There are a number of ways to apply wood veneer to a substrate. If you prefer a fast, convenient method that doesn't require a lot of special equipment, good results can be achieved with contact cement and a few hand tools. With a few tips, the process is actually very easy.
To get ready, you'll want to pick the section of the veneer that you want to include. In most cases, you'll want to cut your substrate to finished size before you begin. That way, you can simply trim the veneer when you're done, without having to worry about damaging the veneer by trimming the whole finished piece with a table saw. You'll want the most attractive area of the veneer pattern centered on the substrate, and with the contact cement method, you'll have just one chance to get it right. Here's an easy method for getting that perfect piece of maple burl or Macassar ebony veneer in just the right spot.
One way to make sure you get the section of the veneer you want on the finished piece is to is to make "window" out of a piece of cardboard that's exactly the same size as your substrate. Place the substrate panel on top of a piece of cardboard, mark off the outside edge of the substrate and cut out your "veneer selecting window." Position the cardboard window over the part of the veneer you want placed on the finished piece. Mark the section of veneer and trim it ½' oversized.
Now you're ready for the contact cement. Following the manufacturers instructions, apply contact cement to both the veneer and the substrate and allow the cement to set. One advantage to using contact cement is that once the pieces touch, they will not slip as they might with liquid glue. But that also means the pieces must be in the right positions before they are pressed together.
One way to make sure that the veneer ends up in the right place is to put a piece of waxed paper between the panel and the veneer. This allows you to position the veneer over the panel before pulling the waxed paper out slowly. To make centering the veneer easier, cut the waxed paper to the same size as you cut the veneer on three sides, and a little longer on the end you'll hold when you remove it.
When you have the veneer in position, carefully pull out the wax paper, making sure that the veneer stays in place during the process. Once the pieces have made contact, roll the veneer down with a veneer roller, starting at the center of the veneer and moving outwards to the edge of the substrate. After you roll down the veneer, it's best to go over the surface with a smoothing blade to insure that the veneer is thoroughly adhered to the substrate.
Now, run your hand over the surface of the veneer to make sure that it is flat and that there are no trapped air bubbles between the veneer and the substrate. Tap your finger on any suspect areas - a higher pitched sound indicates a bubble or an area where the veneer isn't adhered. Roll down any improperly adhered areas and go over them with a smoothing blade. For a really persistent bubble, you may have to make a small slice in the direction of the grain with a razor knife to let out the trapped air.
Finally, turn the workpiece upside down on a cutting surface and trim the veneer with a razor knife using the edges of the substrate as a guide. Remember to make a few scoring strokes to establish the cut before bearing down on the veneer. Following adhesive and finish manufacturers' instructions, allow ample curing time for the contact cement before finishing the piece.
Rockler Woodworking and Hardware offers everything you'll need for your veneering project. Rockler keeps a wide variety of veneers on hand, along with quality veneering supplies including adhesives, rollers, smoothing blades, veneer cutters, and scrapers.