Manufacturers make the most of wood veneers

When consumers shop for wood furniture, the tag probably emphasizes the price of the piece versus details such as wood species or finish. If they want those details they’ll likely have to ask the salesperson or look it up online.MAHACR-16122-574-close

How much detail the consumer walks away with largely depends on the salesperson’s knowledge of the product or whether the consumer even cares enough to ask the question in the first place.

For an industry that bases its success on the use of certain wood materials in the finished product, it would seem critical to communicate that story in some fashion, particularly if manufacturers and retailers want consumers to pay more for a particular wood product, whether it’s a bed or dining table.

This week, Furniture/Today begins the first of a two-part look at the types of woods used in furniture. The first installment looks at the most common veneers, domestic and imported. Next week’s issue will look at the most commonly used solid wood species.

Download a quick guide to common Domestic and imported veneers

So what is a veneer? It’s a very thinly sliced wood that varies in thickness depending on how it’s used. With veneers, wood processors maximize the amount of raw material generated from a tree, thereby allowing more of the tree to be used on more finished product.

The 84-inch round Cabildo table by Councill has a figured mahogany field with a crotch mahogany star pattern in the center.

The 84-inch round Cabildo table by Councill has a figured mahogany field with a crotch mahogany star pattern in the center.

In furniture, veneers range from 1/42-inch to 1/28-inch thick, according to Greensboro, N.C.-based Columbia Forest Products. This material is typically glued onto medium density fiberboard or particleboard on tabletops, headboards and footboards, drawer fronts and side panels.

Some imported species, such as crotch mahogany, ebony, sycamore, rosewood and zebrawood, are more decorative and more often found at upper-middle to upper-end price points.

Other domestic species such as oak, pine, birch and maple, while beautiful to look at, are not as dressy and may find their way onto more middle to lower-priced case goods.

Much of this material was once processed in the U.S. and some still is. However, as the case goods industry migrated to Asia, so did the veneer industry. Kip Howlett, president of the Hardwood Plywood Veneer Assn., estimated that the domestic veneer industry has probably about half the capacity it had 10 years ago. Many companies, he said, have gone out of business and their equipment “is busy at work in China.”

The Nordic chest is part of Century Furniture's Artefact Collection designed by  John Black. It has a satin marble top and features book matched mahogany and guarea crotch veneers.

The Nordic chest is part of Century Furniture’s Artefact Collection designed by John Black. It has a satin marble top and features book matched mahogany and guarea crotch veneers.

According to U.S. government data, hardwood log exports to China have grown in recent years, rising from $168.9 million in 2009 to about $269.4 million in 2013. In order of importance, commonly exported species include red oak, white oak, walnut, cherry and ash, Howlett said.

An informal survey Howlett did with several of the remaining domestic veneer producers showed that the top domestic varieties sold to the furniture industry include maple, red oak, walnut, alder, poplar and pine. Other domestic varieties the producers identified include cherry, hickory, aspen, birch and red cedar as well as ash, white oak, pecan, beech, sycamore and fir.



Workers match veneers at Theodore Alexander's plant in Vietnam.

Workers match veneers at Theodore Alexander’s plant in Vietnam.








Imported varieties the producers identified include mahogany, zebrawood, anegre, tanoak/cucumbertree and sapele/cocobolo. Other imported varieties include tigerwood, rosewood, avodire, primavera, ebony, wenge, bamboo and eucalyptus.


Sam and Sabrina Parisette-Herzog show a sample of crotch mahogany veneer at the High Point facility of their company, Herzog Veneers

Herzog Veneers is a High Point-based supplier of 150 types of domestic, exotic, rare, recomposed and dyed veneers. Founded in 1982, the company did as much as 80% of its business with furniture companies during the ’80s and ’90s. That dropped to about 10% by the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Now, furniture has once again crept back to 40-50% of its business, with architects, interior planners, homeowners, panel manufacturers and aircraft and boat manufacturers representing the remainder.

Of the veneers it sells to the furniture industry, 60% are used in furniture made overseas, while 40% are used in domestic production.

Since 2000, much of its business is done through its website, which provides real time information about the species it carries in its inventory.

“It is global now,” said Sam Parisette-Herzog, vice president of Herzog Veneers. “When we started showing on the net, we realized it can go anywhere.”

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