Refinishing Veneer Furniture – How to for veneer Beginners

Why is everyone so fearful of refinishing veneer furniture? 

 

When I first started refinishing, I made a point of searching for solid wood before quickly realizing that 95% of the vintage furniture in Europe was veneer pieces. I have never found a solid walnut mid-century dresser in the Netherlands. It may exist, but it is not in my price range. Now, I digress.

 

Learning to work with veneer is a crucial part of furniture refinishing. It cannot be avoided, and you should not simply rely on Bondo (don’t get me started on Bondo usage) and paint for veneer damage. Roll up your sleeves and dive into the world of wood veneer. It’s not as scary as you think.

Table of Contents

What is Wood Veneer?

Veneer is a thin layer of wood glued onto a core material to create a piece of furniture. Veneer furniture became popular in the early 20th century as a more affordable alternative to solid wood furniture.

 

 Key advantages of veneer furniture include a lower cost than similar solid wood, fewer raw materials used, and the ability to maximize figured wood grain patterns.

 

One disadvantage of wood veneer is that it’s considered less durable than solid wood. The veneer can chip, peel or crack over the years and due to its thinness, it cannot be refinished as often as solid wood. 

Various pieces of veneer as part of the wood identification kit from Sauers
Various pieces of veneer. This wood identification kit is a handy tool to have.

Identifying Veneer vs Solid Wood

Wood veneer is a thin layer of decorative wood glued over another type of wood core, compared to solid wood furniture, which is made from a solid piece of wood. 

 

Wood Veneers are often cleverly used to disguise the fact that the item is not solid wood, but there are several ways to identify solid wood from veneer. Use these five steps to determine if the piece you are viewing is veneer or solid wood

 

Practice makes progress, so check out all items of furniture you come across to see if you can tell the solid from the veneer.

Hardwax oil finish on teak veneer.
Is it solid wood or veneer?

How Thin is Wood Veneer?

The actual thickness of the veneer varies depending on the item to which it is being applied. Since we are refinishing veneer furniture, let’s exclude panelling and musical instruments and focus only on furniture. 

 

Since the Industrial Revolution, the typical veneer thickness for furniture has ranged around 0.6 mm to 0.8 mm. Prior to the invention of modern saws for cutting veneers, it was done by hand. So, truly antique veneer furniture is more likely 1mm to 3mm in thickness. These thicker veneers are a sign of age on your project and you will have the additional hurdle of trying to find similar veneer available today for repairs.

 

Check out more information on how thick wood veneer is and how to refinish it. 

What is Mahogany Wood Veneer
pieces of mahogany wood veneer

The different types of Wood Veneers

Not only does wood veneer come in many different species, but it is also available in different styles for applications. A veneer can be made of raw wood, paper-backed, edge banding,2 or 3-ply veneer, engineered, and more. So, what type of veneer are you looking at? 

 

Working with veneers requires the ability to identify wood types and wood veneer types. Not being able to match the wood veneer will make repairs very difficult. 

Chipped birds eye veneer on stonehill drinks cabinet

Repairing Damaged Veneer

Vintage Veneer Furniture is often in good shape when taken care of over the decades. However, veneers can become damaged over time through everyday wear and tear.

 

Let’s face it: Some of the veneer furniture we are refinishing is 60+ years old. So naturally, there are several common damages that can arise, along with solutions for repairing them. 

 

Let’s Breathe new Life into our old veneer furniture. We should start by assessing the damaged area for the type of issue. 

Chipped birds eye veneer on stonehill drinks cabinet
Chipped Birds Eye Maple.

Removing Dents and Scratches

If veneer furniture has minor dents or scratches, they can often be removed by steaming the area. That’s right—steam! So don’t reach for that wood filler just yet!

 

The steam helps to swell the wood fibres back into shape. The simple steps to repairing dents and scratches on wood veneer furniture are straightforward. 

Dent and Scratches in wood veneer can be removed easily
Small Dents and Scratches in Veneer

Fixing Sanded Through Spots

sanded through veneer patch, highly noticeable due to contrasting colours
Sanded Through Veneer

If veneer is sanded too often, aggressively, or long, it can break through the thin top layer. You can patch small sections of sanded-through patches by blending paint to mimic the missing veneer.

 

Sounds difficult?

 

Not at all. It just takes a little practice and patience to mix the right colours.

 

Read all the steps clearly listed for repairing sanded-through veneer, or better yet, watch the video!

Replacing Chipped Veneer

For minor chips in the veneer, you can use wood glue to reattach the pieces. But what if you no longer have the necessary pieces? How do you patch the veneer?

 

The process is easier than you think! Follow these easy steps to repairing chipped veneer like a pro. 

 

Reading not your thing?  This video on how to repair chipped veneer will give you a visual how to guide.

Fixing Bubbled Veneer

Over time, the veneer can lift and bubble away from the substrate beneath. This is often caused by moisture damage, which loosens the old glue. Water damage is really the enemy of wood veneer!

 

You can use a dry iron to reheat the old glue and weights to help it to adhere again. However, if this doesn’t work, the next step is a relatively simple procedure. 

 

Get yourself a hobby needle and follow the steps to repairing bubbled veneer

Glue seeps out of the cut to repair bubbled veneer

Lifting Veneer

Lifting or loose veneer differs from bubbled veneer as it starts on the edges. As the veneer glue fails, the veneer lifts and lifting veneer on the edge is damaged and must be handled immediately. If not repaired, it will begin to chip away. 

 

The repairs are simple, requiring glue and clamps or weights. 

 

Repairing Lifting Veneer Coming Soon

Removing the Old Finish from Veneer

When refinishing wood veneer, you usually need to remove the existing finish first. I personally prefer to use a chemical stripper rather than a carbid scrapper, which could scratch the thin veneer. A stripper lets you remove the original finish without damaging the thin wood veneer surfaces.

 

Refinishing bare wood is always recommended. Once you have made the necessary repairs or replacement of veneer, you can add your new finish for a sleak new look.

Removing Veneer

Remove wood Veneer from particle board

Now, there may be times when you are refinishing veneer furniture and find yourself needing to remove the veneer—that’s right, the whole thing from the entire surface! 

 

It may be beyond repair, or you may want to go with a different wood species. 

 

Removing veneer is easy; it’s simply time-consuming. When you first start you will consider it a good idea, but be prepared for fustration to hit.  Just keep at it, I promise it will be worth the effort!

 

You can remove veneer using two different methods: the heat method, using a heat gun to loosen the glue, or the wet method, using a wet towel and a dry iron. 

 

I personally find the easiest way to do this for large sections of veneer is the wet method.

 

You will need to take a few extra precautions when removing veneer from particle board. You can also simply sand the veneer away!

Applying New Veneer

apply glue to veneer using a glue roller. Glue roller is a key tool for refinishing veneer furniture

Applying a new veneer can seem daunting. How do you afford enough clamps? What about a veneer press?

 

Thankfully, there are ways to work around these requirements. Modern wood glue can be heated with an iron. I have had good success ironing on veneer with standard wood glue.

 

That’s right! Imagine the refinishing possibilities when you simply apply new veneer with glue and iron.

 

But what about applying veneer to a curve? Well I have got you covered there as well. Check out the project I did recently, which also involved an iron

Vintage Stonehill Drinks cabinet, all the veneer has been replaced and refinished

Veneer Tools

Now, each repair will require a different set of tools, and most of them, such as tack cloth, will already be in your arsenal. But do you need any tools for working with veneer? 

 

I personally recommend a Glue Roller as a must-have tool for working with veneer, especially if you are applying new sheets of veneer. You should also have A Dry Iron and A Heat Gun. Most applications or veneer removals involve medium to high heat. 

 

I would avoid bothering with a veneer saw. I have one and prefer using my utility knife over the veneer saw. 

 

Nearly all the other tools you will require are the standard Professional Furniture Refinishing Tools. I assume if you are already refinishing furniture, you will have most of the items on this list, like a sanding block, chemical stripper, putty knife, and so on. 

wood glue and glue roller

Gluing Veneer

There are various glues on the market for veneer use, so I do not blame you for being confused as to which is best for you or your project. I’m currently busy testing out various types of glue and hope to come back with a concrete list soon. 

Sanding Veneer

Sanding veneer is possible. it's a key element of refinishing veneer furniture

The most frequent question about veneer is how to safely sand it. Well, I have some good news and some bad news. Which would you prefer first?

 

The good news is that I share my techniques for avoiding sanding through the thin veneer layer. These sanding veneer tips are handy to put into practice and will help you minimize the dreaded burn-through.

 

The bad news is that you never fully realize how thick the veneer you are working on is. Perhaps the veneer has been refinished before, in which case it would be ultra-thin. Even the best refinishers will occasionally burn through the veneer.  

Veneer Edge Banding

I’ve included a separate section for veneer Edge banding. These edges are an easy and effective way to finish the exposed edges of veneer furniture and surfaces. 

 

However, it is also the first area of veneer that tends to experience damage. Veneer Edge Banding’s removal and application are slightly different from those of sheets of veneer. 

veneer banding or veneer edging an important tool in refinishing veneer furniture

The process is even easier than that of veneer sheets. The best way to remove veneer edge banding is to use the heat method. The edge banding usually comes off in long ribbons this way. 

Veneer Edge Banding is often pre-glued. This is the simplest way to apply it, and I do not recommend any other way. It’s as simple as pressing the edge banding to the area you want to apply it, applying heat, allowing it to cool, and cutting off the overhang. Easy Peasy! 

Final Thoughts

Refinishing veneer furniture is nothing to be feared when you break it down. It is a process of understanding the nature of the veneer, the potential damage you may face, and the methods of repair.

 

Conquering skills around veneer opens up the limitless potential for refinishing old furniture, which was closed off or could only be solved by painting. 

 

So roll up those sleeves, drag out that dresser you have been avoiding and start working on that veneer refinishing project. 

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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

This post may contain amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, if you decide to make a purchase through the provided links, at no additional cost to you.

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