Hammer Veneering

Have you ever wondered if you should use a ball peen or a claw hammer for veneering? And is bigger better for hammers in veneering? In fact, hammer veneering is a process that has been in use for hundreds of years. Using simple tools and hide glue, veneering can be done in any shop.     Hammer veneering also allows the continuous veneering which is not limited by a vacuum bag or veneer press.     The key to this process is hide glue  which is made from animal parts and been used since the days when the Egyptians were building pyramids. During these session you will learn the importance of hide glue for veneering and construction and the tools and techniques for veneering.


WARNING:  all these finishes have some sort of solvent present that is given off as it dries.  Those solvents are potentially harmful if breathed and/or flammable if exposed to flames.  Only work in well ventilated areas, using proper breathing and eye protection devices, and following manufactures suggested procedures.  Always review prior to use the medical procedures in the event of an accident or improper use.

For the type furniture I make, the primary finishes I use are shellac, oils (tung and linseed oils) and wax.

  • Wax – provides the least amount of protections, but also has the least impact on the visual appearance of the project.  A good wax will not change the color or texture of the wood as noticeably as other finishes.
  • Oil provides more protection than wax, but is still a minimal protector.  It too will allow the natural texture of the wood to come through.  It will darken the wood to some degree.
  • Shellac provides protections, highlights the color and texture of the wood.  Depending on how it is applied, it can be “built up” to provide a more mirror like finish.  Some consider this a sign of high end finishes, and others believe it hides the true nature of the wood.  Different strokes for different folks.  But in you will find in museums of examples of period furniture nearly all will have a finish that has virtually filled the grain to produce a very smooth surface.

Methods of application.  I have applied shellac with all current forms of application.  I have recently discovered that when brushing if a sable hair brush is used, there are no visible brush marks.  This is a real joy to use and the results are exceptional.

I suggest if you are interested in these techniques you try them and observe your outcome.  You will never learn from just reading.  Live the experience.

  • Rubbing – the first coats of rubbing a finish are the easiest to apply and require the least skill.  With shellac, as more coats are applied it requires more attention to avoid “burning” or build up of finish.  Getting the “feel” of the process is something that is learned by trying and observing the results.
  • Brushing – this requires attention to avoid excessive brush marks.  Too much brushing is often a problem.  Shellac dries quickly and if you attempt to continue to brush it out, it will grab and create brush marks.  Just move on to other areas.  In worst cast, go back and sand it flat and continue.
  • Spraying – this requires special equipment and should be done in an open area.
  • Rub out – this is a method to finish the finish.  All finishes after properly applied still have minor imperfections that effect their appearance and tactile properties of the wood.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, the finisher would have used rotten stone and pumice and bees wax for the final finishing.  These fine powders provide for an ever finer polishing of the surface that ultimately improve the light reflective and tactile quality.  The final application of bees wax gives the warm feel and enhances the quality of the surface reflection.

My finish of choice is shellac.  While his finish has gotten some bad press in the past about its inability to handle alcohol and water, those claims are not completely accurate.  Additionally, the type furniture I make is not what the owners would allow alcohol or water to stand for extended periods of time.  Shellac produces a more natural and “warm” finish.  It can be finished to a high luster or a matte surface.  The finish may be applied with a rag, brush or spray equipment.  It is very forgiving and can be repaired at nearly any phase of the process.

Shellac should be used from fresh mixture.  Purchase a good quality dry shellac flakes or seed lac and mix with denatured alcohol.  Pre-mixed solutions are not as effective.

Shellac is the critical ingredient in French Polishing.  French polishing was used by the period furniture makers and is considered the “high end” finish.  It is very labor intensive and does require more than just basic skill but can be learned quickly if practiced under proper supervision.  For an excellent tutorial on the methods of French polishing visit the Milburn Guitar tutorial listed below.

Tutorials and more detailed information.

French Polishing Instruction

Information on Use of Wax as a Finish