Solid wood, veneer or laminate - Differentiate like a pro

On the last trip to Delhi, for the session at Pepperfry, I was on the look out for some laminate and veneer furniture to show as an example. At the hotel room I was occupying I found all laminated furniture (yeah makes sense, can't expect veneer).

Anyway it got me thinking, how do we so easily know what is laminated and veneered. I mean, hardly a look and the experienced eye will, dismiss laminates, glance once more at veneered and admire a solid wood piece.

So here are a few easy pro tips 

1. Solid wood is the easiest to tell, remember solid wood has 6 sides, 2 of which MUST have end grain. It is an absolute. Any piece with side grain on all 6 sides is either laminated or veneered. 

2. Now with laminate or veneer, remember the base wood will almost always be plywood, it's the cheapest panelling material and is perfectly flat and constant. Plus it has such good expansion coefficients compared to solid wood, why would you want to use rubber wood or pine wood jointed boards which might be cheaper.
So with a base like plywood, the narrow sides are a dead giveaway right, the stripes or layers are absolutely visible. So any carpenter worth his salt will apply a beading patti or do some sort of edge banding on the edges. This should be your first clue... if edge banding or a beading patti has been applied then you will be able to see a very fine line where the ply ends and the edge banding begins.

Like so

gap between plywood and edge banding

OK so its clearly not solid wood, but is it veneer or laminate? 

Now over large surfaces this is easy to tell, laminate is printed paper or similar. So if you look carefully the patterns repeat every ever so often. This is impossible in solid wood and hence by extension in veneer too. Look at the following image,

repeated pattern in laminate

Clearly the pattern repeats. This means that the piece is laminated.

Try it yourself and let me know if you've become a pro.

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  • Awesome article! I’m new to this and I am going to attempt veneering a vintage Yamaha receiver cabinet once I gain a little more confidence.
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