Introduction: How I Use Wood Veneers (With a Nod Toward Trompe L'Oeil)

About: I am an artist, educator, tinkerer, and repurposer, err, recycler.

I am an artist and I often incorporate wood veneers, Japanese papers, as well as printed matter into my work. I am also interested in book structures and printmaking and the pieces I create usually contain elements of each. Over the years these pieces have grown more sculptural and although I have moved away from making things that look more traditionally like a book, these works often contain folded paper "pages."

I have always wanted to document the process of making a work and it seems that is the perfect venue. In addition to taking you through the steps of making a piece I'll show you how I use wood veneers.

Step 1: Tools and Materials List

Snap-off blade cutting knife
Extra blades

Scalpel with #11 blades

24 inch or longer cork-backed straight edge and ruler

Mechanical pencil or a well sharpened number 2 pencil


Pony clamp or other spring action clamp

Seamless cutting mat

1/2 and 1 inch bristle brush

Foam brushes

Burnishing tools: bone or horn folders

Weights such as a paper covered bricks


Wood veneer - I use a Lenderink ( product called Paperwood or Wood paper. It is a micro thin veneer

Starched cheesecloth (tarletan) (

Japanese rice paper

150 grit sandpaper

400 grit wet/dry sandpaper

White or cream color 4 ply Museum Board

Elmer's glue, SOBO brand or other white flexible glue

1/8 inch book binder's board

Water-based urethane

Step 2: Deciding on the Design

I always make a few sketches and then transfer the one I like directly onto the book board or museum board and then cut out the main shape. This part will become the front of the piece.

The work I am making for this instructable will also have an opening or recessed chamber in the center.

It may be a bit of a stretch to call this a book although it will eventually have "pages" and a "cover."

Step 3: Creating the Recess

The first step is to create the chamber in the front of the piece.

This work has a certain amount of asymmetry to it so I have decided that the the center shape will have a similar organic quality . The piece I've cut out will become the floor of the chamber, so it is not thrown away. Also, I have found that it is best to apply the veneer to this part before moving on. After the chamber walls have been created it is much harder to accurately cut the veneer to fit. I always use a brush to apply the glue, then using a bone folder, I burnish the veneer to insure a tight bond. Then I trim away the excess.

Once this part has been veneered I can create the walls. To do this, I take the veneered base and roll it along a piece of museum board to get an idea of its circumference. I then cut the strip of board with grain running so that the museum board "curves" easily. Any place where the the turns are tight I cut a few score lines to ease them. I then dry fit, and adjust as necessary. Then I brush on the glue, join the pieces together, and then brace till dry.

Step 4: Completing the Recess

Now that the chamber wall is dry, I can test fit it and then glue it to the back of the board.
Before I glue the two pieces together I am going to trace the front board onto the the backside of a piece of wood veneer. That way I'll have an accurate template of the shape of the recessed area and later it will be much easier to veneer the front of the work.

White glue is all I use for this step. It is a butt joint though and therefore not too strong, so I'll reinforce all the interior joints with 1 inch wide strips of the tarletan. I use one strip to reinforce the wall of the chamber to the front board and then another strip to reinforce the floor of the chamber.

Tarletan is that starched cheesecloth product mentioned in the materials list and it works great to reinforce the joints. I suppose you could use hot glue, but white glue is flexible after it is dry and because paper is always "moving" relative to humidity, I don't use hot glue for my work.

Let dry. Before veneering the side walls of the chamber, I will use a vinyl spackling to fill in any rough areas and then lightly sand. Because I use vinyl spackling, I always wear a mask when sanding.

Once that is complete, I can go ahead and veneer the wall of the chamber. I cut the veneer a bit wider and longer than the interior wall and then dry fit the width, cut, and then after gluing in place, sand and/or trim away the height until it is flush with the face of the piece.

Step 5: Joining the Side Walls to the Front

Museum board is perfect for this step because it is a little more flexible than the book board and it is fairly easy to create curved planes with it. This strip is cut so that the "grain" of the board is running perpendicular to its length. You can determine the grain direction by taking a small piece of board and then bending it either direction. You'll know which way the grain is running by how easily the strip yields under pressure.

Sharper curves may need a little scoring with a cutting knife to ease the turns.

Glue into place and brace and weigh down until dry. After the joint is dry, I'll reinforce it with the tarletan strips and then glue some scrap pieces of book board inside the wall flush to the top to support the back panel when it gets glued on.

Step 6: Joining the Back to the Side Walls

Next I placed the piece face up on a sheet of book binder's board, traced the shape, cut and and glued everything together. I forgot to shoot this next part, but after gluing, I placed the work face up on the work surface and weighted the whole piece down for at least a half an hour.

After the piece dried, I sanded the walls and edges to create a smooth surface.

Step 7: Veneer the Back

Then I cut a piece of veneer larger than the surface I needed to cover, brushed on glue, joined them together, and finally, burnished the veneer in place. After that I trimmed the edges flush. I use a very sharp scalpel for this step.

Then I sanded as necessary.

Step 8: Veneer the Sides

Then I cut a strip of veneer with the "grain running short," longer than necessary and about 1/16" wider than the area to be covered.

This time I brushed glue directly on the side wall, a little at a time, then attached and adjusted the strip as I went along.

After it is in place, again I burnished the veneer to insure good contact and then trimmed or sanded away any excess.

Step 9: Veneer the Front

Remember that piece of veneer I traced in the beginning before the chamber was completed? Well, now, I can use that piece. I cut out the center, making sure to not cut too close to the line. I under cut it a bit so that later I can trim and sand a flush edge after gluing.

I brushed glue on the back of the veneer, aligned it to the opening, burnished into place, then trimmed and sanded all.

I let the piece dry for a few hours before applying any sealers. I always use water based urethanes. They are easy to clean up, and safe to use in my apartment. I usually apply 2 coats sanding with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper between coats. In this case I am using a satin finish Minwax product and for ease of use, I decanted it into a glass jar. I always use a foam brush to apply urethane.

Step 10: The Completed Piece

Here is the finished piece. I decided to fill the chamber with 5 tiny scrolls of paper, each one a different "chapter" and the outer compartment then becomes the "cover" of this book form.

Thanks for looking.