The secrets of woodworking Part 3: specialized wood and veneers

If you have read our previous posts in this series on woodworking then you are familiar with veneers and solid woods and how the selection process is made by Martin Pierce. This takes us to specialized veneers like Tamo, English brown oak and Myrtle burl. Tamo

We started our search for Tamo around the year 2000 when we were just beginning to develop our Seicho designs.  We were seeking a veneer that was pale in color and had a strong directional quality  for the armoire designs we had in mind.  We found this remarkable veneer at Herzog Veneer, a supplier of rare and exotic woods.  Tamo is, coincidentally, given the name of a line of Japanese Ash and typically prized for it’s busy “peanut” clusters of swirly grain. We found 4 logs that had a beautiful luminescent quality caused by the unusual fiddle back character of the grain.  There was just one problem, the logs were of special value to Herzog as they had been in the family  for decades, dating back to the 1950’s when the owner acquired them in Europe before relocating to the US.  Herzog  did not want to sell just one log so we bought all 4 logs and then had to build a wood shed just to house them.  However, we have made extensive use of this veneer ever since. Due to the relatively old age of the trees, milled some time before 1950, the veneer is really quite thick, measuring over 1/32” thick whereas most veneers today are typically 1/64”.

English Brown Oak

We also like to use logs of English brown oak as opposed to American red or white oak. We prefer the amber color with the dark brown spots of the English brown oak over the America Red.  English brown oak is the prime wood used in all of our Ascot japanned pieces and the brown oak is the background over which we create our autumnal  leaves.

Ascot sideboard with vine japanning detail from Martin Pierce Custom Hardware


The oak's brown color is as a result of a parasitic fungus that makes its home in the tree. Thankfully, this fungus does not kill the tree, simply turns its color to a warm brown amber color.  When buying a log of this wood species we are looking for the right color and also for logs that have been cut into quarter sawn.  In this instance, the tree is cut into quarters and then milled into veneer. Because the tree is quartered the veneer has a very straight direction grain and we use this feature to run the grain vertically on most of our tallboys and armoires.  In the sideboard shown above we use the quartered walnut and we lay it up vertically to create a strong straight direction that helps reinforce the upward growth of the Aspen trees. 

When choosing this veneer we also try to locate logs that have “leoparding”, a fleck of darker color in the wood that adds to its character.  It is so named because the flecks look a lot like leopard spots.

We have covered only a small portion of veneer terminology.  For those interested in other veneer terms you can check out this site:  And for those hobbyists who do not want to buy a whole log, Certainly Wood offers an outstanding wood veneer selection to meet your needs.

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