In a class recently I made a demonstration table to show aspects of construction for the students to follow. This is common practice for me to make an identical piece alongside my students. In this case I used up scraps and made the table with shorter legs and lower grade wood for the apron rails. To teach students it’s always best that they see layout and joint making exactly as it is. In this case we completed all of this but I added some instructive diversions to show what you could do if indeed you did use flawed wood that was structurally sound but not attractive. Divergent grain can be the result of grain colour and inconsistent configuration. Shaped legs can be countered by uncooperative grain. There is a way around this and it’s not complicated.
Talk to most people about veneers and they might grimace, thinking of something artificial and low grade. In many cases that’s true, but looking back in the history of veneers that was not the case. veneers allowed artisans like myself to control colour and balance using woods that might otherwise create conflict rather than harmony. Book matched sequentially cut veneers were used throughout the pieces I created for the White House four years ago. It enabled complete control in what was an extremely difficult wood to control. On these pieces we not only book matched the close faces, but the tops and ends. Even within the pieces, were we to place them end to end or top to top, side to side and back to back, each facet was a perfect mirror image of the other. Such was the painstaking work we undertook to create pieces worthy of the Permanent Collection.
I put this humbler table together to show a method of veneering that is low cost and needs no veneer pressing, hammer work, or vacuum bags to ensure good surface retention. It seems complicated at first but it is merely a question of allowing some wait time in between glue up. beyond that you end up with perfect book matching in sold wood.
The legs I used were what I might say to be poor grade red oak. It had pinkness I don’t like alongside sapwood and in one leg some worm damage by worms long since gone.
I started by prepping all of my stock as I always do by surface planing the faces smooth with a #4 Stanley hand plane. I completed all of the mortises in the legs and the tenons to the aprons, making no allowance for the veneers yet to be added. Once the joinery was completed and the mortise and tenons were fully seated, I considered the veneering I wanted to do. In this case I wanted to veneer only the outside faces of the legs and aprons. Starting with the legs, I took a piece of 1/4” thick oak that had the right colour and a gentle curve that followed my shaping of the legs yet to be. I planed both faces of the veneer stock and sandwiched it between the two adjacent legs. Allow ample glue and clamp and set aside for 12 hours minimum. Splitting the two pieces on the bandsaw takes out 2mm (1/16”) of stock and by the time I have planed out the saw kerf and trued up the face I leave just over 2mm veneer on the leg. Once this is dry I take the next adjacent face and do the same, overlaying the veneer over the thin edge of the adjacent veneer. Now at this stage, if you want square legs, you can simply [lane and trim flush or barely chamfer the corner. In my case I was shaping the leg to give it a ‘kick’. This meant that the lighter wood showed through with a very uniform band that I liked and kept. I have done this with darker more exotic woods and light coloured veneers and it looks like a complicated inlay.
For the aprons I veneered these after I had completed the joinery to maintain the uniform thickness I wanted for the joinery layout and cutting. Adding the veneer afterwards meant I simply had to cut the shoulders of the tenon equal to the existing shoulders. This method works well for repair work too. That’s where I first used the method years ago. In this case I needed only one apron to match three other that had consistent grain so I glued a thick piece to the apron and band-sawed off the bulk when dry. If you need to do all of the aprons, follow the method used on the legs by simply clamping two aprons to either side of a 1/4” board slightly oversized than the face.