Wood veneer is natural wood, sliced into thin sheets. Manufacturers and DIYers adhere the material to a core of plywood, medium-density fiberboard, or particleboard to create a wood-like, glossy finish. When wood veneer suffers from water damage, it must be immediately repaired to prevent further damage.

Whether you’re repairing cabinets or furniture, you don’t need a professional refinisher to fix wood veneer. Throughout this article, we’ll go through the steps to repair water-damaged wood veneer and apply new veneer to create the same look. Read on to learn how.

1. Assess the Damage

If the veneer is severely damaged, lifting from the glue joint, or peeling, you’ll need to replace the veneer’s surface altogether. This is a time-consuming process but allows you to restore the furniture or cabinets to their original look.

For minor damage, such as water rings or blistering veneer, the process is quick and easy. We’ll discuss these minor repairs more in-depth toward the end of this article.

2. Remove Damaged Veneer

Removing damaged wood veneer requires heat to soften the adhesive and make it easier to remove. There are several ways to apply heat to wood veneer for removal. Those methods include:

  • Heat gun: Heat guns are the quickest and most efficient option. Simply apply the heat to the veneer’s surface and gently peel it off as it heats up.
  • Clothes iron: Place parchment paper over the veneer and use a hot iron to apply heat. If you don’t have parchment paper, you can use a damp (not wet) towel.
  • Hair dryer: Don’t have a heat gun or clothes iron? A hair dryer works in a pinch! Turn the hairdryer on high heat and use a putty knife to scrape and peel away the veneer.

Always apply heat in a circular motion, starting on an outer edge. As you peel up the veneer, work your way out, continuing to use heat until you’re able to remove the entire surface.

3. Flatten the Surface

Once you’ve removed the veneer, you’ll notice some adhesive leftover. Use a putty knife to scrape away this leftover glue. If you skip this step, you’ll end up with a bumpy, uneven surface once you apply the new veneer.

Use wood putty to fill in any holes and even out any chips to create a smooth, seamless surface. I recommend System Three SculpWood, available on Amazon. You can use this moldable epoxy putty to fill holes, cracks, or reform worn edges. It hardens to feel like wood and can be sanded down once dry.

Be careful and deliberate when filing holes.

  • Make sure to keep the surface the same thickness in all areas.
  • Ensure that the sides are straight using a utility knife.
  • Once everything is nice and uniform, allow the wood putty to dry for at least 24 hours. However, the putty may take longer to dry in humid environments or with thicker applications.

4. Take Measurements for Your New Veneer Surface

After the wood putty is completely dry, it’s time to measure your new veneer surface. Take measurements of the length and width and multiply these numbers to get your area.

Veneer usually comes in 4’ x 8’ or 8’ x 4’ (1.21 m x 2.43 m or 2.43 m x 1.21 m) sheets. Since most veneer repair projects take place on smaller surfaces, one sheet might be more than enough. But the extra material can come in handy if you need to repair any minor damage later down the road. As for thickness, it’s best to choose veneer that’s as close to the original veneer as possible.

Cut down the veneer to fit the surface. Ensure that everything is straight and even.

5. Apply the New Veneer

Depending on the type of veneer that you purchased, the application process will be slightly different.

First, wipe down the surface of the particleboard, MDF, or wood to remove any dust or debris. If you’re using paperback veneer, peel off the sticker, align the veneer to the surface, and apply even pressure to ensure that it sticks.

For plywood paneled or wood-on-wood veneer, apply wood glue to the back of the panel and the surface. Ensure that everything is straight. Apply firm pressure to secure the wood veneer and then wipe away any excess glue with a damp cloth.

It doesn’t matter which type of veneer you’re using, you’ll still need to apply weights and clamps to it to keep everything flat as it dries. Allow the glue or adhesive to cure for at least 24 hours. If there’s a slight overhang, don’t worry—you’ll deal with that in the next step.

6. Sand Down the Veneer’s Edges

After the glue is dry, it’s time to sand down the edges to blend the seams. This is optional, but if you left the overhang on the sides of the veneer, you’ll need to sand them down and smooth them out.

Veneer is fragile, so you must be patient during this process. When working with veneer, any increases in grit should be gradual. Don’t use anything more coarse than 100-grit to start. You can slowly work up to 200-grit or finer, if needed.

7. Polish and Wax the Surface

Once everything is sanded down and smooth and even, you’ll want to finish the piece by polishing and waxing.

Wipe away any debris using a microfiber cloth and then apply a quality wood polish. I recommend Howard Polish Wood Polish and Conditioner. This wood polish uses beeswax and carnauba wax to provide a protective coating and the finish enhances the details in the wood veneer. Since it already contains wax, you don’t need to wax the surface after applying.

Repairing Minor Damage on Wood Veneer

When wood veneer suffers from water damage, it may present in different ways. It could be a minor issue, such as white spots or rings on the surface of the veneer, or the water may seep between the veneer and core, causing blisters. These problems are relatively easy to repair in comparison to peeling or lifting.

White Spots or Rings on Wood Veneer

If you’re dealing with white spots or rings, you don’t need to remove the veneer. Instead, do the following:

  1. Buff the surface of the veneer with liquid furniture polish or a clean microfiber cloth moistened with denatured alcohol. Be careful not to soak the veneer.
  2. Use a quality wood polish to polish the surface, going with the grain.
  3. Give the veneer a good wax.

Blistered Wood Veneer

When the veneer surface shows signs of blistering or raised bubbles, it can be easily repaired by following these steps:

  1. Split the surface of the blister using a razor knife and carefully apply carpenter’s glue to the area beneath the blister.
  2. Use your finger to press the veneer back down to spread the glue evenly beneath it.
  3. Place wax paper over the veneer, add weight, such as a heavy book, and then clamp the weight to the blister.
  4. Let the glue dry for at least 24 hours.
  5. Remove the clamp and wax paper, and make sure everything looks nice and smooth.
  6. Lightly sand the surface.
  7. Polish the veneer with wood oil, followed by wax.

Final Thoughts

Wood veneer is an inexpensive way to provide a warm wood aesthetic without the price of genuine solid hardwood. The main caveat is that this material is very thin and requires adhesive to apply. Therefore, it’s more susceptible to water damage and peeling.

Fortunately, water damage doesn’t mean the wood veneer is completely ruined. Using the directions in this article, you’ll now know how to repair it by assessing the damage, removing the veneer, replacing it, and finishing the surface with polish and wax. By the end of your project, the wood veneer will look like new.

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