Full Chisel Blog

November 26, 2009

Hammer Veneering with Liquid Hide Glue

Filed under: Hide Glue,Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:39 am

The other day I read on a woodworking forum on the Internet that you can only hammer veneer with hot hide glue.  That the wood and veneer needed to be warm and the glue hot.  I seem to remember talking about hammer veneering in Hide Glue – Historical & Practical Applications and mentioned that it could be done with liquid hide glue.

For those of you who don’t know hammer veneering is a technique of applying a thin veneer to a wooden substrate with nothing but hide glue and a special tool called a veneer hammer.  The hammer is actually a squeegee that is used to flatten out the veneer, squeeze out the glue and adhere the veneer fast to the substrate without clamps.  The veneer hammer has a hickory handle like a hammer but the head is made with a wide blade.  Inset in the maple head is boxwood which is smooth and works great.  Some hammers had brass as a blade, bone works well, anything that is smooth and resists rust.

I grabbed a scrap of chestnut burl veneer and found an appropriately sized scrap of pine.  I prepared the surface of the pine with a toothing plane to give a key or tooth to the pine to improve adhesion (by up to 30% ).  The chestnut burl veneer was rough enough and with open pores that I didn’t need to tooth the veneer.

Now here is the trick; I used a glue comb to evenly spread a given amount of liquid hide glue over the surface of the pine substrate, the notches in the comb leaving just the right amount of glue.  I then put glue on the veneer and smoothed with the flat side of the comb to insure the surface was wet but with very little glue.  I put the veneer down and at that point the veneer started to curl a bit from the moisture of the hide glue, so I put a bit on top and smoothed it with the flat side of the comb.

I then started in the middle of the piece and worked toward the edges with a zig-zag walking motion to squeeze the excess glue out.  Using the comb meant uniform glue coverage and very little squeeze out.  The hammer is held with the handle in one hand and the other hand on the head to push down while the handle is moved back and forth.  As the hammer works over the veneer it begins to make a noise.  It is almost a crackle but not as noisy.  This is the glue getting hold of the veneer from the contact with the substrate.  After I worked over the surface (wiping any excess glue from the blade of the hammer), I was done.  The hide glue will now dry and shrink holding the veneer fast to the pine.

Because it was 44 degrees (F) in the shop I had to warm up the liquid hide glue to get it out of the container.  Once it was liquid and workable, I continued.  I did not warm the pine substrate or veneer and didn’t have any problems.  Hammer veneering is just too easy, once people try a small piece they realize that it doesn’t matter how large the piece of veneer is, it can be successfully applied using this unique method.



  1. Let me understand, Stephen…you also applied glue to the outer side of the veneer to keep it from curling away from the pine substrate?

    How was the glue on the outer side removed (assuming that it must be removed before finishing the piece) ? Would it have been possible simply to wet the veneer slightly to counteract curling?

    In any case, I’m going to have to get some liquid hide glue, make a veneer hammer and go to town!

    Cheers from Copenhagen, Jerome

    Comment by Jerome Weijers — November 29, 2009 @ 2:57 am

  2. Jerome,
    You understand correctly, you could use water but the glue acts as a lubricant moreso than water, the effect is the same to keep the veneer from curling. The advantage of Hide Glue is that it can be washed off the next day and doesn’t interfere with stain or finish. The veneer hammer will get some glue on the surface anyway as it is squeezing out the excess glue. The glue comb is the real trick to insure an even amount of glue applied to the substrate (pine in this case). The last pass over the surface of the veneer removes most of the glue and a wet rag can finish cleaning up. I generally wait until the next day to clean off the glue.

    I do discuss hammer veneering in Hide Glue – Historical & Practical Applications (shameless self promotion).

    Good luck, you will have fun using this technique.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 29, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  3. I can see your point, Stephen.

    I’ve previously only used diluted hide glue (traditional, soaked overnight and warmed) for sizing before using oil on cherry, pear and birch. Removing any excess glue was a simple task with a moist cloth, so there’s no reason that full strength hide glue shouldn’t be succeptable to thesame treatment.

    Now to find a supplier of liquid hide glue in the wilds of Denmark….

    Cheers from Copenhagen! Jerome

    Comment by Jerome Weijers — November 29, 2009 @ 11:38 am

  4. Jerome,

    If you have trouble finding it locally, Joel at Tools for Working Wood in New York, sells Old Brown Glue and excellent liquid hide glue made by Patrick Edwards.

    Or you can make your own. There are several recipes in my book for making hot hide glue liquid at room temperature. 2% urea is a common additive, but several acids do the same.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 29, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  5. You can also order fish glue from Lee Valley in Canada.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 29, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  6. Any guidance as to coverage? My first hammer veneer project is two areas of about five square feet each, for which I purchased a 1 pound bag of 192g glue.


    Comment by Al — December 26, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

  7. Al,

    The coverage will vary depending upon how thick you apply the hot hide glue. Don’t mix it all up as you will not need that much. You can control the amount with a glue comb (like a notched trowel), just warm up the metal comb so it doesn’t shock the glue, also warm up your work, both substrate and veneer. You do want to mix a sufficient quantity, because you don’t want to run out. I would think a cup of glue would do 5 square feet.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 27, 2009 @ 10:35 am

  8. I have been rebuilding and veneering repairs onto pianos for twenty years. I’ve also done new lids but have never had adaquate training and ended up with challenging finished pieces that took a lot of love to make perfect.

    I’m getting ready to build a 12′ concert grand for myself. I have a variety of woods I want to use on it. It’s base is coming from an 1885 Brazilian Rosewood concert grand that I am going to cut up and remake. The original veneer is, of course, special but this particular piano was given a very lack-luster example of veneer. I have crotch mahogany, quilted-waterfall Bubinga and paper backed Bolivian Rosewood all at my disposal for decorating this piano.

    But I’m going to be veneering horizontal, and vertical surfaces over old veneers (after I assure myself that said veneers are still very, very well glued down.) I know the better approach is to remove all old veneer first but that would probably make a mess of the surface. I won’t veneer over anything that isn’t perfect. If you know any way to remove original veneers without making a royal mess, I’m all ears.

    Here’s my question: I’ve always been under the impression that hammer veneering was meant for the jobs where you could lay the entire panel of veneer down in one fell swoop, before the glue set. All by yourself (I have noone to help me.) Do I understand that it’s OK to hammer veneer, staring in the middle, and then add more hide glue with the comb as I work down the line and toward the edges so as to get good bonding, flat surface and a successful finish? That seems almost too good to be true but I’m eager so hear what you think. I’ve always had trouble with store bought liquid hide glues and have reverted to stict use of ground hide glue purchased from piano supply houses and from Organ Supply Industries. I tried pearl once and it refused to take on water during soaking and never would melt.

    Also, I’ve heard from many quarters that hammer veneering over two-ply veneer and over paper backed veneer was a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve been told that I can only use high tech veneer glues with vacuum bags or clamping pressures to glue such veneers in place. What say you?

    Comment by David Rodgers — June 30, 2012 @ 12:32 am

  9. David,
    You can remove the veneer by carefully heating it with a clothes iron and using a wide blade putty knife. Set the iron to 150 degrees F and heat and lift the veneer. Then use a toothing plane to flatten the substrate.

    For two ply or paper backed apply a thin layer of glue to the substrate and the back of the veneer and let them dry. Then using a hot clothes iron you can apply it like heat sensitive veneer. I can’t hammer veneer this stuff.

    You can hammer veneer the entire top if your shop is hot enough a 90 degree shop will give you better than 10 minute open time, so you should be able to hammer down a large top in half that time.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — June 30, 2012 @ 6:19 am

  10. Stephen,

    I have never done any veneer work before, however I have been rebuilding an old walnut rocking chair with a curved head rest having a small (1 1/2″ x 12″) piece of veneer in the midst of other carvings. How do attach this piece of veneer without getting glue all over the rest of the carvings? Is it best to use liquid hide glue or a UF. Because of the configuration of the carvings, it would seem reasonable to me to cut the veneer to exact size before gluing. I realize I have you at a disadvantage because you can not see exactly what I am talking about, but I am extremely ignorant on veneering and I would like to do this right.

    Stephen Brooks

    Comment by Stephen Brooks — October 19, 2012 @ 7:29 am

  11. Stephen,
    You should be able to cut the replacement piece the exact size. Use liquid hide glue or hot hide glue I don’t know what UF is. You can easily wash off any hide glue that gets on the carvings. Make sure the groundwork is clean before you start.

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — October 19, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  12. Stephen,

    Urea-Formaldehyde glues are plastic resin glues. I’ve never used them either. I was told their open time was longer than the Titebond type glues and are commonly used for veneer.
    I will be taking your advice. I’ve never worked with hide glue, so I will do a test before I begin.

    Thanks again,
    Stephen Brooks
    Franklin, TN

    Comment by Stephen Brooks — October 21, 2012 @ 11:29 am

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