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What Is Oak Veneer?

Simply put, oak veneer (or any veneer for that matter) is a paper-thin piece of real oak. Available in red or white oak and all the cuts (flat-sawn, rift-sawn, and quarter-sawn), it has a lot of benefits and a few drawbacks. Let's jump in!

(Design and photo credit: Nordiska Kök)

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).

Are Oak Veneer And Oak Laminate The Same Thing?

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

This is how oak veneer is made (a whole oak log is sliced into "flitches"):

And this is how laminate is made":

The Different Cuts Of Oak Veneer

Oak veneer is available in three distinct cuts: flat sawn, rift sawn, and quarter sawn. Basically, this refers to the orientation of the log during the milling process. Here's a helpful diagram to show the different grain and figure in each different style of oak veneer:

The Different Oak Veneer "Lay Ups"

Most trees these days only grow so wide, so when we're needing a 36" piece for a refrigerator panel or pantry door, several narrower pieces need to be "stitched" together (this is a fascinating process!). How those pieces of oak veneer come together can really change the overall look of the piece. Book-matched, refers to two symmetrical pieces opposing each other (like the pages of a book). This creates an interesting repeating pattern that works very well in modern design:

If you're wanting a more natural look without the symmetry and repetition of book-matched oak veneer, you can use what's called plank-matched. This style is made of individual pieces with varying grain patterns:

When Is It Okay To Use Oak Veneer?

The best use for oak veneer is slab doors in kitchen and bath cabinetry, the center panel of 5-piece doors, or really any vertical surface. Whenever we have a horizontal surface like a table or bar top, it's generally a good idea to opt for the superior scratch and dent resistance of solid wood.

Another excellent use of oak veneer is the ever-popular slim or "skinny" Shaker. While most 5-piece cabinet doors have joinery connecting the frame pieces together (called stiles and rails), this isn't the best approach whenever the frame is a slim as it is on skinny Shaker doors. The best approach is to add a "frame" to a veneer slab door:

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


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