This article is a discussion about how thin wood veneer cuts are sliced from a log and what kinds of characteristics are visible as a result. If you are interested in the characteristics of boards and lumber, check out our article Wood Lumber Cuts.
The appearance of a veneer is directly related to the method used to slice the pieces, or leaves. A series of leaves are always kept in order as they are cut from the flitch, or section of a log. This allows the designer to control the grain pattern as it progresses around an item or room, often called wood veneer matching.
Plain Sliced Veneer
Plain slicing is the most common method of cutting a log, where the slice is parallel to the center cut of a log. It produces a cathedral pattern at the center of the leaf and a straight pattern at the sides.
Quarter Sliced Veneer
Quarter sliced veneers produce a straight line pattern across the face of the veneer. The density of lines varies across a log and among different species. Some hardwoods, including oak and sometimes maple, have a secondary pattern of flecks, which is referred to as "figure," which many designers find to be attractive. Quarter sliced veneers are more expensive than plain sliced.
Rift Sliced Veneer
Like quarter slicing, rift sliced veneers produce a straight line pattern across the face. However, rift slicing is done slightly off the radius lines, which reduces the fleck or figure that is produced by quarter slicing. Rift slicing is mostly done with oak; rarely with other species.
Rotary Sliced Veneer
Rotary sliced veneers are produced by placing a log on a lathe and slicing in line with the growth rings, much like unrolling a roll of paper. A very random and broad pattern is produced, which makes it difficult to match at veneer edges. For this reason, rotary slicing is rarely used.
Barber Pole Effect
As the knife passes through a log, it compresses the face closest to the outside of the log. The pores on the face closest to the center of the log are released. Due to this stressing and the natural growth of the material, the two faces reflect light differently. When used in a book matched layout (refer to our Wood Veneer Matching article), this produces an alternating light and dark pattern across adjacent leaves. This pattern is often referred to as a barber pole effect and is generally considered unattractive.
If you are interested in a more detailed technical discussion of wood veneer cuts and appearances, refer to the AWI Woodwork Standards.