A large sheet of reconstituted wood veneer from Italian manufacturer Alpi.

Differences between reconstituted veneer and natural veneer

January 16, 2024

Let's dive into the world of wood veneers and what you should know when selecting veneers for your frameless doors and any built-ins, kitchen cabinetry, or millwork in your brand-new home. 

Wood veneer comes in two basic forms: natural veneer and reconstituted veneer (also called "engineered veneer" or "technical veneer").

A natural veneer is exactly what it sounds like — for example, a white oak veneer comes from a white oak tree.

Reconstituted veneer is a veneer that uses real wood veneer but the veneer typically comes from a different wood species. For example, you can find veneer marketed as Dark Gray Oak and it will have the appearance of oak wood but the actual wood is poplar.

How are reconstituted veneers made?

Leading engineered veneer manufacturers make reconstituted veneers from faster-growing wood species, such as poplar, African whitewood (also known as ayous or obeche), or koto logs. They are sliced like any other veneers but the sheets are dyed using water-based or solvent-based dyes to achieve the expected color. Next, bundles of dyed veneers are pressed into blocks with a little bit of resin. A slicing machine then slices the block into amazingly realistic wood patterns, imitating real wood veneers. The major advantage of reconstituted veneers is the consistency in color and grain, and the absence of natural defects.

Reconstituted (engineered) veneer provides a level of visual consistency you will not find in pure wood veneers. The reconstituted veneer is free of knots and natural imperfections. In appearance it will appear as a rift cut, showing consistent lines across a wide area. While natural veneer will show knots and will change appearance with every sheet (raw European White Oak veneer sheets are between 100-400 mm wide), the reconstituted veneer will appear pretty much consistent. If you were a top Italian furniture maker, visually consistent veneer would be your go-to choice.

You may ask, is engineered wood veneer 100% wood? The answer is no, but wood represents the majority of the finished veneer. For example, the average weight composition for ALPIlignum, a decorative multilaminar wood veneer collection with 32 wood types, looks as follows: 70-80% of poplar wood (and/or ayous wood, and/or basswood), 16-20% resins, <1% dyes, and min 4%-max 14% moisture content.

Custom built-in cabinet with engineered (reconstituted) veneer by Alpi Italy.
Reconstituted veneers are prized by interior designers for their clean and uniform appearance. This custom built-in cabinet was designed by Park Associati for the headquarters of the Italian furniture maker Pedrali. Engineered veneer used: Alpi Lignum Collection - Terracotta.

When to use engineered aka reconstituted veneer?

We get this question a lot here at Angelbau. Our perspective is influenced by the fact that our clients strongly prefer modern architecture and interior design, and we work with modern residential architects. 

We adhere to a simple design principle: Less is more. For example, if you have a long wood panel wall in a hallway, your space may benefit from the visual simplicity of the reconstituted veneer. If you combine flush-mount frameless doors with flush closet doors, the engineered veneer may give you a more high-end furniture look.

Is reconstituted veneer environmentally friendly?

Reconstituted veneer is an environmentally friendly alternative to expensive, rare, exotic, and endangered wood species. While reconstituted veneer goes through a more complex manufacturing process, it uses natural renewable sources. Reconstituted veneer is the perfect solution for the eco-friendly consumer.

If you are in doubt, look for the FSC label. Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC) was founded in 1993 in response to concerns about deforestation. FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers while ensuring it sustains economic viability.

FSC logo / label
By choosing products with FSC labels, you are helping to take care of the world’s forests.

How is natural veneer selected and processed?

The quality of natural veneer is determined by the quality and the features of the source tree. 

Selection — Premier veneer manufacturers commonly employ log buyers who carefully select each tree trunk for processing. A veneer-grade log, which is the highest quality grade, represents only a fraction of the total forested area. Additionally, premier veneer manufacturers adhere to the FSC principles which aim to source wood in an environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and economically viable manner. 

Preparation — The veneer mill will typically store the trunks on site and sprinkle them with water to prevent cracking and discolorization. Each trunk is cut to size and debarked. Next, it is scanned for metal, rocks, or other foreign objects.

Steaming — Selected tree trunks are steamed (or cooked). Cooking takes place in a high-humidity steam chamber or a hot water vat. The reasons are twofold: First, steaming softens the wood cells and gives the wood the pliability required for a smooth cut. Second, steaming (overcooking) can alter the color of the veneer in a desired manner. Steaming time is different for each species of wood but generally takes around 48 hours.

Logs cooking in hot water at Schorn & Groh, a veneer mill based in Germany.
Log cooking in hot water performed at Schorn & Groh veneer mill in their Karlsruhe factory in Germany

Slicing — There are two basic methods for cutting the log: slicing or peeling. Slicing involves moving a log across a knife to produce individual slices of veneer. These slices are usually 40-60 cm wide. Because of their attractive visual appearance and pleasing grain pattern, furniture makers select these veneer sheets produced by slicing for their products (and they are what you see on Angelbau wood veneer doors with concealed door frames and trimless pocket doors). Peeling is done by a rotary lathe and the process produces long veneer sheets. Veneers produced by peeling are often made into plywood where several sheets of glued veneer are pressed or laminated together. The freshly cut veneer then goes through a dryer which removes the high moisture content introduced by the steaming process.

Splicing — Dry sliced veneer is subsequently stacked and trimmed into uniform-width sheets. These sheets are book-matched (assembled into a desired design pattern), edge-glued, and spliced together to form wider sheets.

What is wood veneer splicing and what options are available

Splicing is a technique where thin sheets of veneer (most commercially available veneers are 0.6 mm thick) are glued together. The veneer mill can apply the glue on the veneer edge — this method is called edge gluing. 

The most common method you will find in veneer factories is stitching. Two adjacent sheets of veneer are stitched together using a polymetric thread applied in a zigzag pattern on the back of the sheets. The machine is called a zig-zag splicer machine.

Which are the most common types of veneer matching?

Matching natural veneer sheets takes real talent and patience. Our talented team matches veneers manually to achieve the best appearance.

You will find four basic types of wood veneer splicing (matching):

  1. Book matching
    For book-matched veneer, the manufacturer places sheets from a single trunk (log) side-by-side in a mirror image. Every other leaf is flipped over. You would use this type of matching on veneers with prominent grain structure or heavy figuring.
  2. Slip matching
    For slip-matched veneer, the manufacturer takes veneer sheets from the leaf bundle in consecutive order and simply places them next to each other without turning them over or around. The leaves have the same orientation. You would use slip matching primarily when a veneer does not have a pronounced grain feature and is a straight cut veneer (i.e. rift or quartered).
  3. Mismatch or Random matching
    For a mismatched veneer, the manufacturer takes sheets of wood veneers and distributes them randomly. The resulting pattern can differ in grain, grain pattern, or color. Likewise, veneers of different widths can be joined together in any order. All in all, this creates the impression of a rustic solid wood surface.
  4. Diamond matching
    For diamond-matched veneer, the manufacturer takes four consecutive veneer sheets and joins them together to form a diamond shape. You will see this method used for burl veneer where it helps create highly decorative figures.

Further questions about the best wood veneers for interior doors or veneer door designs? Reach out to Angelbau, your premier source for high-end frameless doors!