By David J. Marks
One of the advantages of working with veneer is the ability to match grain patterns. Whether you are working with commercial veneers cut to 1/42 of an inch thick, or bandsawn veneers cut 1/16 of an inch thick, the same principles apply. As veneers are cut, they are kept in consecutive order so that you can take two sheets and position them, matching the colors and the lines together. The two most commonly used methods of matching veneer are the “Book Match” and the “Slip Match”. The “Book Match” requires turning over every other sheet of veneer just like the pages of a book. The result is a mirror image which can be quite striking. A “slip Match” means veneers are pulled off the flitch and placed side by side conveying a sense of repeating the figure of the flitch.
Quarter matching is when you take four consecutive sheets and match them vertically as well as horizontally. All types of veneer can be used for this match, but the most striking decorative effects are created using burls and other highly figured woods. If you are examining a flitch of veneer or a piece of highly figured solid wood that you are planning on resawing and trying to determine the best grain pattern to select, the following technique is most helpful. Take two pieces of mirror that are 12 inches long and 6 inches wide and “hinge” them on one end with some duct tape. Set them on the stock and open them so they form a ninety degree angle. The mirrors will reflect the grain and you will be able to “visualize” your four way pattern. Keep sliding the mirrors around until you find the pattern you like best. Once you have made your selection you can draw an outline in chalk that is a little oversized and cut it out on the bandsaw with a fine tooth blade.
Great care must be taken in joining the four pieces together to ensure that as many of the grain lines, colors, and figure of the wood match up. Quarter-matching is often used for table tops, so this is a project where you should be willing to spend the extra time it takes to dial in the fit. If you are using commercial veneer, then I recommend trimming the veneer by hand using a veneer saw referenced against a straight edge. Bandsawn veneer that is 1/16 to 3/32 of an inch thick can be carefully trimmed on the tablesaw with a 60 tooth blade. Placing tape on the veneer helps to reduce chipping the edges as well as a zero clearance throat plate. Your patience will pay off. The resulting patterns can be far more attractive than the figure and grain by itself.