Veneer my Wooden Computer Case General Woodworking
Some time ago, I bought veneer on Ebay – smaller pieces, several sheets in each bundle. I thought it was a very good deal and that it would come in handy for some smaller projects. I never did do anything with them and when I started the computer case, I thought I could use some of it for that.
There are eight species – red oak, black walnut, cherry, pear, sapele, jatoba, lacewood, and maple:
My first idea was to use only one or two of these, to form some sort of pattern and went looking for inspiration (google images is good for this). I found nothing that really caught my eye but following a side track while doing this, I saw something that looked really neat and thought I could do something similar. Basically, it was a large block that was made up of many smaller wooden blocks, all neatly fitted together, similar to a big rectangular shaped burr puzzle.
I started to do a mock-up in SketchUp, but quickly lost interest – a bit too tedious to keep track of the sizes and types. I decided just go ahead and do it – starting in one corner and work my way around the box, while keeping an eye on consistency.
The first ‘block’ is red oak, in the bottom left-hand corner. I’m cutting the pieces so the grain is diagonal and is matched at the corner:
My cutting tools: a square, measuring tape and sharp knife. Good to have a piece of scrap plywood to do the cutting on.
One piece will go on the front face, the other on the adjacent side, to form what will look like a solid block, about 8″ high by 6″ wide.
For many, veneering is akin to religion and the choice of glue is to be found in scripture, as decreed by the ancients, who in turn were instructed by a higher power. If you are one of those, stop reading here!
Somewhat tongue in cheek, but not without basis in fact. The use of contact cement would be a non-starter for most (all?) veneering gurus. It is generally thought to be an unacceptable means of attaching veneer. There are valid reasons for this and there are some that could be attributed to misuse or poorly prepped material. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with it and don’t have a problem using it or recommending it. There are some rules I follow to get good results and tricks I’ve learned, and I’ll share those as I go along.
Worth mentioning is that contact cement has limitations: It’s not going to be a good choice for highly figured veneer or veneer that is warped or wavy.
For raw veneer that is flat (like I’m using), or paper backed, contact cement is fine. For best results on all types of veneers, a vacuum system is recommended and slow setting, resin based glues. This can be costly though and for most smaller projects, is not needed.
First, I pour some from the full can into an empty paint can. This is undiluted solvent based contact cement. Mistake #1: thinning the glue. It is ready to use, straight from the can – don’t thin it.
I’ve put enough in the can to keep the bristles of the brush completely submerged. This is very important – it keeps the brush ‘wet’ with glue as you use it, so that it doesn’t stick or clump up.
I’m using a good
3″ wide paint brush. Mistake #2 is using a cheap, crappy brush or (worse still) a roller. A good quality brush lays the glue on smoother, which is important to the final results:
I cut a piece of cardboard to cover the can when it is not being used. This slows evaporation. It’s notched for the handle of the brush:
Here’s the first piece, cut to size and glued in place. I did one coat on the side panel and one coat on the veneer. Working with a properly prepared surface (primed and sanded smooth) and using undiluted glue with a good brush, this is all you will need. I let the glue dry for about 10 minutes then pressed the veneer on with a j-roller. Use lots of pressure! The piece overhangs the edge by a small amount, and before adding the next one on the adjacent side, I sand it down flush with the surface with my sanding block:
I’ve added a cherry ‘block’ above the oak and getting ready to make a sapele block next to it.
For every veneering job, you need to decide how the veneer will lap on the corners. On this one, I want the front veneer to lap over the side veneer, so I do the side first, then the front. On this box, I’m going back and forth, between the side and the front. I do a couple pieces on the side, then two on the front.
Lacewood on the door:
It’s a slow progression around the box. The pieces are cut to fit fairly precisely, but for this, they don’t have to be perfect. I’ll be forming a seam between each piece, to complete the illusion of separate blocks of wood.
Time to move up to the top of the case, and this is a walnut ‘block’ in the top corner. After the veneer is placed, I’ll use the knife to cut the seam where the top is removable.:
I continue with a lacewood ‘block’ in the right corner. Deciding what size and which species of wood to use as I go. I made it so that each side has all eight and the ‘blocks’ were all in a consistent range of sizes:
Front and sides complete, just need to finish the top:
And it’s done!
I’ll admit, it took much longer than I expected to get this done. But I think the results speak for themselves – it’s very much as I originally envisioned it.
To make these patches look more like solid block, I need to create ‘seams’. To do this, I free-hand cut a v-groove between each piece with a sharp knife. This is tricky and I went slow, being careful not to over cut or slip:
After the v-groove was cut, I sanded it, using a specially made sanding block made to fit in the seams.
When one section of the sanding disk gets worn, I rotate it to a fresh piece:
These seams are the right size but need to be darker. I found that the best way to do this was to use a fine point marker, and just draw lines in the bottom of each cut:
The finish will blur and blend these lines, making them look more authentic. Incredibly, the marker still works after this!
I sanded the entire box with 220 grit paper:
For a finish, I used a blend of linseed oil, polyurethane and mineral spirits brushed on then wiped off. This Danish oil mix gives the protection I want but doesn’t build a thick film – I like the texture of the wood to show. Its solvent doesn’t attack the contact cement, unlike some other finishes (lacquer, for instance). This is another rather common mistake when using contact cement – using a finish that will weaken the glue bond.
After the first coat dries (about 24 hours), I sand with 400 grit and give it another coat. I find three or four coats is good for items like this that won’t see a lot of abuse.
Here’s a close-up look at those seams. Looks good and the marker trick worked really well.
An interesting project, and the end result justifies the time it took to do this. I’m very pleased with the outcome.