A recent restoration job required that I replace the badly damaged oak veneer on the top of an antique table. The piece was an old salesman sample of a sewing table. Back in the day,salesmen would bring these scale models on sales calls. This sample was from the White Sewing Company but the quartersawn white oak top was beyond repair.
I like to stick with original materials and techniques when restoring veneer antique table tops. I knew the old veneer was attached with hide glue so the new veneer would be put down the same way. The beauty of hide glue is it’s reversible and when it comes to veneering, there’s no need to use clamps. If you’ve ever applied plastic laminate to a substrate using contact cement you are already familiar with the basic technique. In this story I’ll walk you through how to veneer the old fashioned way.
Remove the old veneer. This is usually a simple job on antiques because the glue is almost always hide glue. Hide glue was the glue of choice back then and one of its salient features is reversibility. A little hot water will re-liquify the glue for easy removal. If the veneer is buckled and split like this one was, you may be able to pry it off with just a chisel.
Sand the substrate flat. Before you put down new veneer, make sure the substrate is sound with no voids or loose areas. Make any necessary repairs and sand flat with a large sanding block.
Cut your own veneer. It’s not hard, especially on a small piece such as this. Here I’m resawing a quartersawn white oak board into 3/32″ thick slices. I like to use two fences for resawing veneer. One sets the thickness of the cut and the other holds the board gently against the opposing fence. I like the freedom cutting my own veneer gives me, especially when it comes to thickness. Store bought veneer is almost paper thin.
Edge glue the veneer. This is done the same way as you would 3/4″ thick boards. It’s easy to edge glue veneer this thick. Make sure the seams are flush and use gentle clamping pressure. A slightly narrower support board and a few handplane weights keep the veneer from buckling under clamp pressure. Wax paper protects the planes and prevents the veneer from sticking to the support board.
Flatten any irregularities. Use a hard sanding block to level the seams. It’s important that the sheet be perfectly flat to avoid glue pockets under the veneer.
Trim the veneer slightly over size. A veneer saw and a straight edge work great for this. The teeth on a veneer saw are set to one side only so the saw can run tight against a straight edge.
Get gluing. Apply a generous coat of hot hide glue to the substrate. For more on how to mix and use hot hide glue, see my story on chair repair. Chair Repair
Press the veneer on with a J-roller. This is one of the big advantages of hot hide glue;you don’t need clamps. You can veneer a huge surface without pulling out a single clamp. Keep a spritzer bottle with water handy and periodically spritz the veneer. Keeping it moist prevents the veneer from curling up as it absorbs moisture from the hide glue.
Iron out problems. Use a hot iron to melt the glue if it sets too fast. Heat the area then roll again with the J-roller. If you get a bubble trapped under the veneer, slit the bubble with a razor and apply heat. Then roll.
Trim edges. A rabbet plane finishes the job. Trim the veneer edges flush with the substrate, sand, finish and you’re done!
A complete repair ready for another 100+ years.
Photos By Author
You might also be interested in:
Furniture Leg Repair – How to Fix a Broken Leg
How to Repair Wood Cracks
Repairing an Old Chair
Applying Veneer with a Vacuum Bag
Gluing Veneer: No Paper Back