Introduction: Twisted Wood Veneer Art

About: A husband & wife team. Amateur makers. Expert high fivers. New video every week (or so).

We made large-scale wood art using twisted veneer! We were inspired by an artist we follow on Instagram (@laura_made_it) who did a similar technique with veneer, and we were dying to try our hand at it and put together a tutorial that others could follow too. We love how this turned out and think it'd work great large scale or small scale, in different orientations, or with different colors. Here are the tools and materials we used:

For the art itself:

For the frame:

Step 1: Practice Tests

We recommend doing a fewwww practice tests on a small scale first to figure out your design. There are a few design options to consider/explore, so we'll list a few here you might want to consider:

  • You could paint the plywood backing
  • You could leave the veneer unpainted
  • You could paint both sides of the veneer
  • You could do one color or multiple colors
  • You could use different veneer woods (like birch veneer mixed with walnut veneer)

We decided to paint the back of the veneer, which for us was covered in glue since we were using edge banding, and we left our plywood unpainted because it was really pretty as-is. Try some variations out with some spare strips of veneer and scrap backing (we used brown paper but you could use cardboard or anything you have on hand).

While you’re figuring out your design it might also be a good idea to test glue a few strips down! When we tested, it made us realize that the paint kinda melted off of the edge banding glue due to the heat of the hot glue. So that meant we needed to leave a small end of edge banding unpainted, and we had to generally be careful so the hot glue didn't melt the veneer glue.

Step 2: Cut Strips

First (real) step is cutting all your veneer strips! We measured the width of our backing and the width of one strip, and found that we would need 57 to go across if they're bumped up right next to each other. We definitely recommend cutting at least a few extras! We ended up using 59 + scrapping a couple more due to glue mishaps.

Also, cut them a little long (2-3” extra or so) to account for the twist. Leaving them long also helps clean up the edges later.

Remember in the last step when we mentioned the paint affected the glue bond? Well to remedy that, on the glue-side of the edge banding (the side we'd be painting) we taped off a few inches on one end (the end that would be attached to the backing glue-side down). We used painters tape so it would not leave a residue on our veneer. Our tape was wider than the veneer which helped since the glue side of the edge banding didn’t stick well to the tape.

Step 3: ​Paint Strips

Wooo, this part is satisfying! Next up we painted our veneer strips. Here are a few tips if you're going to paint yours too:

  1. Bend them backwards so they lay flat (ours came on a roll and kept wanting to curl)
  2. Use a board to anchor them on one end (the end you taped off, so you don't have to worry about the board blocking paint). This helps them no blow away!
  3. Have a light hand with the spray paint. We started with a light coat of gold, then added the blush on one side and teal on the other, fading them in as they move towards the center. But we didn't want it to look too saturated (or like it belonged in a nursery) so we did multiple, really light passes. We even went back over a couple spots with more gold when we thought they were a little too saturated with color.

Step 4: Reinforce Plywood Backing (option)

This step is optional and depends on what thickness of plywood you get for your backing (and how over-engineered you want your project to be... ahem). Our backing was pretty thin (1/4") and had some curve to it, so we added a 1x4 frame around the outer edge of the back side of the backing. We did mitered corners on our miter saw since you'd be able to see them from the outside and we attached it to the backing with glue and screws.

Then we cut 4 small triangles to use as corner brackets and screwed those into the outer frame. This gave it a lot of structure, but it still flexed a little bit diagonally, so we added some wide crossbeams going diagonal across the back. These we glued to the backing and screwed into the outer frame (and we also cut them all on our miter saw)

An alternative is to get thicker plywood that already has a nice veneer face, it'll just be a little more expensive. We used scrap inch-thick material we already had on hand because we didn't want to add too much additional thickness, but you can probably use whatever scrap wood you have already.

Step 5: Attach Veneer

Next up we hot glued the veneer strips to the front of the backing. We made sure not to start the veneer too close to the sides because we didn't want the frame to press down on the twist. This step is definitely faster with a buddy, but totally doable solo if you have a little more patience. This is how we did it:

  1. We sat on opposite ends of the backing
  2. Evan would apply hot glue to the wood
  3. He'd press his side of the veneer onto it
  4. I'd apply hot glue to my side of the backing.
  5. I'd twist the veneer
  6. After waiting just a sec for my glue to cool a bit, I'd press my end of the veneer into the backing

Gluing the veneer down with the glue-side down was really easy since the hot glue activated the adhesive on the veneer and we could press down firmly (Evan's side). When the glue and paint side was facing up we had to be a little careful (Katelyn's side). The heat from the hot glue activated the glue on the veneer so we had to let the hot glue cool off a bit before pressing down.

This might not be an issue if your hot glue gun is not as hot as ours or if you can adjust its temperature. Also, every so often measure how much ground you've covered on both ends to make sure your spacing is even.

Step 6: Prep for Frame

There are 2 things we did before adding the front frame:

  1. Break off the extra veneer. It's really easy if you have some overhang since you can just bend them down and up and they just snap off. If you don't have enough to bend and snap, you can use scissors to cut it
  2. Add some extra veneer to the ends (where you previously avoided placing veneer so that the frame wouldn't smash the twist). This is so that there is not a gap on two sides of the front frame

Step 7: Build Frame

Lastly we made the frame! The front-facing frame, not to be confused with the back-reinforcing frame haha. We used 1x2's and cut them on our miter saw to give them mitered corners. Then we set up 4 right angle clamps and glued the corners together. This probably would have been plenty sturdy since we planned to screw the frame into the backing, but we knew in the future we might have to remove the frame if we ever have to replace a veneer strip or something, so we wanted it to be sturdy enough to handle when not attached to the backing too.

So we reinforced it by embedding dowels in the mitered corners. We cut out a 1 inch circle using a 1" forstner bit on our drill press about 1/4" into the wood. Then we cut a 1 inch dowel to 1/4" thick, and glued it into the hole.

Step 8: Finish and Attach Frame

We filled any gaps with wood putty and sanded it down with our random orbit sander, first using a higher grit to make sure the dowels were flush, then giving the whole thing a once-over with a higher grit. Then we finished it with one coat of shellac since it won't see much wear and tear. Shellac raises the grain, so we gave it one last light sanding with 600 grit sandpaper.

To attach the frame, we clamped it in place against the face of the art and screwed it in from the back. It helped to raise the whole thing up on blocks so we didn't smash the art while doing this - that would have been bad!

We added hanging hardware (one piece went on the art, and one went on the wall). We used this one and followed the instructions to attach it. Just make sure whatever you use is rated to hold enough weight.

Step 9: Enjoy!

Woooo! We love this art piece! It makes such a big statement and we couldn't be happier with how it turned out :)