The art of veneering – Part II – veneer work

This is Part II of a three part series on my first venture into veneer repair on an antique clock. Prior to beginning this project I spent many hours researching veneer repair, watching YouTube videos and seeking advice from my knowledgeable colleagues at NAWCC.

This is an 8-day Seth Thomas column and cornice time and strike shelf clock with sleigh front. It has a Plymouth Lyre movement with a Thomaston Conn. label. The clock was made in the early 1870s.

Part I explores the steps in preparation for veneer repair.

The focus of this, Part II, is the selection of the correct veneer, working with hide glue, as well as cutting, applying and trimming the veneer.

Although one is tempted to use readily available yellow or white carpenters glue the only authentic product to use is hide glue

The veneer

I am not an expert in wood finishes and determining the type of veneer was my first major task. To do this I had to rely on expertise to tell me that I had Rosewood veneer. Once I discovered the type of veneer, I had to determine the quantity and the specific repairs that are required for this clock. My research revealed that the veneer used at the time was Brazilian Rosewood. An exotic wood, Rosewood would have been used extensively by clock-makers of that era and it is the correct veneer for this project. A clock friend (thanks JC) sent me two 7 X 8 inch pieces of Rosewood veneer, more than enough for the job.

The very worst sections were the top and bottom of the case and the column bases as one would expect given wear and tear over the years. Most of the cornice veneer is in good shape as are the door sections, door surrounds and the sleighs just above the feet.

Hide glue

One is tempted to use readily available yellow or white carpenters glue but the only authentic adhesive for clock case applications is hide glue. Hide glue is the glue of choice and it would have been utilized at the time the clock was manufactured. I chose pearl hide glue which is a type of hide glue rated at 150g Bloom strength. It takes takes a little longer to gel and with the longer working time it is better for applications like this when you need time to fit, but where high strength is not absolutely essential.

If you have never worked with hide glue, it is best to start with a small batch. My first batch was larger than I needed and too thin. Simply put 2 tablespoons (30ml) of glue in a heat-resistant glass container, cover with 1 tablespoons (15ml) of cold water and let soak for about an hour or until the glue softens and becomes gelatinous. Less is more and I recommend making small quantities. For about 20CDN you can buy a supply that will last a long time.

Place the container with the gelatinous glue in a bath of water in a pot especially designed for hide glue or a double boiler which I found worked just as well. Heat to approximately 140°F (60°C) and maintain the temperature. A candy thermometer is ideal to keep the glue at an even temperature.

Home-made double boiler with temperature maintained on a hot plate


Clamps, weights, tweezers, wax paper, a sharp knife, a metal straight-edge, painter’s tape, a micrometer, sand paper, palm sander and whatever you choose to use as a double boiler complete the list of tools.

A micrometer is an indispensable tool for accurate measurements. Accurate measurements ensure a good fit, minimize the use of fillers and lessen waste.

A micrometer ensures an accurate cut

Cutting, trimming & clamping

Cutting veneer can be tricky. Veneer is thin, brittle and can easily tear. Veneer today is different than veneer used 100+ years ago, it is very thin. On some clocks you may need to double-up, that is layer the veneer to approach the height of the original veneer.

Cutting can be a challenge since you must follow the grain and those narrow strips can break very easily. Painters tape is a true friend since it prevents tearing and it is easily removed from the veneer prior to application.

Painters tape ensure a rip free cut
Painters tape ensure a rip free cut
Painters tape easily peels off
You will never have enough clamps

I chose to work one area at a time moving from the bottom of the case to the top. The next photos shows veneer sections glued and clamped into place. Clamps are essential for veneer repair but when clamps do not work other methods such as weights can be employed. You will never have enough clamps! Although a clamp need only be in place for a few hours, having it on for a 24 hours is best for maximum adhesion.

Clamping cornice veneer
Clamping cornice veneer
Door piece and corner base piece is clamped
Door piece and corner base piece is clamped

The upper left cornice presented a unique challenge. A section was missing just above the cornice. Fashioned out of softwood it was glued in place.

A piece of pine was cut to fit
A piece of pine was cut to fit
strip of veneer applied
Strip of veneer glued in place;  prior to trimming and sanding

In this photo the piece for the curved part of the veneer is applied. The top area of the front cornice is now ready for staining and finishing.

Small angular cornice piece on left is glued in place
Top section almost complete and ready for staining
Top section is almost complete except for a left side cornice section (not visible in this shot)
As with any other project there will always be a slight colour variance as one would expect over the course of a century or more but the goal is to come as close to the original finish as possible

As mentioned the worst areas were the very top and very bottom of the case, expected after years of wear and tear. Another area which had veneer loss were the column bases. When possible I used old veneer to repair small areas but I found it very brittle and hard to work with. From my research I discovered that there are methods of softening old veneer but that can wait until the next project.

Right column base
Right column base, prior to sanding and trimming

After many hours the veneer work is now complete The next step is colour matching the new to the existing veneer. As you can see in the following photo the chip held by green tape shows that Rosewood Minwax Gel stain is a close match to the older veneer. My experimentation did not end. Part III explores other finishing options.

As with any other project such as this there will always be a slight colour variance as one would expect over the course of a century or more. The goal is to be as close as possible to the original finish.

Colour matching test: the green tape is holding a chip that has one coat of Rosewood stain

Now that the veneer work has been applied the next and final stage is finishing. Stay tuned for Part III in a few days time.

2 thoughts on “The art of veneering – Part II – veneer work

  1. Thanks for sharing. When you consider workmanship deco you think smooth lines and agreeable, current materials. Well known materials to look over incorporate aluminum, stainless steel and lacquered wood with trim. Your hues must be intense, particularly for the adornments. Earth tones and neutrals would be extraordinary on the dividers.vintage posters


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