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In the busy, frantic, professional workshop, time is everything. A job comes in, the boss allocates it to a furniture maker, tells him he’s got a ridiculously small amount of hours in which to make it and that’s it – he’s left to get on with it. Although sound, fault-free timber must be selected, quite often there’s not too much attention paid to what’s happening to the grain. After all, timber doesn’t grow on trees and for the most part, decent stuff costs an arm and a couple of legs, so the furniture maker has to get the most out of it.

Elm doors, book matched frame and panel
Elm doors, book matched frame and panel

One area where some attention is required is when veneering needs to be done. Commercial veneers bought off the shelf are a miserly 0.6mm thick and the very best are always knife cut from a single chunk of prime timber. The result is that expensive wood goes a long way but furthermore, the grain pattern can be matched relatively easily as there’s very little loss of material due to a saw cut. Thicker 2 or 3mm veneers obtained by saw cutting are far more difficult to match as there’s always some timber that ends up in the extractor bin as sawdust. However it’s done, it’s essential that a pile of veneers are numbered in sequential order to obtain the best pattern!

The simplest way to lay veneers is ‘slip matching’, which is when two consecutive leaves are laid side by side, as shown in these 3mm thick, band sawn English walnut veneers.

This is fine when the grain is fairly non-descript, rather bland and of no visual importance. In the example shown, the grain pattern is quite distinct and as a consequence, the slip matched veneers look very ‘odd’. A much better way is to ‘book match’, as in turning the pages of a book. Different matches are possible, depending on the orientation of the veneers.

Slip matched veneers
Slip matched veneers

It’s up to the craftsman (or woman) to decide which pattern is best, but it’s usually the one with the ‘flame’ in the centre, rather than the edges. If the book matched veneers are now both turned over together, a slightly different pattern will emerge, which ultimately means that it’s possible to match the veneers in four alternative ways!

Book matched walnut veneers
Book matched walnut veneers

The same process can be applied to framed and panelled cabinet doors. When the book matching is done sensitively to both the frame and panel, there’s usually a visually pleasing end result.

In the case of these elm doors, the vertical stiles have been book matched and where the grain swells in the centre will be the location for the door pulls. Likewise, at the bottom, the panels themselves just curl into the centre corners to be met by the grain on the centre stiles which curves out to meet them.

This detailed attention to grain direction is done quite deliberately. It takes a lot of time, effort and material to get the patterns ‘just right’ which is something that the commercial, professional maker simply can’t do as he’s always got one eye on the job and the other on the clock.

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