How To Remove Wood Veneer
There may be a time when you want to refresh your furniture and remove wood veneer to redecorate the piece. Getting it off the substrate can be difficult if you try to force it, which will likely damage the furniture too. Here we explain how to remove wood veneer using a few tried and tested techniques that will make the process a lot easier.
Step 1: Remove any loose pieces
Before you start work, make sure you are wearing protective eye goggles to shield your eyes against any small pieces of wood that could fly up from the surface. Also wear a pair of heavy work gloves to keep your hands protected. If the veneer piece has a lot of dust, it is a good idea to wear a dust mask too.
Step 2: Pull up loose sheets
You may be able to remove some of the veneer sheets by hand if the furniture piece is quite old. Wearing the gloves, you can grab a loose part of the wood and pull it away from the surface, which can make the process easier later on.
Step 3: Use a putty knife
Locate a point on the veneer that is lifted from the wood, which will usually be on the corner or edge. You can then use the putty or filling knife to carefully work it underneath the veneer so you can lift the wood up and remove it. Try to keep the knife parallel with the veneer as pointing it downwards could damage the wood that is beneath the veneer. You may want to consider using a plastic scraper instead of a metal one to avoid causing damage, although it may not be as effective.
Step 4: Getting under stubborn areas
Depending on the age and condition of the veneer there may be some stubborn areas that you can’t get to using a knife. You may need to use a little extra force with a hammer, lodging the knife at the edge of the wood and tapping the top of the handle, which could break the veneer off. Be sure to only tap lightly to avoid damaging the wood, and don’t apply too much pressure if it doesn’t work.
This can be a very useful method that can help to remove quite a lot of the veneer, particularly on older pieces. There may still be some stubborn pieces that can be dislodged using the putty knife, but here are other techniques that can be used to help.
Step 5: Apply some heat
If there are still some veneer pieces that need to be removed, it could be because the glue underneath is too tough to dislodge using force. When this happens, you should try to soften and loosen the glue with heat and moisture.
The first thing to do is to wet a towel and wring it out until it’s damp and not dripping with water, as the wooder beneath the veneer can be damaged by excessive water ingression. Next, place the towel over the part of the veneer you want to soften.
For the best results, you should turn on an iron and put it at its highest setting. Once fully heated, hold the hot iron against the towel for 30 seconds, pressing downwards with a fair amount of force, although not too much. In most cases, this should be enough to melt the veneer glue so you can get underneath and remove it.
Step 6: Retrying the putty knife
With the glue now melted, it should be a lot easier to lift the veneer so it can be removed. Turn off the iron and place it safely out of the way and remove the towel from the surface. Take the putty knife and try again to slip it underneath the veneer so you can lift and remove it.
If you are still having trouble removing the veneer, repeat the previous step with the iron, as the glue needs to be melted a little more. Don’t wait too long after to try again with a putty knife, as if the glue starts to cool it may harden and you’ll have to start over.
Keep repeating this process on tough veneer spots, heating any stubborn areas, and scraping them up with the putty knife. If the towel starts to dry out, make sure to re-wet it and wring it out, otherwise it might burn.
There may be parts of the veneer that won’t budge after trying this trick several times. In this scenario, wet the towel, wring it out and leave it on the veneer for a full day, which should be enough to loosen the glue. As before, if the towel starts to dry out, re-wet, wring it out and place it back on the wood.
Step 7: Cleaning the substrate
If there are some small bits of glue still left on the wood after you have removed the veneer, scape these off with the putty knife. For particularly stubborn bits of glue, use a little heat to loosen, then scrape with the putty knife.
Step 8: Sanding down
Use an 80-grit sandpaper to remove rough spots on the wood, which should also get rid of any small remaining pieces of glue. For larger pieces, using an electric sander will make this job faster and easier to manage. You may want to wear a dust mask for this part, so you don’t inhale any dust.
Step 9: Smoothing the surface
Use a fine 200-grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface, to make it look more even, removing any imperfections that may have appeared while you were removing the veneer.
Step 10: Wiping down
All the scraping and sanding will create a fair amount of sawdust. Wipe this away using a damp cloth or tack cloth, making sure you wipe the top and edges. You should now be ready to reapply a new piece of veneer, or for anything else you have in mind for your project.