I’ve been out cruising timber over the last few weeks and we are always looking for veneer quality trees. Veneer logs are the finest and rarest in the forest and a large portion of a quality stand’s timber value is derived from this small fraction of trees. A high quality timber stand would possibly have 20% of red oak and 10% of white oak trees being potential veneer quality. A red oak veneer is worth 3 times as much as a saw log, white oak can be 5 times as valuable and a cherry veneer can be worth as much as 8 times as much as a saw log.
Veneer logs are then sliced very thin, usually 1/2 mm and are glued onto core panels used for doors, cabinets, tops & panels and furniture parts. They only used the highest quality logs. There is no room for defects when they are slicing the logs that thin. These logs are not easy to come by either.
When we are out in the woods looking at the trees there are certain details to look for. First of all a veneer log has to be at least 14 -6 in. diameter inside the bark at the small end and 8ft. from the butt. At times the tree may have veneer potential if a foot or two is cut from the base. That creates a gamble however in the end if the log does not qualify as veneer, good timber was wasted. This is all a judgement call made by the forester. Searching for defects on the bark is another way to verify if a tree will meet the requirements. Cat faces, are caused from suckers (branches) that were there years prior and have fallen off. They leave a scar or defect in the lumber. This skill to see all this comes with years of experience.
Veneer Logs are the most attractive logs. This is determined by looking at the wood color, grain pattern & blemishes or defect content. Of course, only so much can be seen from looking at the outside of a log, but this is why they are so throughly examined before being purchased.
When the logs get to the sawmill the potential veneer logs are separated and put aside for the veneer buyer to come and inspect. I spent the afternoon with the veneer buyer who was looking at white oak logs. We analyzed each and every log individually.
The logs are spread out and then he sprays the end of each log with an anti stain solution. This prevents it from staining as well as increasing the visibility for uneven growth or defects. Then some logs were marked to be cut an inch or so from the end if there was too much mud or a potential problem that couldn’t be seen as it was. Each potential veneer log was then looked at and marked between 8 -10 feet to be cut and re examined from the other end. He was looking for any changes in the log, any slight turn or bend that would cause a defect. We did not find any logs that had the 2nd 8 ft. part of the log veneer quality, but it is a possibility.
These are some of the general veneer quality requirements
• butt logs (typically but does not always)
• freshly cut
• round, sound, and straight
• free of knots, bark distortions, decay, seams, worm
holes, and bird peck on each of the four log faces
• centered heart
• uniform color
• uniformly spaced rings
• free of metal contamination
There were many times he would point out something I still could not even see after it was pointed out, but sure enough once the other half of the log was cut off the defect that caused the change in the tree was visible.
It was really amazing examining each log in such detail and how much you could learn about the history of the tree. If the growth rings were uneven, or there was sap or mineral discoloration. Some trees actually twist around and the grain has a swirl to it. These are caused by environmental factors, probably from the tree reaching for sunlight, and a change in the canopy causes the tree to reach a different direction.
Each tree really does have its own story. Effects from the environment like discolorations and growth rings from seasons and the minerals in the soil all are records of history of each trees life. It’s no wonder we enjoy wood products. We all want to have a part of the history and story and reconnection with nature, not to mention how good wood products just look.