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I received a commission to build a copy of a piece that I originally made in 2005.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.

Heller & Heller

Custom Furniture

Serving Virginia and Beyond

Heller & Heller

Custom Furniture

Serving Virginia & Beyond