Inside: The best way to remove veneer from wood furniture, or to strip paint off a wood piece. Also includes tips on how to make minor repairs to veneer.
It’s been a while since I’ve given you all a good ol’ fashioned tips and tricks post. And today, I am sharing one of my best!! I’m working on a furniture piece for our upstairs hallway (update: it’s finished and you can see the vintage green buffet here), and as I was cleaning it up, I discovered that it is solid wood with a veneer on top. I actually thought some of it was inlay – but some light sanding revealed veneer. It made the whole piece look dated and I’m going for a more modern and updated look. So here’s The Trick to Removing Veneer from Wood Furniture
While you’re here, you might want to check out some of my other furniture rehab and rescue posts, as I’ve done quite a few in my blogging career. This blush pink credenza was once a boring bureau and I rebuilt the top on it. This brilliant green console table also had a rebuilt top. If you’re looking for another project with more tips about how to remove pieces of bark from rough cut wood, check out how I turned an old log into a chic side table.
Supplies for Removing Veneer from Wood Furniture
- Old Towels (thick, not painting rags)
- Steam Iron
- Paint Scraper or Small Chisel
- Palm Sander
- 100-grit Sandpaper
- Heat Gun Kit
- Protective Eye Wear
- Protective Breathing Mask
- Protective Gloves (thicker ones)
It can be totally discouraging when you find a piece you love but it’s covered in cracked (or totally hideous) veneer. The beauty is that if you can remove the veneer, the wood beneath is typically in stellar shape. Say what you will about veneer, it does protect the wood beneath it very well.
For sake of this post, I’ll show you two methods I used to remove hard, glued on veneer from the drawers of a piece I’m working on right now. This is what the drawers looked like before. (I’m sanding to make sure it’s actually veneer. Yes. It is actually veneer.)
Method Number One for Removing Veneer: A Hot Iron with Water
After removing the hardware and giving them a good wipe down, method number one involves WATER.
The idea is that moisture gets into the glue and un-sticks it, which allows you to pull up or remove the veneer from the wood more easily.
Grab a bucket of lukewarm water and a big old towel. Make sure it’s nice and thick – don’t use shop rags or anything too thin. Wet your veneer piece and then place the wet towel right on top. It doesn’t have to be dripping, but good and wet is what you need. Let it sit like that for a few minutes.
In all likelihood, the piece of furniture will soak that water up faster than you realize. Old pieces tend to do that. So your next line of defence is HEAT. Grab an iron on the highest ‘cotton’ setting and run it over the wet towel. There will be lots of steam! Let it sit on your piece for about 30-45 seconds at a time – focusing on the edges a bit more than the centre at first.
The heat will help the glue to dissolve! Once you’ve ironed your veneer, then you have to let it DRY OUT. Once it’s dry, you can sand down the veneer with 80-100 grit sandpaper on a palm sander and scrape the remainder off with a sharp edge putty knife. If you sand it with an electric sander and the glue is still wet – it will stick to your sand paper and just get all gummed up.
Don’t be fooled. This method will take you a while and it might ruin your iron – so use one from the thrift store or one you plan to only use for furniture refinishing!
It also might not return stellar results. It’s hard to concentrate the heat around when you’re using an iron and a wet towel. The water also risks ruining other non-veneered parts of your piece.
Method Number Two for Removing Veneer: A Heat Gun
Since the veneer removal works on a very basic principle of ‘heat it up and slough it off’, I figured it was at least worth a shot to get out my heat gun and see what it could do. It worked REALLY well. So if you’re in the refinishing world, I’d say a heat gun is a worthy investment! Here are a few available on the market right now. All of them do the same thing.
First, clear your area of any flammable debris (obviously! lol) and just in case you need to be reminded, read the safety manual before operating a heat gun.
Assemble it with the nozzle you plan to use. I just went with the basic targeted nozzle because I found it easier to control on my small drawer face. If you were doing a larger surface, the nozzle that looks like a little vacuum cleaner would be best.
Turn on your heat gun and adjust the heat settings. I started on the lowest heat setting – which on my gun is about 250F. I ended up increasing it to the high setting once I saw how well the veneer was being removed from the wood!
I slowly heated up the veneer, with my heat gun 1.5-3 inches away from the surface and used my sharp edge scraper to push away the melting veneer as I went. I still needed to sand it down, but the finish was much nicer and a bit faster than using the iron and wet towel method.
Doing quick repairs to Veneer Furniture
If you’re wanting to repair your veneer (rather than strip it off), you’ll likely be into a longer and more detailed project. Consider this post from The Family Handyman that explains how to use quickwood to fill in gaps and holes in veneers. Keep in mind this really will only work for small damaged areas. If there is too much repair work, it would be better off to strip it the bare wood and start again.
In this post, Medina from Grillo Designs explains how she was able to repair veneer on a piece so that she could paint over it.
Other ways to Remove Veneer from Wood
- Here Salvaged Inspirations has a detail post on how she was able to save a wood table top.
- Classy Clutter uses the hot towel trick and it works for them on an old vintage desk.
- Here Decor and the Dog also uses a wet towel method on a bureau
Here are some other posts you’ll love