Re-sawing Your Own Veneer - Working with Veneer, Part 3

There are many reasons that you may want to re-saw your own veneer especially if you do marquetry. One that is important to me is that commercial veneer today is all sliced and mostly all 1/42” or less in thickness.

I won’t get into the pros and cons of sawn vs sliced veneer here but suffice to say that boiling logs for days and then forcing the veneers to make a sharp turn at the knife doesn’t do the wood a whole lot of favours

Thickness becomes important when you want to put a high finish on your work and need to sand it perfectly flat. French polish is not kind to uneven or otherwise imperfect surfaces. When you have only a 42nd of an inch to play with sand-through is inevitable sooner or later.

For the above reasons I prefer to use 1.5 mm (1/16”) sawn veneer for projects that I am putting a lot of time into. The results are worth all the extra work and expense many times over.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity a few years ago to visit Les Fils de J George in Paris, one of the last places left where you can buy thick sawn veneer in a wide range of exotic species. I bought all I could afford and it was worth every dime, however their stock is no longer what it once was and there were a number of species that I wanted that they just didn’t have.

If you are willing to pay the price, there are many very rare and exotic woods still available as board stock, giving you the chance to saw your own veneer. In the next project I am planning I will need Tulipwood, Boxwood, Barberry, and European Pear. I was able to find all of these from various sources in the USA.

So much for the back story, let’s see how you go about cutting really expensive wood into really thin pieces without wasting toooo much.

Disclaimer: Lots of people do this and everyone has their own way. If their way produces good veneer it is a good way. I think mine is one of the right ways but it is unlikely it is the only one.

Assuming your bandsaw already cuts square to the table, step one is to set it up to account for the drift of the blade. Drift is the tendency of bandsaw blades to cut in a line that is not always parallel to the table. This is a quirk of the individual blade and is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just something that you have to account for. There are fences available, at a price, that handle this with high precision but since I am working with a ShopSmith at the moment I made my own. It isn’t hard.

The first photo shows that the fence is simply a quick plywood construction about 5” high that can be clamped to the table.

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The second shows a little cleat that I have added on the bottom that can lock in position to set the fence at a consistent angle to the table each time it is moved.

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In the next, I have placed a wide piece of masking tape to the left of my blade.

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Start by freehand cutting a line parallel to the edge of a small board. Go slowly and follow the line as well as you can. When the board is fully on the table, stop the saw and don’t let the board move. Mark the tape along the side of the board.

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Loosen the cleat, line the fence up to the pencil line and tighten the cleat. Your fence should now be close to the angle of drift. If you are lucky it will be right on.

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Now run a trial piece through the saw and see how it cuts. If it seems to be moving away from the fence or it seems to bind, you will need to adjust. I have the adjustments noted right on my fence as it can be confusing to get the right fix sometimes. Just a few taps with a hammer should make the fine adjustment necessary. Then reset the cleat.

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At this point you can set the fence up to 1/16” and cut away but I prefer to cut on the outside of the blade, preserving the “clean side” next to the fence. Cutting inside the blade allows for the compounding of the tiny errors.

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In the next photo I am using a piece of veneer that I already had as a gauge to set for the next cut. This is OK for a few cuts but there is a better way.

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Here I have set up a simple bearing attached to a bit of plywood. It is just over 1/16” outside the blade. You just move the fence, with your board, up against the bearing (making sure the cleat is snuggly on the front of the table) and clamp it to the table. This will allow repeated cuts of exactly the same width without compounding any small discrepancies.

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This is the push shoe that I use on small pieces.

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These are some of the pieces I cut for the new project. They are Barberry, Redheart, Padauk, Amaranth (Purplehert), and Tulipwood.

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To be absolutely sure that all my veneers are the same thickness before starting the marquetry, I will run them all through the drum sander to standardize them just that last little bit.

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So that is the way I do it. It’s not that hard and you get something that you just can’t buy.

Paul is the founder and instructor at The Canadian School Of French Marquetry (Facebook)