If you've ever handled highly figured veneer, you know that it can be stiff, brittle and prone to cracking, much like a potato chip. In fact, it can be shaped like a potato chip, too. You can't work with it this way.
In order to cut a sheet of veneer into smaller pieces and fit the pieces into a precise pattern, the veneer has to be rendered flat and pliable. Fortunately, that's easy to do. You just have to wet it with a homemade sizing solution, then squeeze it in a press.
Make the size by preparing a mixture of 50% water, 20% denatured alcohol, 20% glycerine and 10% liquid hide glue (see Sources, below).
Prepare the press by cutting two sheets of 3/4" melamine large enough to accommodate the veneer. Cut two pieces of nylon screen mesh (the kind used for screen windows) about the same size as the melamine. In addition, obtain some plain newsprint (it's available at art supply stores).
Assemble the lower half of the press (Photo 1). Pour the sizing solution into a spray bottle. Spray both sides of the veneer, so it's thoroughly soaked. Place the veneer on the press (Photo 2). Add the top half of the press and clamp (Photo 3).
The mesh allows the passage of both moisture and air to dry the veneer. The mesh also prevents the newsprint from sticking to the veneer. The newsprint absorbs the excess size, while the MDF keeps everything nice and flat.
Change the newsprint after 12 hours. Remove the veneer from the press after 24 hours. It should be flat and flexible enough to bend slightly without breaking. It should also be easy to cut without chipping (Photo 4). If the veneer isn't flat or soft enough, repeat the treatment.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
Antique Refinishers, oldbrownglue.com, 619-298-0864, 5 oz. bottle, $8; 20 0z. bottle, $20.
MedLab Supply, medical-and-lab-supplies.com, 800-660-5998, Glycerin, 1 liter, $8.50.
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Make a press for flattening the veneer. Each half of the press is composed of a sheet of 3/4" melamine, a few pieces of plain newsprint and a piece of screen mesh.
2. Spray the veneer with a mixture of water, alcohol, glycerine and glue. Place the wet veneer in the press.
3. Add the top half of the press and clamp. Change the paper after 12 hours; remove the veneer after 24 hours.
4. The result should be veneer that's absolutely flat and pliable enough to be trimmed without chipping.