Introduction to Veneering Class, April 1-2

Four way veneer matching | Tabriz inspired wine table | Heller & Heller Custom Furniture

Waterford is a historic town near Leesburg VA, about an hour west of Washington DC. The Waterford Foundation runs a Heritage Crafts School. This year it will feature five classes in each of four months on a wide variety of traditional crafts. As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Veneering class at the Waterford Foundation on April 1-2, 2017. Since you’ve asked (only kidding), let me tell you a little more about it.

Here is the course outline.

  1. A brief background on veneering and the objectives of the course.
    1. Why veneer?
    2. Design opportunities
    3. Material constraints
    4. When and where to use and not use
  2. Cutting veneer with and across the grain
    1. Managing cranky veneer; flattening
    2. Avoiding losing short grain pieces
  3. Matching veneer
  4. Taping concepts and alternatives
  5. Book match, slip match, rotational match
  6. 4 way match : diamonds and stars
  7. Make a panel with a four way match
  8. More complex matching: concepts
  9. Substrates
  10. Glue(s)
  11. Crossbanding and edging
  12. Adding edging to your 4 way match
  13. Let’s glue it up and then go home!
  14. Look at the results, clean it up.
  15. Hammer veneering. Demos then let’s try it.
  16. Sequential hammer veneering: traditional techniques.

First I will cover why we would veneer, and when we shouldn’t. Then some technical issues and the basic design palette. Brief talks will be followed by much cutting and taping, and hopefully not too much hair pulling. Veneer can be frustrating because the different wood species act so differently. Solid wood is also like that, but you are unlikely to work with three, four or more species in an hour, where that is very common with veneer. Experience provides confidence in knowing how to deal with different characteristics, and I’ll try to pack in as many different peculiarities as I can during the class.

Four way veneer matching | Take home panel from the class | Heller & Heller Custom Furniture

The end result of the day will be a 12×12”panel with a four way match central pattern, surrounded by a thin fillet with a crossbanded edge. This is a very traditional configuration, commonly used in Federal furniture. Drawer fronts are often a simplified version of this approach. Once you can do this, the more complex options should be comprehensible, and doable with a little practice.

On the second day we will clean up the panels that spent the prior night in a vacuum press drying, and I’ll talk a little about sanding and finishing. With only 1/40” of wood, sanding is a delicate subject.

The last subject will be hammer veneering. This is the traditional method – before modern glues were invented it was how nearly all veneering was done. It’s quite different and unfortunately requires additional tools. In certain situations it greatly simplifies achieving complex results. I’ll do a little demo then everyone can try it out.

The two pictures in this article both show four way match veneer patterns. The small sample board shows four different edge banding woods, to show some design possibilities. The tabletop also includes some marquetry, an advanced veneering technique that I also hope to teach a class on this year. Ignoring the inlaid patterns though, this is exactly what the class is teaching, in a larger scale.

If these topics appeal to you I’d encourage you to sign up. I’d like to hold this class in Charlottesville as well but need to figure out how to do so in my congested shop. At this time, the Waterford class is the only one that is planned.

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March Happenings

A view of our patterened wooden wares | Heller and Heller Furniture

I’m back! It is time to let the world know that I’m still thinking about woodworking, and actually doing it also. Posts over the next while will show the two really cool commissions I’ve made in the past six months, some smaller items that help pay the bills, and some classes I’ll be teaching this year.

But in this first post of the year let’s consider what I am committed to doing in the month of March:

The Chantilly Craftsmen’s Classics Art and Craft Festival on March 24-26 at the Chantilly Expo Center. It will be my only show in Northern Virginia this spring, and I hope to see you there. I’ve got some new Keepsake boxes sized to hold greeting cards and letters, and marquetry, and lots of new chopping boards to go with my jewelry boxes and decorated woodenware.

inlaid maple keepsake box for cards and momentos | Heller and Heller Furniture

On April 1-2, I will be teaching an Introduction to Veneering class  at the Waterford Foundation in Waterford, Virginia. This class for experienced woodworkers will introduce veneer as a decorative material. Students will make a four way matched panel with fillets and cross banding. This will teach cutting, arranging, and adhering veneers to a substrate.  Students will also practice traditional hammer veneering, which is a preferred application approach for certain types of veneered panels.

Veneering is not difficult and it does not require a large number of tools. It does have its peculiarities, mostly based on the unusual properties of wood that is 1/40” thick, so isn’t completely sure its wood any more. If the design possibilities of veneer appeal to you, this class will help you get on your way quickly. There is a limit of 8 students in the class, and there are currently still openings.

Later in the spring I also hope to teach a two day Introduction to Marquetry class in collaboration with the Washington Woodworkers Guild.  Finding a location is the current constraint to holding the class, but I am hopeful that it will proceed. We will be using scroll saws to learn the packet cutting approach to marquetry. I’ll post more information as the class gets closer to reality.

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Meet the Maker: Cville Arts Co-Op!

Well this is a momentous occasion – a blog post by studio manager Elizabeth!  Elizabeth has been spearheading our involvement with the Charlottesville Arts Cooperative Gallery and is on the blog to share a little more about her experiences there. – Jenn

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

Photo Credit – Kearby Chen via Google Plus

Heller and Heller has continued to evolve since its inception. Initially every item made was custom made for a client. I’ll leave the discussion for another day on why Dave now makes a significant number of items artisanal items for customers we have yet to discover. Beautiful end grain chopping boards, end tables, trays, shaker boxes, marquetry boxes and pictures have all become part of the product offering. A necessary evil once you start down this path is that in order to make sales you need to have inventory. Rule of thumb is that you sell 1/3 of what you have on hand when you do a show. So, once you have inventory you need to sell it in order to make more stuff. This is the challenge. If you do arts and crafts shows then you need to pay the fees, travel to wherever it is, spend the time at the show, spend money to eat (and stay), take everything down and drive home. If you sell on the internet no one can touch or feel your items, you are essentially selling a picture,  you are competing with mass produced items and heavy items like chopping boards have a not insignificant postage cost associated with them.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

Enter the Charlottesville Arts Cooperative Gallery – this is a store full of art and artisanal goods created by artisans who share a storefront space and operating costs and labour. Heller and Heller joined and set up our space there at the beginning of March. (Readers of the blog will remember that Dave was in San Diego the second half of February at the American School of French Marquetry)

So we now have 2 months experience at the co-op. The store is open 7 days a week and working members share the store hours – there are no paid employees. In order to keep Dave in his studio making more items, I volunteered to work the store hours. So here I am, post retirement from the corporate world, working retail for the first time in my life. Based on H&H April sales, the hours I worked and the difference in commission for a working and non working member – I earned $1.52/hour. But it’s really not that bad! I spend my time in the store surrounded by beautiful things. There are roughly 50 different artisans working in 20 art forms from clay to wood! Every artist is located here in Virginia, making the store perfect for visitors looking for something special to take home.

My favourite so far was the lovely English lady buying herself a leather handbag. She mentioned she was performing at the Paramount that evening so I checked the paper when I got home and figured out she was with St Martin’s in the Field performing with Joshua Bell! (probably a good thing I didn’t know or I would have been swooning at her feet!)

There are another kind of customer as well – those who live in the area and are very familiar with what’s available – the man who came in to buy a hand held wooden cross to take to his mother the day his father died, the couple who bought a lovely stained glass for a wedding present wrote the card they bought while we were packaging and ringing up the sale.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

While the appreciative customers are a real plus for spending time at the co-op, sharing the space with other artisans and their spouses is also a big benefit. Everyone seems happy to share their experiences and creative ideas. After all, the dream of every artist is to spend time doing the thing they love and create something that others will value enough to spend money on. Fellow artists are wonderful critics because they have both an aesthetic appreciation and an understanding of what the public appreciates.  The intent of the co-op is there in its name – working together to sell everyone’s work. The jurying process is key to making sure that the quality is high and that offerings from each artist are different enough from each other to prevent competition.

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

So far I’ve been working weekends – busier days so the store has two people working. You’ll find me there twice a month among the ceramics, glass, jewelry, silk scarves, artisanal lotions, oil paintings, ink drawings, scenic photographs, knitted goods, copper bird feeders, pewter ornaments, leather bags and of course the wood!

If you’re in the neighborhood, enjoying the beautiful downtown mall in Charlottesville, don’t be shy – stop in and see us!

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Modern Woodworking: Using Photoshop for Veneer Patterns

Woodworking today (as evidenced from this blog) is about more than just crafting heirloom furniture!  Maintaining an online presence is essential for helping customers to find you, but this also opens up the possibility of working with clients who are not within simple travelling distance to the shop. To communicate with your clients during the design process you need to be able to send images via email that are realistic and as explanatory as possible.

One of the many tools of a modern woodworker is the subject of our blog today – Photoshop!  Image manipulation can make it fast and easy to show a client an exact look at their options. Dave is here today to talk about a recent example of using Photoshop to give a custom veneer matching options.


Patterned furniture is one of the best uses for veneer. Photoshop gives us the chance to manipulate photos of pieces of veneer to see how a pattern would look, or lets us apply the same pattern to different parts of the same piece of veneer, to see which we like the best. I did this recently and would like to show you, my charming reader, how it came out.

I received a commission to build a copy of a piece that I originally made in 2005. The customer wanted a slightly larger version of exactly the same table. I was able to procure some fairly dramatic French walnut from Certainly Wood , who had supplied the original veneer as well.




Picture 2 shows the table top as it exists. Most of the details will remain the same, but the central veneer will be different, and there are always many ways of cutting small radial slices.

walnut veneer slice

Picture 3 shows the veneer sheet. It is very similar to the original one.


Picture 4 shows a sized cutout, for finding interesting patterns. Since the central section is 40” wide, the pie slice is 20.5 inches long. We have 13 sheets of veneer to work with, so each pie slice is 4.9” wide( pi*d/26). Note that this picture shows the cutout on the whole sheet. This is so that I can replicate it later – non-trivial with vibrant patterns.


Picture 5 is a closeup, which I will take into Photoshop. You’ll notice that it’s photographed on a blank, solid background different in color from the wood – this makes manipulation in Photoshop easier, as it is easier to distinguish the veneer slice from the background.

I cannot teach you to use Photoshop. It is a bear. Bears are powerful and cranky, just like Photoshop. If you are an expert user what I’m doing is trivial, but I would encourage basic users to get some training ( has very good video tutorials) and figure this out. It’s worth the hassle.

photoshop blog pix-3

The piece of veneer is cut out in Photoshop, just as it would be really.  I make a big tabletop (canvas) to work on, copy the segment in, place it, and then copy it in again. The layer can be rotated so that the edges just line up. You can either keep doing that, one piece at a time, or copy the  new larger piece and copy that in fewer times. Eventually, either way, you will have all of your segments in place.

photoshop blog pix-5

Now comes the cool part, new to me this week. A picture of the top can be turned into a layer, and the center removed, using the eraser or magic wand tool. Adjust one or the other so that the picture pixel width is correct, then overlay the picture of the top – with the empty hole – over the semicircle of veneer slices you made earlier. Voila! That is how the tabletop will look.

I made three different ones for my customer, based on patterns I saw in the sheet. They are shown. The third one has reversed slices, to make the larger pattern.

Boston Federal Hall Table | Veneer Detail | Top Pattern | see more at

photoshop blog pix-6

photoshop blog pix-7

Veneer is a wonderful way of generating patterns and this technique lets you see the outcome with much higher fidelity than other methods I’ve seen.

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Furniture Focus: Federal Hall Tables

New feature today!  We’re starting a series called Furniture Focus, where Dad will highlight the design and history of pieces he’s made in the past.  First up are his Federal Style Hall Tables! – Jenn

Federal Hall Table | Bedside tables in the Federal Style | Two Drawer End Table | Custom Walnut Burl with Inlay | Charlottesville custom furniture | see more at


The traditional American furniture style that I find most attractive is the Federal period, just after the revolution. The fully preserved Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum were unearthed in 1748, and the resulting influence of classical design had fully transformed fashionable European furniture by 1760. Gone were the curves and flourishes of Queen Anne/Louis XV and the rococo styles, and in came a graceful rectilinear style with fine inlay lines and flat paneled cases.

Workers conversant in these styles emigrated to the US in the 1760’s and 1770’s, and fashionable Colonists embraced the style. After the revolution, Eagle motifs and other symbols not from Europe became prominent.  The smaller houses here changed the scale of the furniture, and American Federal is lighter and more graceful than most comparable English Hepplewhite furniture.

Federal Hall Table | Bedside tables in the Federal Style | Two Drawer End Table | Custom Walnut Burl with Inlay | Charlottesville custom furniture | see more at

I purchased a bedside table while a student, and made another in my first woodworking class, from plywood. Almost thirty years later, a refresher seemed in order.  Cherry Federal bedside tables would be attractive, almost go with our other bedroom furniture, and were something I’d wanted to make for some time. The size of the tables was driven by the space available in our bedroom – 22” wide by 16” deep, and 24” tall. Two drawers made them useful, and sizing them at 3” tall was enough for utility without unbalancing the design.

Federal Hall Table | Bedside tables in the Federal Style | Two Drawer End Table | Custom Walnut Burl with Inlay | Charlottesville custom furniture | see more at

The rails between the drawers are 5/8” – it’s amazing how much lighter they look than ¾” rails. The interior space between the legs is 17” wide and 15” tall – far enough from square to look like it was done on purpose. The legs are tapered on both inside surfaces – this makes the table much more elegant while keeping the visual weight inside the feet.  The legs have inlaid banded cuffs at ankle and shoulder, which is appropriate for the period and manages the transition from the rectangular post block to the tapered legs. Thin walnut inlays in the cherry legs are also typical, add emphasis to enhance the verticality of the piece.  A traditional ogee molding on the underside of the top lightens the look of the horizontal edge.  Case joinery is completely traditional – mortise and tenon throughout.

Federal Hall Table | Bedside tables in the Federal Style | Two Drawer End Table | Custom Walnut Burl with Inlay | Charlottesville custom furniture | see more at

The drawer fronts are in book matched walnut burl veneer, which adds symmetrical but random patterns and colors to the front of the case, to counter the extreme rectilinearity of the case and the other design motifs. The drawer fronts are cog-beaded, to protect the veneer and provide another shadow line for the case front. Drawer construction was traditional : the drawers were dovetailed, half blind in the front, and drawer bottoms are poplar panels inset in a groove in the drawer front and sides.  Really nice Federal brass knobs from Horton Brasses add some zing.

The pieces were finished with shellac and wax, which looks great but doesn’t withstand abuse well on horizontal surfaces. I may change that one day but for now they are holding up extremely well.

Interested in Federal Furniture?  You may enjoy some of Dave’s favorite Federal and American furniture books:

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