Veneer through a lens of affordability and fun

I’m Chelsea Van Voorhis. I am a woodworker, a designer, and a veneer artist. Using veneer as a medium is valuable in a lot of ways but mostly it is sublimely fun!

Chelsea Van Vorhis' piece, "WE ARE THE SILENT SURVIVORS ROOM SCREEN", a room divider decorated with works of art crafted from various wood veneers to make up many women's faces.
Details from Chelsea’s “We Are the Silent Survivors” room screen

I started working with commercial veneer around 2017. I didn’t have access to a woodshop but I wanted to continue to work with wood. Cutting veneer with a knife does not create sawdust, so I would crouch down on the floor of my living room and create marquetry panels at night after work. Those panels would then be glued up pressed to the corner of my kitchen table. Craft can be very expensive and fancy tools are great, but I’m here to tell you that they are not essential.

Chelsea Van Vorhis working with wood veneer at her kitchen table.
Veneer is ideal for working in a confined space, like your apartment kitchen.

This blog series is on affordable and creative veneering for beginners. A lot of times fear or financial accessibility can block us from trying something new. In this series I will create a piece and discuss the tips and tricks along the way through a lens of affordability and fun. My goal is to encourage and inspire people to try veneer while acknowledging real-world obstacles. 

"Life and Death" by Chelsea Van Vorhis, 2021: a wood veneer art piece
“Life and Death” by Chelsea Van Voorhis, 2021

Let’s talk about the misconceptions about veneer that influence people to decide against working with it. 

1. You have to have a lot of money to get into woodworking 

NOT TRUE. Working with veneer can be very affordable. I do not believe anyone should have to spend a ton of money on a new hobby unless they want to. Also, you don’t need access to a full woodshop to work with veneer, you can do a lot of it from home. 

2. It’s difficult to work with and can break easily

NOT TRUE. Veneer can break and it is fragile, however you can tape it back together. If small pieces break off or tear out it can easily be replaced. 

"Mid Mod Wall Hanging" by Chelsea Van Vorhis, 2020: a wood marquetry art piece
“Mid Mod Wall Hanging” by Chelsea Van Voorhis, 2020

3. Too many things can go wrong and you only get one chance

NOT TRUE. There is a fallacy that you only get one chance at veneer and if you sand through or have tearout then the entire piece is ruined. I’ve sanded through veneer many times and the best part is that you can fix it. There are many times throughout a project when you can make corrections. As for tight seams, they take some practice to achieve but there are tricks that you can use to help tighten the seams or visually hide them. 

4. Marquetry imagery is too traditional for my taste

NOT TRUE. There are a lot of contemporary veneer artists working in new styles. Anything you can imagine can be created. 

5. It’s cheap and furniture that’s made with veneer is cheap

NOT TRUE. When comparing material cost, a veneered piece could cost less money but it could also use rare and exotic wood species that are only processed as veneer.

"Candy Stripe Eye Wall Hanging" by Chelsea Van Vorhis, 2020: a wood marquetry art piece
“Candy Stripe Eye Wall Hanging” by Chelsea Van Voorhis, 2020

There are so many reasons to love veneer. It’s not scary once you start working with it and it’s a more affordable and accessible woodworking practice to start with because you don’t need a lot of tools. The possibilities of images and patterns are infinite and it’s fun! Please be sure to check out my next blog that will be about tools, materials, how wood behaves, and how to cut it.

Wood veneer artwork by Chelsea Van Vorhis

You can check out more of Chelsea’s work here.

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