Any veneer finish is subject to damage. Since it’s a thin layer of wood glued to the surface of wooden furniture, a veneer finish is exposed to temperature changes, humidity, and mechanical damage. Over time, the glue attaching the veneer to the base wood softens, so as a result, the veneer blisters, cracks, or lifts from the base wood.
To fix a veneer that’s lifting, first access the damage. Localized damage can be easily fixed with glue and flattened. But if there is damage to a large area, the veneer may have to be removed and replaced with a new veneer patch or wood filler.
There are several ways to repair veneers on woodwork, depending on the damage. Read on to learn common veneer repairs that you can make at home.
Veneer damage is typical of old furniture. Fortunately, damaged veneers can be restored and made to look like new. If the bubbling under the veneer or its edges lifted off the surface, they could be glued and flattened. In chipping or severe discoloration, the damaged veneer section can be replaced.
Assessing and Preparing the Damaged Veneer
Before you begin your veneer repair project, you should access the type and extent of the damage. If the damaged veneer is very pliable, easily splintered, or has been worn paper-thin by earlier refinishing procedures, it is probably beyond repair.
Veneers are thin and delicate. Most have thicknesses that range between 1/28th and 1/42nd of an inch. Before you start repairing any damage, you must take precautions not to cause further damage. The first step is to make the veneer pliable so that it does not split or crack. The easiest way to do this is by forcing moisture into the veneer.
Place a damp cloth on the veneer and apply heat on it using a hot iron. Move the iron around for a few minutes until the veneer is damp and flexible.
Repairing Lifted Edges
Veneer finishes often lift at the corners of cabinets, tabletops, and drawer fronts. A veneer that is lifting can be re-glued and flattened if it is undamaged.
- Carefully lift the veneer’s loose edge and scrape off the residue of the dry glue from the base wood surface and the back of the veneer. Use a file or sharp craft knife to remove as much glue as possible. You can use fine-grit sandpaper to sand any old glue residue from the bonding surface.
- Blow the dust away and wipe the bonding surfaces with a soft cloth dipped in mineral spirits.
- Re-glue the loose veneer using contact cement or carpenters glue. Contact cement bonds immediately, so it doesn’t leave any room for errors. Glue allows repositioning since it sets more slowly. When using carpenter’s glue, use a small brush or a palette knife to spread a thin layer over the base wood.
- Press the loose veneer down and smooth it carefully into place, starting from the center towards the edges. Wipe off the excess glue from the edges immediately using a cloth dipped in warm water.
- Cover the entire glued area with a sheet of wax paper with the shiny side facing down. At least one inch of the wax paper should extend past the glued section to prevent the excess glue that oozes out from sticking to the clamps.
- Use a C-clamp to clamp the veneer down between flat pieces of wood. Use an additional clamp every 6 inches on the wood to firmly hold down the veneer. Leave the clamps for a day or two.
- Remove the clamps and rub off the excess dried glue from the edges using a damp shop cloth. Wax and polish the entire veneer surface for uniformity.
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Blisters are bubbled areas on the veneer created when something hot is set on the furniture with a veneer finish. Small blisters can be flattened with heat, while larger ones have to be cut and re-glued to the base wood.
- To fix small blisters on the veneer surface, set a wax paper sheet on the surface followed by a smooth cardboard sheet and a clean cloth.
- Use a medium-hot iron to press down the blistered area making sure you don’t touch the veneer with the iron. If the veneer has several small blisters, move the iron back and forth evenly.
- Check constantly to confirm if the blisters have flattened.
- Weigh down the finished repair area for at least 24 hours before waxing and polishing the surface.
- Before repairing, the large blisters that have swelled have to be slit open for the air to be drained. Use a single-edge razor blade or sharp utility knife to cut the blister along the wood grain. Make a slit half the length of the blister, taking care not to cut into the base wood.
- Apply heat as above until the glue softens. If it fails to soften, use a syringe or the tip of a knife to insert a little carpenters glue evenly under the slit edges.
- Flatten the blistered veneer from the edges towards the split, wiping off any excess glue that oozes out with a damp cloth.
- Apply heat again and shave off the overlapping edges with a razor blade.
- Set wax paper over the repair area and weight or clamp it for at least 24 hours.
- Remove the dried glue around the slit and smooth the edges with 180-grit sandpaper until they are flush with the rest of the surface.
- Wax and polish the entire surface.
Repairing Cracked and Broken Veneer
The cracked veneer that is lifting and broken veneer can be re-glued. If a veneer is cracked along a large area, it is easier to break it off along the cracks before re-gluing it. Broken veneers with ragged edges are less visible than regular ones when re-glued.
- Before re-gluing the broken veneer, clean the bonding surfaces and fit the broken edges to see if they match the gaps.
- Spread a thin layer of carpenter’s glue on the base wood and set the broken veneer into place.
- Match the edges before pressing down and clamping the mended area.
- Refinish with a non-wash-away paint after the mend is complete.
Repairing Missing or Chipped Veneer
Finding a replacement part for a missing or chipped veneer can be challenging. You can take a patch veneer from a concealed part of the same furniture or a new matching veneer. Finding a patch for a small section is easier, and you can use a veneer edging tape. For larger patches, you have to buy a whole sheet.
For a small patch:
- Use a pencil to outline the hole on a sheet of bond paper set over the damaged veneer.
- Match the new veneer’s grain to the damaged one.
- Cut a patch using the bond paper outline as the template.
For a larger patch:
- Secure the patching veneer over the damaged area, making sure the grain and patterns match.
- Use a sharp razor blade to cut an irregular shape on both the patching veneer and the damaged veneer below it.
- Clean the base wood and fit the patch before gluing it into place and weighing or clamping it for a day or two.
- Refinish the entire surface after it has set.
A veneer that is lifting should be fixed as soon as possible with the right tools to prevent further loosening of the glue until the lifted veneer is torn away.
The DIY veneer repair techniques mentioned in this article can help you fix a lifting, blistered, cracked, chipped, or broken veneer. You only need a few essential tools and woodworking knowledge.