Learning to work with veneer quickly became apparent to me when I started refinishing furniture. Since approximately 95% of the pieces I currently refinish, are veneer, I had to get over the beginners fear of working with veneer quickly. One of the first steps you need to learn is how to remove veneer.
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Learn by Doing!
In our home we have a moto: Learning is trying. It is what fuels my many experiments in the atelier.
It is also what fuelled by first attempt to remove veneer. If others can, then so can I!
I ditched the idea of making repairs to veneer by simply using Bondo (ack! don’t even think about it) and started thinking of repairing veneer like a restoration expert would.
Here is what I have learned:
2 Methods on How to Remove Veneer
There are two key methods to remove veneer. I’ve used both of these methods and while I have a preference for the wet method on most surfaces, I would not advice using it if the substrate (material) under the veneer is pressed or particle board. Water and pressed wood do not mix.
Veneer removal with Heat
For veneer edging or banding, I prefer to use the heat gun method for removal.
Simply set your heat gun to a medium to low setting and heating the glue holding the veneer in place. When the glue softens, you can work a putty knife or painters’ scrapper under the edge of the veneer. Slide it forward slowly until you meet resistance. Use the heat gun again to heat the area with resistance and then slide the putty knife further. Continue these two steps until you reach the end, and the veneer is fully loose.
This method works well, as most glues used on veneer are heat activated. By heating the veneer, you are reactivating the glue and can then slide the tool between to lift it up and off. I have not yet met a veneer banding strip that isn’t removable via this method.
Veneer removal with wet and warm method
For a larger sections of veneer you can try the wet and warm method. This method requires you placing a damp towel on the piece of veneer you wish to remove. It is important that you do not let the wet towel touch any part of the veneer or substrate that you don’t wish to damage.
Leave the towel on the veneer for an hour or two and then test if the edges are coming loose. As the glue gets wet and loosens you will be able to slide the putty knife under the veneer and separate it from the underlay.
If the glue is not lifting, you can also apply heat through the use of a warm iron on the wet towel. This combination of warmth and dampness will cause steam which should loosen the glue quickly. Then allowing you to slide the putty knife under the veneer to separate it from the underlaying material.
What do do when you have pressed board substrate
I recommend only removing veneer from items with a solid underlay for your first attempt. Therefore, avoid veneer over particle board. Particle board can split away with the veneer and can leave an uneven surface not suitable for applying new veneer.
Currently, I am working on a piece with a particle board underlay. It is feasible but not something I recommend as your first piece to fix. You will need to take extra attention to repairing the particle board or replacing it for a plywood substrate replacement.
I have had one particular piece where the veneer was extremely stubborn. The glue would not loosen in many spots and the veneer appeared to be a 2 ply layer. Unsure what that is? Read all about wood veneer types.
In the end, the only solution I could come up with was to sand the remaining patches of veneer off. I used 80 Grit, as I did not want to ruin the substrate underneath and took my time.
Definitely not a task I hope to have to do often.
Veneer is removed, now what?
When you have removed the veneer it is important to take a few steps to ensure the underlay surface is prepared for reapplication of veneer. Clean up any glue residue and sand the underlay lightly to ensure it is smooth and capable of having new veneer applied. In areas where you have left old veneer and plan on placing new veneer up to it, ensure, that that edge of the old veneer is crisp.
Not sure if your new piece is solid wood or veneer? Check out this handy checklist.
Check out More on Veneer
The thresh hold to start working with veneer can be large in some minds. It took me nearly 2 years before I decided thatI was ready. Jumping in can be difficult but when the right piece finds you, you can be determined to save it. For additional reading on removing veneer, check out How to remove wood Veneer.