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What is Birch Veneer?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Birch veneer is a wood product made from birch trees. Birches are quite diverse, and as a result the color, texture, and grain of birch veneer can vary considerably. When people purchase birch veneer, they can opt for several different styles, and it is important for people to inspect all of the veneer in their order, and ideally to order all of the veneer they will need at the same time, to ensure consistency.

Veneers in general are made by sawing, slicing, or shaving wood into very thin sheets. The thin sheets of wood are overlaid over a thicker backing, and used for things like making furniture, counters, cabinetry, and so forth. People utilize veneer when woods are very expensive, making it difficult to afford solid wood, or when woods are attractive, but too fragile to be used as solid pieces, requiring a stronger backing to provide support for the wood.

Depending on how the wood is cut, birch veneer can vary in appearance. Some cuts deemphasize the grain of the wood, creating a more even appearance, while others work against the grain to create a more deeply flecked and interesting looking veneer. Plainer birch veneer may be preferred for simple, streamlined, modern designs, while more textured veneers can be appropriate for a rustic or more natural look.

Some cutting techniques result in a closed grain on one side of the wood, and a larger, more open grain on the other side. This is important to consider when installing veneer, as it is important to ensure that multiple pieces match each other closely. Consumers can opt for veneer products which are raw, without any treatments, or products which have adhesive backings, varnish coatings, and other finishes so that the veneer will be ready for use after it is mounted. Birch veneer can also be purchased in the form of solid pieces of wood which have already been veneered, so that people just need to assemble them.

Birch can be golden and light, pale white, ashy, or darker and more brown, depending on what kind of birch tree was used, how the veneer was harvested, and how it was handled. People should think about the type of finish they want; ashy birch, for example, can look pallid and washed out in a pale room. Another consideration is the effect that the finish will have. If people are finishing their own veneer, they should get an extra piece to use as a sample strip for testing different finishes to see how the color of the wood changes.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon355140 — On Nov 13, 2013

What if you are allergic to birch? Can you use it in furniture?

By anon307723 — On Dec 06, 2012

What are the shiny markings in birch veneer called?

By JimmyT — On Jun 06, 2012
@TreeMan - You could absolutely use birch veneer for a hardwood floor. I have seen one, and it looked very nice. I think it was the red color you described was used for your cabinet veneer.

One of the problems a lot of people have where I live is that there are no sawmills that make birch veneer. One of the things I learned from a friend is that you can make your own veneer with a band saw as long as you have a piece of the wood. There is a little trial and error at first, but you just have to make a jig to stand the wood up straight on the saw table. After that, you can just use the saw to cut narrow sheets of the wood off. Obviously, you will lose a little wood with every pass you take, but it's a good substitute if you really need the veneer.

I also believe that they use birch veneer for plywood in a lot of other countries. I don't have any idea how much it would cost, but that might also be a good substitute if you couldn't afford to use solid birch.

By TreeMan — On Jun 05, 2012

I agree that birch is a very nice wood, especially for cabinets. When we remodeled our kitchen a couple of years ago, we wanted something that was different than the run of the mill oaks and maples that a lot of people have. We also didn't have the budget for the really expensive woods like walnut and black cherry.

We went to talk to a local cabinetmaker, and he told us about birch cabinets. I guess he had just gotten hold of some birch and was just waiting for an order to use it on. We saw some pictures of other projects he had done using birch, and they looked great, so we went with it. He said that the wood was red birch veneer. I'm not sure what exactly those trees are or where they grow.

Besides using the wood for cabinets, I could see birch looking very good as a hardwood floor. I don't know how strong the wood is, but I would guess it would be okay to use. Does anyone know?

By jmc88 — On Jun 04, 2012

@jcraig - It's too bad to hear that you don't have a lot of birch where you live. I live in Pennsylvania, and it is all over the place. We have some river birch, but like you said, it's not typically all that big. What we do have is paper, yellow, and sweet birch that are all great trees. They grow very large and straight and are found all over the place. The thing I love about using sweet birch is that the wood smells like wintergreen. It usually goes away by the time you get the whole project put together, but it's great when you are sawing it.

I think birch wood veneer is usually underused by a lot of woodworkers. Most people prefer either the dark colors or stronger grains of species like the oaks, walnut, and maples, but birch has a very soft grain that a lot of other woods don't have. Besides that, I think the light color is actually a benefit. You can stain the wood almost any color you want, and it will always look great. That being said, even a clear coat with the natural color is my favorite.

By jcraig — On Jun 03, 2012

I wish there was more birch growing around where I live. It is a great wood that is versatile and can be used on a lot of different types of projects. I am curious where exactly most birches grow. I live in the southern US and all we have is river birch which doesn't really get too large in general. It is hard to get good river birch veneer, too. Whenever my local sawmill gets some, though, there is always a big rush from the local woodworkers to buy it up.

I think working with veneer is always very fun. It takes a lot of patience to use it. You have to be careful not to tear it apart, and cutting it can be difficult at times. Like the article says, though, using wood veneers is always a good alternative to the real thing. Not to mention that unless someone is familiar with the project or knows a little about woodworking, it is often very difficult to tell when a veneer has been used in place of solid wood.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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