barb blairbefore & after basics

before and after basics: dealing with veneer issues

by Barb

In my line of work, I constantly deal with veneer issues. Some pieces have veneer bubbles, others have veneer cracks and then some are missing large patches of veneer altogether. I have a piece sitting around the studio that has all of these issues and I’ve been putting off working on it. Cleaning it up would mean getting out the chisels, lots of scraping and being oh so careful not to damage the underneath surface in the process. While picking up a piece that my friend Trey from Greystone Antiques had just finished repairing, he noticed the patch of veneer on my piece. He said, “How do you plan to get that off?” to which I shyly replied “With my chisel?” You see, I consider him the guru of furniture repair in my neck of the woods, and always feel like bowing in his presence. He then proceeded to tell me a trick to removing veneer that worked like a charm, and today I’m passing that info on to you! So if you’ve got a veneer issue on your hands and need to get a clean start, this post has you covered. Let’s get started! — Barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • old steam iron (I purchased mine at Goodwill)
  • large putty knife
  • orbital sander
  • wood glue
  • clamps

Instructions for Removing Veneer

1. Lightly spritz the surface of the piece with water. Apply heat directly to the surface with the iron, and move back and forth, covering the entire area. This may take a few minutes to work, so keep applying heat. Note: The iron will become very gunky due to the finish on the wood. If you would like to avoid this, strip the veneer down and remove all of the old finish before applying heat. I figure I’ll save myself the stripping step and get another $2.00 iron when needed!

2. After 3 or 4 minutes, see if you can get the edge of your putty knife under the loose veneer. If not, reapply heat and try again.

3. When the surface has been heated and you can get your putty knife under it, gently lift the entire piece off. It should easily come off in one big piece!

4. When all of the veneer has been removed, sand the entire surface with the orbital sander to get it ready for either painting or new veneer.

Note: I also want to add here that if you are not removing chunks of veneer but have little veneer bubbles or ripples in your surface, you can repair them in similar fashion. Take an old towel that has been wet and rung out or a piece of wax paper and put it between the iron and the furniture surface. Apply heat in a back and forth motion until the bubbles have smoothed out. When the area is smooth to your liking, use another piece of wax paper and something heavy to put weight on that area for 24 hours, or you can use a block of wood and a clamp to apply pressure. If the bubble is large, you may have to split it (following the grain direction) with a craft knife and apply glue. Then, clamp or apply weight to the area as noted above. When the split area is completely dry, you can lightly sand and prep for the next process.

This really helpful article goes into extensive detail about several veneer processes.

I hope this helps you all conquer those tricky veneer issues!

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  • Great tip. If you put a piece of newspaper on the surface, under the iron, would that absorb some of the gunk?

      • A Clothes Iron will get to about 200 degrees Celcius where as paper has an auto ignition temperature of about 240 degrees. If you are using a medium heat you are 100 degrees off having the paper combust

  • Barb, you’re a peach! Awesome tips! :)

    Still slightly kicking myself for using a glue, that in hindsight, was less than optimal for a veneer project I did 5 years ago! Do you have a favorite veneer glue? Looking back on it, I wish I’d not used reg. wood glue – maybe a contact cement instead. Recommendations? Thanks!

    • ktcrusher, I hadn’t noticed that before! so cool of you to point out! :|

      Jacquelyn, I have to say that I am a titebond wood glue girl :) I have used it on many occasions and find that it works for my projects, but you could always try a contact cement to see if you like it better.

      lisa, they recommend using craft paper or a damp piece of cloth to keep the gunk away.

  • THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    We have a table I rescued from the dumpster with terrible veneer issues that is an eye sore in our living room. You are a lifesaver!!!!

  • thank you thank you thank you. I have an adorable vanity that I picked up at a garage sale for $8 back in the spring. It has a damaged top and I have been avoiding it because I had no idea how to fix it. NOW I can hardly wait for the weekend so I can tackle it!! YAY!

  • Do you think this would work on curved surfaces? I recently purchased an art deco style English side-by-side that has veneer, from 1930s-1940s, so it’s very fine finishing, but there are many curved edges. I’m concerned about starting and being unable to get into all the crevices and corners and edgings.

  • As someone that grew up doing the grunt work in my father’s piano rebuilding/refinishing shop, you can save that iron (and the smell) by getting a thin strip of material (like a bit of calico), dampen that, and have that be your barrier between the iron and the wood. Works like a charm, and everything can be used over and over again with no sticky gunk. (Rinse off the cloth when finished.)

  • This is an amazing tutorial! Though I have so say, I have a messed up veneer dining room table that has also been painted multiple times and it’s my favourite piece of furniture. I’m thinking about just getting a sheet of glass cut to preserve the peeling paint and veneer forever!

  • Hi Barb! Thanks for this! I was one of the ones that requested a veneer tutorial, so this is awesome. What do you do to fix the little chunks that inevitably are missing on old furniture? (maybe call it wabi sabi and leave it alone? hahah) AND what is your experience with taking the veneer off and leaving it off? I’m a little afraid to do that on my dresser project, but it might work.

    You’re the best.

  • This is great! Wish i would have seen it a month ago when i took the veneer off a cart i have. Now the top is covered in sticky glue and i have nooo idea how to get it off! Any help with that??????

  • This advice is so great! I just bought a beautiful bedroom set off of craigslist for s steal, and it’s in great condition except for those veneer bubbles. I know what I’m doing this weekend :)

  • Do you know how much I loooooove and appreciate this post?

    =|…………. >.< ……………|=

    This much!! I was also one of the ones who wanted to know about the veneer removal process. That old vanity of mine will probably need to be stripped first then veneer removed and totally rehabbed. It'll be hard to part with when someone buys it after all the work. Thanking barb for taking the time out of your busy life to post this for us!!

  • use a paper towel under the iron…trust me, If I ever get wax on carpet or anything that involves an iron and something other than clothing, I always use a paper towel, its like magic.

  • Have in the past removed large areas of veneer using a chisel. If I am painting a piece and it has veneer missing I will get out the bondo and then smooth surface. Going to try this guide in future see how I get on….

  • WOW! What a transformation! I wish I was not living in a condo and I could fix a few pieces of furniture…

  • yeah for this! i recently bought an old veneer topped desk and instead of removing it, i repaired it with wood glue. i used a really good primer (for shiny surfaces) and then painted it. it turned out great! here’s the before and after (if you wanna see): http://tinyurl.com/3xa3usr

    though it worked well, next time i will try to remove it, now that i know how!

    thank you!

  • I have a several decades old cart that I am working on refinishing. I used this technique with success UNTIL I came across the sides where the veneer was laid ACROSS the grain of the wood. All success ceased. Any ideas on how to proceed?

    • anna, I might need a little more clarification…..explain the “across” part to me.

      tatiana, if the glue has dried and hardened, you can sand it all off. If it is remaining tacky than I would suggest using citri strip to get the rest of the goop off.

      rebecca, with the little chunks that are missing there are a few options…..1. you can wood fill and sand them before painting, and you will never know that they are there 2. you can patch them with new veneer and stain 3. you can just paint right over them and let them add character to your piece :) As far as removing the veneer you get it right down to the bare wood! sometimes the wood is gorgeous and you can leave it as is…..but If not, I choose to either paint or wallpaper over it.

      iconic blue, the curved surfaces may be a bit tricky to reach depending on how detailed they are. As long as you can get the iron in there to heat up the surface you should be fine!

      kandyce, I used to sell these vases…but they are available at wisteria, and viva terra {http://www.vivaterra.com/recycled-glass-balloon-vases.html}

  • I just finished redoing my first ever piece, and the first thing I do is come here and thank you. I love the result so much, I’m already thinking of something to do next ! Is there something like a virus going on ? I may have caught it…
    It’s and old “armoire” I’ve had as a child, that I wanted to have in my son’s room. It came to me in pieces, with yellow patches and traces of age (not the beautiful kind though). Nobody thought it would be worth it to try and rehabilitate it, but I couldn’t find any new armoire I liked, so I went for it. It took only two full months to do, because of the paint I chose, and the fact that I tried to do a good job, which always takes time.
    I now have a white armoire with a laque finish, with huge sage green button doorknobs and beautiful wallpaper inside. It’s the perfect size and the perfect form for a little boy’s room, and I’m so happy I had the courage to do it ! Thank you so much Barb, for giving me the courage to do it !!

  • This is fantastic advice. I have never read anything like this before with regards to removing and or reparing veneer. This is invaluable information. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • I inherited a veneered, cedar lined chest of drawers. The entire outside of the dresser was veneered. With the assistance of my hair blower and a putty knife, I was able to remove ALL of the veneer. However, the person who handcrafted this old chest, used double stick tape in several places. I have sanded it, moving most of it. It is at least 50 yrs old and in removing the tape, it took part of the poplar wood with it, leaving little dents all over the front. Does anyone know what my next step should be???? I would like to stain and varnish it. But, I am beginning to wonder if I should re-veneer it. This is the first piece I have ever re-finished, needing someone’s expertise, Please!!!! Thank you!!!

  • I Love this site and your information is awesome thanks for all your post this will help me repair a lot of pieces that I find to sell

  • I have a beautiful antique oak table that had most of the veneer on the top missing. I carefully sanded the remaining veneer off and had a local “professional” re- veneer the top. Problem was he didn’t match the veneer…one side is heavy flake white oak and the other side has no flake at all! He won’t make it right…..some professional. So I have to remove the new veneer and learn to do this right. I’m concerned about the new veneer glue he most likely used. Is there any way other than a belt sanders to get the newer adhesives to soften enough to remove?

  • The red circular electric sander that you have in the photo is a random orbital sander. Emphasis on random. An orbital sander has a square bottom. But they’re confused all the time.

  • Great site. However these veneer problems are very extensive. My problem is not as extensive but I do need help/suggestions. My dining table — 5′ long has scratches on it as if someone’s small dog walked on it. I have never worked on veneer and don’t know how much sanding I dare do to just minimize the scratches. I don’t want to make matters worse by sanding too much. Or perhaps there is a product I can use to hide the scratches. I am afraid to do anything without some advice. thank you Patti

  • Hi Barb,

    We are a lacquer factory and I don’t have a clue on how to solve my veneer problem. I have problem with popping or bubbling veneer. I use a water base glue to inlay the veneer and use iron to laminate it. After lamination I don’t see any problem with the surface. During each prep process the veneer start to have bubble or popping problem. I’m not sure why this is happening and how to resolve this. could you spare time to teach me on how to inlay and how to solve this problem if it occurs again. Thanks.

  • I have a big entertainment center that I want to transform into my garden work space and use to store supplies. It is made of particle board and covered with veneer. Since I Will be using this outdoors it needs to be weather proof. Any suggestions on how to achieve this goal?

  • Wow. Awesome tutorial! I wish I’d seen it before I finished a dresser I’m going to sell…..or attempt to sell with cracked and bubbled veneer on one drawer (talk about “character!”). If I hadn’t already waxed it, I’d try it anyway but I just don’t want to redo the whole thing. Thanks so much for this!!! Now I’ll be on the look out for old irons. :)

  • What setting do you put your iron on to smooth our a veneer wrinkle or bubble?

  • Is there a way to remove writing from our kitchen table? It is a cheaper possibly laminate type of wood. This occurred from someone writing on a piece of paper. It “traced” through to the table and we haven’t been able to get it off.
    Any suggestions?
    Thank you,

  • To answer a couple of questions posed here (even though they most are dated):

    Commercial veneering uses thinly sliced wood. Once about 1/8″ or thinner, wood responds more neutrally. Non-commercially, veneer is also available ‘paper backed’. Much easier to work with, though slightly thicker. Raw wood often requires application of a veneer relaxer to make it easier to apply and lay flat.

    Cross grained applications of veneer cause a mild problem on real wood due to the constant stress of the veneer vs wood movement in perpendicular directions.

    Modern glues are usually still a PVA based glue, just as Wilburs and Titebond are. Titebond does make a veneer glue. It is very easy to apply too much glue when attaching veneer. Use a very short nap roller (get a standard 9″ refill, cut it to fit a short length roller; freeze the roller in a bag like you would a paint roller). The glue should be thin enough to see the underlying material.

    Modern applications are usually over MDF or other manmade materials. Flatter, more stable, easy to work with. Cut to size, glue a perimeter of the edge material you like (or , cut to near finished size, using edge banding). Apply veneer (use a cheaper grade on the underside — answering a complaint posted — this IS the standard way to do it for a long, long, time). You MUST apply a layer on the opposite side of a top, to balance the stresses and keep it from bowing. If the original is still on the back side and you removed the original on the top side, probably ok.

    Trim the glued on edges to fit, router and edge, or apply edge tape. I am not a fan of the double backed tape. I don’t think it looks as good, as you can see the tape edge too. Use you iron an apply the pre–glued tape, then trim with a razor knife (there are inexpensive jigs that work very well for easy access areas).

    Really old veneers were applied with hide glue. Still the way to go for musical instruments due to the heat removal method. Available dry or already mixed, it has a limited shelf life once mixed.

  • I love the advice but how hot do you get the iron. Do you use the steam option or just heat? Thanks

  • My question is the same as Judy’s….at what temp do you set the iron? Do you use a steam setting? I have a nice dresser I’ve been procrastinating about painting because of veneer bubbles and now I’ve seriously GOT to get painted….

  • I removed the veneer from my table leaves using wet rags and an iron (no steam). Worked great! When I was done I placed a vinegar-soaked rag over the iron plate, and left it to soak. You can almost wipe it clean. With a little scraping all the gunk came off!

  • Being a novice, I evidently used sandpaper that was too coarse when I started sanding my veneer tabletop. I now have sanding scratches throughout. What is the best grit sandpaper to use as I try to remove them and smooth everything out? Should I work with several different grits?

    • Hi Cindi!

      I’m sorry to hear that and have been there myself! I’d try an ultra fine grit (1000) and go from there.

      If it’s taking too many sheets or too long, you can bump up to just a fine grit!

      Good luck!