Create a Veneer Starburst

Make a show-stopper with these easy steps.

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The beautiful symmetry of a starburst (or radial) veneered pattern transforms a project into something special. The procedure shown here makes it easy, and works for making a tabletop, a box lid, or an inlay for a larger panel. 

Determine the foundation

Before starting, consider the size of the veneer field, the type of veneer you will use, and the desired number of sections in the pattern. For this tabletop, I made a 20"-diameter field with eight sections of walnut veneer, surrounded by a segmented oak border. 

Start by making an MDF wedge template for guiding cuts on the veneer sections. Dividing the 360° in a circle by 8 gives an angle of 45° for the wedge. The two long sides must be longer than the field radius (10"), so I made mine 12" long. Glue a piece of 120-grit sandpaper to one face to prevent the wedge from slipping in use.

Cut a piece of plywood for the substrate and sand the faces smooth. To press the veneer to the plywood, make two clamping platens the same size as the substrate from 34 " melamine [Photo A, below]. 

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Drill 5⁄16" alignment holes through the platens and the substrate on opposite corners. Mark a corner edge so you can easily orient them during assembly.


Also make six clamping cauls (2×2s as long as the platens and crowned on one side) for providing equal pressure along the faces of the platens. Form the crown using a jointer or a hand plane, tapering from the middle out, removing about 116 " at the ends.

Assemble the starburst

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The light sapwood in this flitch will highlight the “star” of the starburst. Number the pieces in the same order they come stacked in the flitch.

For this pattern, choose eight consecutive pieces of veneer about 8" wide and 12" long and number them 1–8 for reference [Photo B, above]. Using a pair of mirrors on piece number 1, determine the most attractive pattern and mark the veneer along the inside face of both mirrors [Photo C, below].

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Preview potential patterns with two mirrors joined with a hinge of painters tape. Set the angle between them using the MDF wedge, and bridge their top edges with another strip of tape.

Stack the veneer pieces in order with their edges and ends flush, and tape the stack together. Place the MDF wedge over the veneer pack, aligned with the layout lines and with the point away from you, and clamp the assembly to your bench. Using a veneer saw or a utility knife with a fresh blade, cut through all eight pieces of veneer along the right-hand side of the wedge. 

Disassemble the pack and remove pieces 3–6. Restack and tape pieces 1, 2, 7, and 8, and cut their left sides along the wedge. Then, for the best bookmatches, arrange the pieces as shown in Drawing 1, below, alternating the pieces face-up and face-down. 

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To get a seamless joint between adjacent pieces, “shoot” the edges straight [Photo D, below]. Then using painters tape, join the wedges [Photo E, following] to make two halves, one with pieces 1–4 and one with 5–8. 

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Attach 120-grit sandpaper to a straight scrap. With the mating edges of two veneer wedges overhanging a scrap of plywood, press the veneer in place with the MDF wedge, and gently sand a straight edge.

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Stretch short strips of tape across the joint to pull it together. Then run a strip the full length of the joint. Join two two-piece sections to make a half.

Place a long straightedge over the point where the four wedges meet [Photo F, below], trim away the excess material from the outer pieces, and shoot the edge as before. Repeat on the other half, then tape the two halves together. 

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Position the straightedge to make the exposed “keeper” portions of the two outside wedges equal sizes.

To keep the completed panel stable, the back side of the substrate must also be veneered [Photo G, below]. 

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Backer veneer for the underside of the substrate can be of any species and need not have a fancy pattern. Shoot the edges as for the starburst, then tape the pieces together.

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On your bench, place a couple of 2"-wide scraps just longer than the platens, then set on them a platen, and the substrate. Spread glue over the face of the substrate only [Photo H, above]. Place the backer veneer on the glued surface and secure it with a few pieces of painters tape. Flip the substrate over and repeat the process on the other side with the sunburst veneer [Photo I, below]. Line up the holes in the platens and substrate, drop in a 14 " bolt to prevent the pieces from slipping, and clamp [Photo J, following].

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Roughly center the starburst pattern on the substrate. Make sure the veneer doesn’t cover the corner holes.

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Pair cauls on each face of the glue-up with the crown against each platen. The cauls distribute pressure across the full width of the platens.

Round things up

While the veneer dries, glue up a border that will surround the field. Mill the lumber about 132 " thicker than the veneered top, 3 14 " wide, and at least 84" long. Miter-cut each end of twelve segments at 15° [Drawing 2, below], then glue these into a circle [Photo K, following]. 

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Dry-fit the segments and check for gaps before gluing up the circle. A band clamp pulls everything together.

While the border dries, install a 14 " downcut spiral bit in your router, attach it to a trammel, and set it to cut a 10" radius, measuring to the inside of the bit.


Unclamp the veneered top and peel away the tape. Then drill a hole to accept the pivot pin for the trammel where the veneer points meet [Photo L, below].

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A finish nail makes a good pivot pin for the trammel. Use another nail in your drill to make a matching hole in the veneer substrate.

Rout the veneered field round taking three successively deeper passes. Make the first pass in a clockwise direction (a climb cut) to prevent tear-out of the veneer. 


After the border dries, sand it to 120 grit. Make a spoilboard from a piece of plywood large enough to hold the border, and mark centerlines on the length and width. Line up the miter joints on the border with these marks to center the assembly on the spoilboard. Secure the border with screws from below, placing them so they won’t fall into the 10"- or 12"-radius cutting path of the router bit. Center and secure a 3"-square pivot block [Photo M, below]. 

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Draw diagonal lines to find the center of the pivot block, align them with the lines on the spoilboard, and screw the block in place. Drill a centered hole in the block to fit the trammel pivot pin.

Reset the trammel to cut a 10" radius, measured to the outside of the bit, and rout the inside of the border [Photo N, below]. Then set the trammel to 12" to the inside of the bit and rout the outside of the border. 

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Rout through the border in consecutively deeper passes, just as you did with the field.

To glue the border to the field, I use a slow-setting epoxy. This fills small gaps between them and won’t swell the wood fibers. This bond also reinforces the mitered border joints.

After the epoxy cures, install an inlay between the border and the field. To do this, mount a 18 " straight bit in the router, and set the trammel so the center of the bit falls on the center of the seam between the field and border. Make two passes to cut 18 " deep. Cut 18 "-thick inlay material 316 " wide to fit the groove without hammering it in. Glue this in with PVA glue, allow it to dry for several hours, then work the inlay flush [Photo O, below]. 

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Plane away most of the inlay, then finish up with a card scraper and sandpaper, being careful to not sand through the veneer.

Rout a 14 " round-over on the top and bottom edges. Cover the trammel pivot-pin hole by drilling a larger (38 ") hole then filling it with a face-grain plug.

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