Choosing veneers

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jsalk

Choosing veneers
« on: 26 Nov 2009, 01:37 am »
Choosing the right model speaker can be a challenge.  But even more trying for some people is choosing the right veneer.  Sure, looking at pictures of speakers we've built over the years can be helpful.  But there are even more options out there.  So I thought that perhaps a few words about veneers and links to a few sites might be helpful.

When searching for a veneer, you need to recognize that wood is created by nature, not by man.  With most woods, there is a lot of variation from log to log.  I cannot tell you how often I receive emails requesting "a pair just like these on your web site - photo attached."  Sometimes it is not a problem.  But we tend to search out very unique veneers and when the batch is gone, it is gone.  So some we build are simply impossible to duplicate.

Here is a link to the first of 13 pages of veneer scans:  http://www.wood-veneers.com/veneer_tones_l-1.htm

This is one of the most complete collections of veneer photos I have come across.  I often send this link to people searching out the perfect veneer.  But when I do, I have to point out that these are among the best photos of the best specimens of each particular veneer.  In some cases, finding batches of that specific veneer that look that spectacular can be impossible.

The lesson:  Seeing a picture of veneer you like doesn't mean you can get it.

Here is a link to another site:  http://www.certainlywood.com/

This site is different - the veneers are available.  If you look at the right side of the top section on the home page, you will see a button labeled "Search Veneer Inventory."  The nice thing here is that the search results will show batches of actual veneer that ARE available.  The downside is that the photos may not be all that accurate in terms of color and/or the lighting may not show the true beauty of the wood.  What's more, the veneer is raw and unfinished.  When you apply finish to many veneers, the color can change dramatically.  Generally the contrast between lighter and darker sections of the wood will increase quite a bit when finish is applied.

If you want to know how a particular veneer might look after finish is applied, just ask.  We've worked with most of them and have a pretty good idea of how a finished veneer would compare to a photograph of that same veneer in a raw, unfinished state.

To be continued...


jsalk

Working with burls
« Reply #1 on: 26 Nov 2009, 02:02 am »
People looking for exotic veneers are often attracted to burls.  These can be among the most stunning veneers created by nature.  But there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Burled wood is not all that common compared to plain varieties of the same species.  That fact, coupled with demand, mean the price of burls can be quite high - 5-10 times more expensive.  But that is just the beginning.

Sheets of burled veneer tend to be small.  Which means many sheets may have to be spliced together to form a panel large enough to cover the side of a speaker.  This leads to two problems.

First, you have to find batches with enough sheets to complete the project.  If you need four sheets spliced together to cover one side of a speaker, you would need a batch of 16 sheets just to cover the sides of a pair of speakers and more for the tops of the cabinets.  If you want a complete home theater in the same finish, you can easily see that the number of sheets you need may exceed the number available in a given batch.  And you can't simply add sheets from another batch to make up the difference as it is highly unlikely that they will match.

The second issue again relates to sheet sizes.  Let's say a sheet is 10" wide and the side of the cabinet is 12" deep.  This means you will have to splice two sheets together to cover the side panel.  So you would most likely book-match the pieces and splice them together.  This splice looks best when placed centered on the panel.  So you end up with four extra inches on both sides.  Once you trim them off, they are too small to use for anything else. 

So, not only do you have veneer that is more expensive per square foot to begin with, but you end up wasting quite a bit of it, driving up the cost for each square foot you actually use.

Nature can produce some fabulous looking woods and burls are among the most eye-catching.  But keep in mind that they are costly to begin with and even more costly when you consider that much of it may go to waste.   

To be continued...


jsalk

Working with crotch veneers
« Reply #2 on: 26 Nov 2009, 02:20 am »
Crotch veneers are another type with a great deal of appeal.  Crotch mahogany is a good example and has been highly sought after through the ages.

Like burls, crotch veneers present their own challenges.

Typically, you want the crotch pattern to cover an entire speaker panel.  So if you have a speaker that is 40" tall and you have crotch veneer sheets that are 38" long, they will do you no good.  You need at least 41" or so to allow for trimming.

If you look at crotch mahogany, you will see that it is often available in sheets sizes from 24" to 72" or more in length.  The look of individual batches can vary from somewhat interesting to truly amazing.  If the sheet you like is 72" long and 30" wide, you have to purchase eight sheets minimum just to cover a pair of speakers.  But of the 72" length, you will only be using 40".  And you won't need the 30" width either.

As with burls, the base price of a crotch veneer may be 5 times as expensive per square foot as a non-crotch version of the same species.  But that is just the beginning.  The final cost in a finished pair of speakers will also depend on the yield, as much of it may go to waste.

To be continued...

jsalk

Splicing veneers
« Reply #3 on: 26 Nov 2009, 02:30 am »
Some trees are large, some are small.  When they are sawed into veneer, you end up with very wide sheets and very narrow sheets.  So, very often, you need to splice veneer in order to end up with a panel large enough for the side of a speaker.

When we work with narrow sheets of veneer, we normally splice them in what is referred to as a book match. Imagine taking two sheets from a sequenced bundle of veneer and opening them like a book.  When the two sheets are spliced together in this fashion, one half appears as a mirror image of the other half.

Depending on how dramatic the grain and/or figuring is, you can end up with some rather striking patterns.

Most of the time when we splice veneer, it is because that particular veneer is not wide enough to cover the panel we are about to veneer.  But sometimes, even if the veneer is wide enough, we splice it anyway because the patterns created by a book match are so striking.

To be continued...

jsalk

Grain and figuring
« Reply #4 on: 26 Nov 2009, 02:42 am »
People are often confused about these two terms.  So I thought a few words here may help avoid miscommunication.

When you talk about wood grain, you are referring to the contrasting lines of color running through the wood.  Rosewood is a great example of a generally dramatic grain structure.  The blacks, browns, reds, oranges, and caramel colors create the striking grain patterns rosewood is known for.

On the other hand, take a wood like quilted maple.  The grain in maple is not usually very distinctive.  The contrast between the lighter and darker sections is not all that great.  But there is a three-dimensional quilted pattern running through the entire surface.  This visual aspect that makes wood appear to be three-dimensional is called figuring.

Some woods, like rosewood mentioned above, are known for their great grain patterns.  But they generally do not have much in the way of figuring.

Others woods, like fiddle-back maple, are known for their spectacular figuring, but generally do not have very dramatic grain structure.

Still others, like African bubinga, can have both a dramatic grain structure and fabulous figuring.

To be continued... 
« Last Edit: 26 Nov 2009, 04:27 am by jsalk »

jsalk

Coloring wood veneers
« Reply #5 on: 26 Nov 2009, 03:04 am »
We are often called upon to add color to a wood veneer.

There are two ways to do this - stain and dye.  Wood stains are often used because they are easy to work with.  Stains contain color pigments suspended in a volatile medium.  When you apply them to wood, the medium evaporates leaving the color pigment on the wood.

The problem with this approach is that pigments sit between you and the wood, partially obscuring the wood itself.

The other approach to coloring wood is through the use of aniline dye.  This is what we use.

Aniline dye actually colors the individual wood fibers.  It is a little harder to work with, but is virtually transparent and does not mask the natural beauty of the wood.  If the color dye you are using is natural (as opposed to green, purple, blue or the like), there is no way you can tell the wood was not that color to begin with.

Sometimes we will shoot a light coat of reddish dye on bubinga or rosewood.  This results is a much richer looking finish, but looks entirely natural.  Most of the time, however, coloring a dark wood is not the best idea.  It can get muddy looking quite fast.

You can add color to almost any lighter colored wood.  A reddish brown dye will make cherry look like its been around for years.  Straight mahogany is dyed almost all of the time.  And maple will take just about any color you can imagine (just look at the finishes on electric guitars these days).

One reason many people request a dyed finish is to match a specific piece of furniture.  In this case, having a sample in hand offers the best chance of getting a close match.  Unfortunately, that is not always possible.

So we often have customers take pictures of the pieces they are trying to match and we do the best we can.  The color balance of the camera and the color balance of the computer monitor we are viewing the photos on can produce a somewhat inaccurate depiction.  But most of the time, we are quite successful in matching colors this way.

Very often we receive emails from customers who emailed pictures to match and they report that the match is perfect.  But they also often comment on how much better the speakers look than the piece they were trying to match.  While it is not our intention, we can't help it if the speakers out-class their other furniture.

To be continued...

taoggniklat

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Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #6 on: 12 Jan 2010, 06:49 pm »
May I suggest that you put a sample picture of the "standard finishes" on your website? I understand that photos are never 100% accurate of the true color and finish, but at least it might help with a general idea.

jsalk

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #7 on: 12 Jan 2010, 07:34 pm »
May I suggest that you put a sample picture of the "standard finishes" on your website? I understand that photos are never 100% accurate of the true color and finish, but at least it might help with a general idea.

Good idea.  We have published many pictures of speakers done in many veneers, but it would be helpful to have a page with just pics of our standard veneers.  I just need to get some time to do it.

- Jim

pelliott321

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Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #8 on: 9 Nov 2010, 03:50 pm »
slightly off topic...but
I really enjoyed your set up at Capital Audio Fest this summer.  I thought  your sound was best/most realistic/least colored at the show.  Thanks for the treat.
any way besides the great sound I was impressed with finish.  could spend a few words on what you do to finish the wood

jsalk

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #9 on: 9 Nov 2010, 08:03 pm »
slightly off topic...but
I really enjoyed your set up at Capital Audio Fest this summer.  I thought  your sound was best/most realistic/least colored at the show.  Thanks for the treat.
any way besides the great sound I was impressed with finish.  could spend a few words on what you do to finish the wood

I'd be glad to.

The first step, and perhaps the most important, is to sand the veneer properly in prepration for finishing.  We normally sand flat to about 150 grit.  This is enough to get things nice and flat and still leave it rough enough for the sealer to adhear properly.

The step consuming the most time and labor is applying sealer coats.  We normally apply about 3 - 4 coats and let them cure for a day or two.  We then sand the surface flat and repeat that process.  It normally takes about 3 - 4 of these sessions (sometimes more with deep-grained woods) before we are able to sand the surface flat to 400 - 600 grit with all the grain filled.

Once we have this surface ready for final topcoat, it all depends on what type of finish we are going for. 

For our standard satin fininsh, we shoot about 5 - 6 coats of gloss lacquer, sanding out dust particles (and using a tack cloth) between coats. We then top it off a final coat of satin lacquer. We then wait about 45 minutes after which we take 1500 - 2000 grit and sand out any remaining dust particles we can find.  Once this is done, we spray a combination lacquer thinner and retarder to re-melt the final topcoat and remove any 2000-grit sanding marks.

If we are hand rubbing to high gloss, we typically shoot about 5 - 6 coats of high gloss poly for the final topcoat.  Then, after allowing it to cure for a few days, we sand at 600, 1000, 1500 and 3000 grit before using rubbing compounds to bring it up to a high-gloss finish. This is very labor intensive (and expensive) process but produces a spectacular fininsh.

I hope that answers your question.

- Jim
« Last Edit: 9 Nov 2010, 11:26 pm by jsalk »

pelliott321

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Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #10 on: 9 Nov 2010, 09:29 pm »
wow thats a lot of work but I saw the results, spectacular!

I have been sanding down to 400 or 600 grit then numerous coats of linseed applied with 0000 steel wool wiping excess between coats.  I wait 24 hrs between coats the final coat of wax buffed.  i get a nice sheen not glossy, real good feel.  This was on solid paduak not veneer. I am worried about too much sanding on veneer since I went through it once.
 

Cacophonix

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #11 on: 9 Nov 2010, 09:59 pm »
Awesome insight, Jim! No wonder your speakers look the way they do. Audio artistry at its finest!

Do you use raw or backed veneer? How do you stop veneer from cracking? The few times I've used raw veneer, they all crack pretty badly ...

mark funk

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #12 on: 9 Nov 2010, 10:03 pm »
WOW, that is a lot of work and it shows! My HT2-TLs look beautiful! I am glad my wife and Martyo talked me into a veneer. I was going to get black.  :o


                                                                                     :smoke:

jsalk

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #13 on: 9 Nov 2010, 11:25 pm »
Quote
I am worried about too much sanding on veneer since I went through it once.

Yes, you do have to be careful.  When I first started, sand-thru's were a problem.  Now, not so much.

Quote
Do you use raw or backed veneer? How do you stop veneer from cracking? The few times I've used raw veneer, they all crack pretty badly ...

We use only raw veneer.  Backed veneer is more expensive and the choices are extremely limited.  What's more, it is possible for the veneer to de-laminate from the backing over time.  Finally, backed veneer is VERY thin and extremely prone to sand-thru's.  We simply do not like backed veneers.

We use veneer presses and have relatively few problems with cracking. (I have never had any luck using any other method to apply raw veneer.) On some "problem" veneers, we use a glycerin/alcohol/water/wood glue mixture to soften the veneer before putting it in the press. This allows it to expand and contract in localized areas without cracking.  You can also use veneer tape across the grain on the ends of the panels.  This prevents them from expanding and then contracting leaving cracks.

- Jim

ArthurDent

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Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #14 on: 10 Nov 2010, 03:14 pm »
Thanks Jim. Informative, and interesting read on the processes involved behind the exquisite audio-visual works of craftsmanship you provide us with.  :thumb:

bigbang

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #15 on: 7 Jul 2012, 07:49 am »
What's the story on burled/flamed pieces over time developing "issues"? I've seen it mentioned more than a few times now about what sounds like the "burl" seperates somehow either with the rest of the piece and/or clear if applicable?

jsalk

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #16 on: 7 Jul 2012, 10:48 am »
Wood is a natural material that expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity.  Since veneer is sliced thin, it does it to a much lesser extent than thicker solid wood.  But this movement still takes place (think of wood warping over time).

With burls and other woods with dramatic grain patterns, the grain is not straight.  So as the wood expands and contracts, it does so in many directions at the same time.

There are special two-part glues that can be used to minimize the effect, but there is nothing that can prevent it.  If you look at any older furniture with burls, crotches and highly figured woods, you will see very tiny cracks developing over time.  With straight grained woods, the wood generally moves in one or two directions, so it is not as great an issue.

With the addition of finishes, it gets even more complicated.

The ideal finish would be very hard and quite flexible.  These two attributes, however, are generally mutually exclusive.  We use a poly sealer that is quite flexible and can move with the wood.  But materials like this are soft and don't provide much protection.  They scratch very easily.  So for final topcoat, you want something that is much harder, resists scratches and provides better protection. 

Lacquer is a hard, durable topcoat that provides good protection and is used a great deal for furniture.  But it is not all that  flexible.  So when the veneer moves a great deal in all directions (as with burls and other highly figured woods), it can develop tiny cracks just like the wood itself.  The harder and more protective the surface is, the more likely it will develop tiny cracks, especially when the underlying veneer moves in all directions at the same time. 

With all of that said, each type of wood behaves differently.  Some woods are harder, some are softer.  Some move a lot and others not as much.  While you cannot eliminate movement, it you want to minimize the effect, go with a straight grain wood with little variation in the grain pattern (go boring) and steer clear of crotches, burls and other woods with dramatic grain patterns.  On the other hand, these highly figured woods with dynamic grain patters can be visually stunning. But they do tend to keep furniture re-finishers in business.

I hope this made sense.

- Jim




bigbang

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #17 on: 7 Jul 2012, 06:53 pm »
It does, thanks a buch!

So if I did order crotch or burl, is it required to seal it? Can it be left au naturale with just a bit of oil or the like or maybe just the poly sealer? Or does this create it's own set of issues?

jsalk

Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #18 on: 8 Jul 2012, 09:50 pm »
It does, thanks a buch!

So if I did order crotch or burl, is it required to seal it? Can it be left au naturale with just a bit of oil or the like or maybe just the poly sealer? Or does this create it's own set of issues?

You can't really just use sealer.  It is too soft and you would still have the same issues.  You can do an oil finish (we don't do them) if you'd like. With oil, you probably would have to re-oil about once a year.  In this case, we would provide the speakers unfinished.

- Jim

tknx

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Re: Choosing veneers
« Reply #19 on: 3 Nov 2014, 11:39 pm »
Curious if you had ever done iron sulfate acid washes?