History of veneering – from handicraft to industrialisation
The German word “Furnier“ (veneer) originated in the 16th century from the French word “fournier”, meaning “supplying, providing”. During renaissance, baroque and later centuries grand masters created artistically perfect furniture, demonstrating how this cultural legacy was developed further – as a symbol of its times.
The origins lie in Egyptian high culture
Veneer technology was developed around 3000 BC in Egypt. In a land that is awash with desert and sand and where precious woods were priced as rarity. That fact made it necessary to utilise supplies in the most economic manner. No wonder the idea of cutting precious wood in thin sheets in order to cover less precious surfaces with them was born right here. Wood was scarce in Old Egypt, it was a rarity and valued as much as precious gems that were used to artistically adorn furniture.
Veneers were created in environs whose landscape is not characterised by lush vegetation, but rather where wood was valued as a rare resource and people were aware of the significance of its optimal use. At first, veneers were handcrafted, by cutting wood from the stem, which was an extremely demanding and time consuming task.
Nonetheless, beautiful shrines that were discovered in 1922 in Tutankhamun’s tomb bear witness to the rudimentary method of wood processing, commonly practiced back then, while revealing a natural beauty of the inner structure of the wood.
Renaissance in Europe
Records of objects and images displayed on tombs and ceramics, document the path of veneers from Egypt, to Greece and the Roman Empire, up to our modern age. Veneer production disappeared almost altogether during the early middle ages and was only rekindled during the gothic period. In Germany it was discovered at a time where the rest of Europe used almost exclusively massive wood.
The heyday of veneers transpired during renaissance, baroque and rococo. The production of even small quantities of veneer was a difficult and time consuming task back then. Consequently, this method was only used for decorative purposes and the manufactured objects were reserved for the well-heeled.
Cabinet makers in Italy began producing complex veneer surfaces. This trend also prevailed in Spain, where intricate veneer cabinets were crafted boasting skilful handicraft. Meanwhile, in Germany fret saw technology was introduced that was put to use for producing ebony cabinets. Intricate marquetry – a method for gluing individual veneer pieces to a surface – was used to adorn these objects with arabesques.
Such trends also took root in France. Until past the rule of Louis XV an individual antiquish style emerged there, sporting the art of veneers par excellence. The rupture over veneers and marquerty even crossed the English Channel and spread across England, where carpenters soon developed a unique style featuring decorative walnut veneers.
The industrial revolution
In the early 19th century veneer production was automated. In 1806, Marc Isambard Brunel was awarded the British patent for a hand operated veneer machine. Henry Faveryear, another Englishman, invented a veneer splicing apparatus in 1818. In 1843, the first veneer factory was opened in Germany, which was still operated with veneer saws back then.
The transition from handicraft to industrial production permitted veneer production in large quantities. Uneven spots resulting from the cutting process could now be eliminated by new splicing machines. Soon after, everyone was able to afford mahogany, nut and rosewood veneers.
Our modern age
Worldwide Industrial production of veneers began in the mid 20th century. Veneers have been used for furniture production and for large veneered wall panels. Veneers have ever since dominated home furniture.
Although veneers are manufactured by using modern technology, the production process requires much experience and excellence in craftsmanship. The process starts with being able to identify and evaluate the quality of the stem in its round, unprocessed state, as well as selecting amongst a variety of processing methods to generate the most refined veneer structure. This includes also evaluating of produced veneers to put them to their ideal use and achieve highest quality through creative processing methods. Each type of wood is processed and assembled individually. Thus, each sheet of veneer is unique.