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Does Veneer Mean Cheap?

We often hear a thought that sounds something like this:  “Veneer? Isn’t that stuff crap?”  There is a somewhat widespread belief that furniture with a wood veneer is of a lower quality, or worth less than its solid wood counterpart. I would like to dispel this outright. Furniture with a wood veneer is not necessarily cheaper, or of lower quality than a solid wood piece.

To preface, I can understand where this thought might come from. Colloquially, we use the term “veneer” to refer to something, or someone, with a superficially valuable appearance or quality, i.e. a FAKE! Someone might say “Brendan is a mean jerk who disguises himself with a veneer of kindness.” Meaning that any kindness he displays is only to hide his rotten core. So it is easy to see why someone might translate this usage of the word to the furniture world and think that veneer must mean “superficial” or “fake”, but in the furniture world this is just not the case.

There are many instances where a wood veneer might not only be acceptable, but actually preferable. For instance, a burled look on a table is only possible by taking a tree growth known as a burl, and slicing it into many thin pieces to use as veneer. 

Check out this gnarly tree burl.

Turns into this beauty.

Additionally, solid wood pieces are often more prone to warp and crack from humidity and temperature changes. When a veneer is placed over a composite substrate it is far more resilient to humidity and temperature fluctuation, and therefore much less likely to warp or crack.

This solid piece warped and cracked.

Veneer provides the latitude to create beautiful furniture that would not otherwise be possible with a solid piece of wood. There are very high quality pieces of furniture that use veneer, and very low quality pieces of furniture that are built from solid wood, and vice-versa. What really matters is the skill of the manufacturer and the quality of the materials they use. And yes, wood veneer furniture CAN be refinished. You just have to be a little more careful.

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