleats to make the track fit onto the cleats easier. Once the track was positioned, I drew a pair of lines on both ends of the base, at either side of the track, to visually mark the outer edge of the track. This makes it easier to line up the track each time you put the track in place.
Using the jig
Although it’s not the end of the world, it’s best not to cut completely through the base when trimming veneer to width. No matter how many pieces of veneer you’re cutting, adjust the depth of cut to only cut about 1/8″ into the base.
Veneer is generally sold with uneven edges that need to be trimmed straight so they can be matched and joined together if you need wider sheets of veneer. I cut the pieces of veneer to rough length so they’re easier to handle. With the track off to the side, I place one or more pieces of veneer on the base, align the edge to be cut with the kerf cut into the base, add the track on top of the veneer, and place the saw on the track. The weight of the saw is likely enough to apply enough downward pressure to the track to reduce chipping of the veneer during the cut. If you find the veneer is chipping, some downward pressure might be the answer.
Slowly but surely
Veneer is somewhat fragile, and will chip heavily if your blade isn’t sharp enough or if you make the cut too quickly. I move the saw very slowly and watch the cutting area very closely to see if there’s chipping. Positioning the veneer so the grain runs away from the portion of veneer you want to keep, rather than into the workpiece, will also help reduce chipping. If you follow these basics you’ll be surprised how even and clean the edge of the freshly cut piece of veneer is.
If you want to use the offcut to join with other pieces of veneer, and need to have it finished as cleanly as possible, I find it very useful to place the veneer on the base (as usual), then lay a piece of 1/8″ or 1/4″ thick material on top of the veneer before placing the track on top of the stack of veneers. As long as the 1/8″ or 1/4″ material overlaps the cut by an inch or so, it will apply downward pressure on the offcut section of veneer, and will go a long way to reduce chipping.
It’s also possible to cut across the grain of the veneer at 90°, or even another angle you need to create the veneer match you’re after. I’ve added a few pencil lines on my base to assist with quickly making a 90° cut. Working with veneer gives you the option to create a lot of strong visual patterns, so let your imagination run wild, and use this jig to trim veneer at any angle you’d like.
Tape it together
Once the veneer is trimmed straight, it can be joined together with thin veneer tape. I use pieces of tape about 2″ long, staggered every few inches at a right angle to the veneer joint, then come back and apply pieces of tape along the joint, ensuring the entire edge of the veneer is taped. Once joined, I apply the veneer to a substrate, and machine it like any standard sheet good. A vacuum press is a great tool for serious veneer craftspeople, but even flat platens, cauls and clamps go a long way to pressing veneered panels.
Hopefully, this can help fill in one of the blanks regarding working with veneer. I think of veneer as just another type of material I can use to create strong, beautiful and lasting pieces of furniture, and reach for this simple jig whenever I want to make veneered panels.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.