There is an old saying, "It's a veneer tree if the timber buyer pays you a veneer price!" However, all too often, many landowners fail to receive veneer prices for their veneer trees/logs - that's where education and knowledge come into play!
Veneer Trees/Logs: Typically the highest quality logs, most of which come from the butt log (i.e., the first log above the stump). Most veneer buyers require a minimum veneer log length of 8 ft – 6 inches. The extra 6 inches is for trim allowance. However, different veneer markets have different requirements. I’ve been told by some veneer buyers that they will accept veneer logs as short as 6 feet for international markets; but this is all based on market demand.
External Requirements: Veneer logs typically must be free of exterior bark defects and must be relatively round, straight, and well-formed logs. Veneer logs should have nominal external defects such as limb scars; bird peck; mechanical wounds; seams; pin knots/dormant buds; abnormal growths; bark irregularities; etc. Prime veneer trees/logs, or four-sides-clear (4SC) logs are considered the best quality logs. Select, or three-sides-clear (3SC), and sometimes two-sides-clear (2SC) logs based on market demand, will often command a “veneer” price, although not as high of a veneer price as the prime veneer trees. Larger diameter veneer trees often command higher prices than smaller diameter veneer trees, but not always!
Internal Requirements: Uniform in color; sapwood width; amount of “false” heartwood (ash, maple); uniform growth rate (texture); centered pith; no shake; no mineral streaks or stains; tension wood; free of foreign materials; etc. Although subject to market demands, most veneer logs are a minimum of 14-16” diameter inside bark (DIB).
PLEASE NOTE: The grading of hardwood veneer is truly an art and a science! I’ve met numerous veneer buyers over the years and they all seem to have a different grading techniques regarding what it takes to qualify as a veneer log (not to confuse you, but there are also different grades of veneer logs and each grade pays differently). It takes a lot of experience to know which geographic regions produce good veneer quality trees and it takes a keen eye to identify external tree and internal log characteristics that commonly influence tree/log quality for potential veneer. Moreover, current forest conditions and past forest conditions play a huge part in the assessment of veneer quality trees!
So, what's a landowner to do? I always recommend that a landowner contact a professional consulting forester. An experienced consulting forester has a trained eye, has experience in marketing timber, and will represent your needs and not those of the timber buyer -- or else have a local forester recommend a respected and trusted timber buyer in your area!
Best of luck!
Here are several wonderful publications on hardwood veneer: