Removing Old Veneer
Published by: Master Artisan
Author: Sal Marino
Copyright (c) 2006 Sal Marino
Removing old veneer from a workpiece can be a nightmare or relatively easy undertaking. This all depends on what type of glue was used to bond the veneer to the surface. The veneer on most antique pieces was originally bonded with hide glue and although very strong, has little resistance to heat and water.
You can take advantage of this by using a household iron to help you remove the veneer. The heat of the iron will soften the glue and the steam from the iron will force moisture into the glue, thus breaking the bond between veneer and surface. Make sure the iron is filled with water so you can use the steam. Set the iron at it’s highest heat setting and let it heat up. Next, using a wide spatula or putty knife, start at one corner and try to slightly lift the veneer by placing the blade between the veneer and surface then pushing in and prying up.
Once lifted, place the iron directly on top of the veneer and let it slowly heat the surface. Move the iron in a circular motion while periodically applying steam. The veneer will gradually start to lift as the hide glue starts to soften. Work into to the center and finally off to the other edge until all the veneer has been removed. You may run into some stubborn spots, in these areas try applying water directly between the veneer and the surface by squirting or injecting. After all the old veneer has been removed, make sure to remove all remains of hide glue left on the surface. You can use warm water and a scraper for this operation. Let the surface dry well before sanding and preparing for re-veneering or other operations.
If the piece has been built in the past 50 years, the veneer was most likely bonded with either a yellow, white or some other type of synthetic resin glue. While the initial bond of these adhesives are not much stronger than the old hide glues, many of these glues are extremely resistant to heat and moisture, therefore removing the same method that is used for hide glue will not work effectively on these glues.
The best way to approach removing veneer that has been bonded with a modern adhesive is by trial and error. Sometimes you may get lucky and the veneer will lift off without much work because the initial gluing application was not performed properly due to lack of adhesive, uneven application or inadequate clamping pressure.
Once again, start at one corner and try to slightly lift the veneer by placing the blade between the veneer and surface then pushing in and prying up. If it does not budge, you may have to use a chisel and actually break away some of the veneer from the corner. In certain cases like with the hide glue, soaking also helps. Sometimes a mixture of 50 percent vinegar and 50 percent water will help soften the adhesive somewhat. If this does not work, try a solvent like lacquer thinner or acetone.
The bottom line is that removing veneer can often be a hard, time consuming job and sometimes it all boils down to patience and a lot of good old fashioned elbow grease.
Sal Marino is respected expert in woodworking and finishing. In addition to working on the team at Constantines Wood Center, he has written a large number of instructional articles on topics related to wood-finishing.