The secrets of woodworking Part 2: veneers and burls

In our previous post we discussed the value and beauty of some of Martin's favorite solid woods-- cherry and walnut.  But the creation of custom furniture often requires the use of veneers to arrive at the desired pattern or design. As the name suggests, veneers are very thinly sliced cuts of a tree.  This cutting or milling, is a smart way to use woods, particularly when the wood is exotic or rare.  The tree or log is cut and milled depending on the individual tree's character.  For example, some are plain sliced while others are quartered.  This decision is made based on what is desirable and in demand at the time.  It is a bit like cuts of meat; some sections are more prime or choice than others.  Unlike meat, however, the beauty and preference of a cut is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Once the tree is cut the veneer slices are called "leaves".  These leaves are sequenced and bundled together and those bundles are also sequenced.  Each bundle has anywhere from 16 to 24 leaves and we will typically use anywhere from 1 to 2 bundles to create a star burst design.

One of our favorite veneers is a thinly sliced burl wood veneer, often taken from the root of the tree.  These veneers are prized for their tightness of the burl, or swirl, and for the consistency of the color.  However, in designing our Hedgerow dining table we chose myrtle burls that were not so tight, offering more variation of color with hues ranging from dark chocolate brown to a golden honey color.  This allows us to create a more striking starburst design as you can see in this stunning photo of the tabletop.

  • Hedgerow tabletop starburst design crafted of burl wood veneers by Martin Pierce custom Hardware

When we began designing the Hedgerow Table we had a mental picture of how we wanted the starburst to look and the color range we were looking for so we contacted several milling companies and looked at live samples ( a sample from the actual tree) of the myrtle burl logs  that were available. We had to choose a log that gave us the “figuring” or burl clusters and color but were also wide enough to allow us to position our “pie” template and then select the best section from the bundle of leaves to create the stunning pattern.  While it is very expensive, we will typically buy an entire log so that we have some consistency in the look of our tables.  However, it will still be necessary to explain to clients that each table top is unique as it is made from individual bundles and the pie template is always positioned according to the specific properties of that bundle. Fortunately, as the leaves and bundles are sequenced, consecutive sibling bundles will be closer to each other in properties than later bundles, making it somewhat easier to select the right woods for each individual table or project.

For those of you who are interested in more detailed information about veneers and other veneer terms, you can find helpful facts at

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