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Is Veneer Good or Bad?

Short answer is: it depends. Veneer has gotten a bad rep over the years, though traditionally, veneer has been an excellent option for certain applications. Veneer is a paper-thin sheet of real wood applied to a substrate (like an MDF or a plywood). Whenever there are large, vertical surfaces in a design, veneer is an excellent option as it doesn't move with the seasons like solid wood does. Think slab doors, appliance panels, and the center panels of 5-piece cabinet doors. However, given how thin veneer is, it lacks the durability and abrasion resistance of solid wood and is rarely a good choice for most horizontal surfaces (counter tops, etc).

(Design credit: Studio McGee)

Are Veneer and Laminate The Same Thing?

While veneers and laminates share a few similarities with regard to the process, they are very different. As we mentioned above, veneer is a paper-thin piece of wood. Laminate, on the other hand, is layer of phenolic resin with a printed top layer (basically, plastic with a super high-res picture of wood printed on).

This is how veneer is made:

And this is how laminate is made:

Veneer Is Perfect For Slab Doors

(Design credit: Henrybuilt)

Large, flat panels of solid wood will have substantial seasonal movement, and always run the risk of cupping or warping. While this might not matter as much with partial overlay, the 1/8" reveals (the gaps between each door) on inset and full-overlay cabinets can quickly become too tight or too wide as the wood shrinks and swells. This issue is completely eliminated when veneer is used, as the substrate (often MDF) will never move.

Worth mentioning, as well: slab door and drawer fronts aren't just for uber-modern designs. A chic transitional aesthetic can be achieved when combined with the right textures (just have a look at the rift-sawn white ok veneer in this perfectly-executed Studio McGee project).

(Design credit: Studio McGee)

Skinny Shaker

A new trend in kitchen cabinet door styles is the skinny Shaker (also called slim Shaker). While traditional Shaker style doors are made up of 5-pieces (2 stiles, 2 rails, and a center panel) most skinny Shakers are actually slab doors with an applied border. As we mentioned above, veneer is an excellent option for slab doors and drawer fronts. Certainly something to discuss with your cabinetmaker / supplier about how they make their skinny Shakers and, if given the option, whether you'll want plank-matched or book-matched veneer (we cover the difference below).

(Design credit: Plato Woodworks)

Book-Matched vs Plank-Matched

There are two main types of standard domestic hardwood (maple, cherry, red and white oak, and walnut) veneer patterns: book-matched (on the right) and plank-matched (on the left). This refers to how the veneer is originally cut, and how the pattern of the wood's grain is featured. With book-matched veneers (shown on the right), you have a repeating pattern: one piece of wood is cut into multiple veneers and joined symmetrically, mirroring itself (like the pages of a book). Plank-matched veneer has no repetition, rather dozens of "boards" joined next to one another creating a look that more resembles solid wood.

It is important to consider each, as they can have drastically different impacts on your overall design. Book-matched is very common in ultra-luxe, modern kitchens where the repetition is often exaggerated:

(Design credit: unknown)

Where plank-matched can lean more warm, organic, and charming given all the variation in tone, color, and grain pattern. Plank-matched rustic oak veneer shown here:

(Design credit: Studio McGee)

We hope this was helpful! If you have any questions with your own cabinet project or would simply like unbiased advice, feel free to reach out to us on our Expert Chat here, join our Facebook Group Ask A Cabinetmaker, or book a Cabinetry Consultation to be as prepared as possible before making such a substantial and expensive purchase. No matter your question or concern, we're here to help you find your Wayhome.


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