Repair Veneer on an Antique

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.

Repair VeneerRemove 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.

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Repair VeneerSand 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.

Repair VeneerCut 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.

Repair VeneerEdge 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.

Repair VeneerFlatten 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.

Repair VeneerTrim 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.

Repair VeneerGet 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

Repair VeneerPress 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.

Repair VeneerIron 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.

Repair VeneerTrim edges. A rabbet plane finishes the job. Trim the veneer edges flush with the substrate, sand, finish and you’re done!

Repair VeneerA complete repair ready for another 100+ years.

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Discussion
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26 Responses to “Repair Veneer on an Antique”
  1. Mitch Miller

    Thanks for the info. I am restoring and oak veneered door and this will be just the tip I need.

    Reply
  2. larryjoe

    good info. have round table i need to do. this will help greatly. thanks

    Reply
  3. hippiedigger

    I just fixed a broken 1940’s dining chair with this technique. Thank you so much for saving me from drilling them out!

    Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      Edge gluing is where you glue to boards together, or in this case, two pieces of veneer, where the glue joint is formed along their thin edges (as opposed to joining along their wider faces, which is generally referred to as laminating. This is commonly done when gluing boards together to form a table top or cabinet door panel. It is less common with veneer, but the technique that Dave demonstrates in this article is a great approach.

      Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      This is not a simple repair, so it’s difficult to say. The price would depend on the skill and experience level of the craftsman, as well as local pricing standards in your area. I’d suggest looking for a reputable professional in your area and getting a no-obligation quote.

      Reply
  4. Denby Smith

    Thanks so much! I have couple treadles I would like to do at least the tops of them.

    Reply
  5. Debbie Clark

    I’ve inherently my great grandmothers 44×43 1/2 dining table. (With 2 12″ leaves)
    I’d like to restore for every day use, w/o having to use protection like placemats, etc. Would the veneer withstand or should I use a another teqnique? I want to preserve the original integrity but have practical use.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      The thick veneer as shown in this article would be quite durable for every day use. This is many times thicker than store-bought veneer and I would not hesitate to use a table normally after applying this type of veneer.

      Reply
  6. Jeanne Serbeck

    Good info. I have a table that has probably 12 different pieces of veneer on it, making a really subtle design, which I love. We moved from a hot humid locale to Alaska, where I have to run the heater…hot, dry air. I am guessing that’s why several of the pieces popped, buckled, whatever the term would be. Other than releasing from the substrate, the veneer pieces are in good condition. i would like to see how this might be fixed. Any ideas?

    Reply
  7. Peggy Walker

    I’m an OLD gal but a relative newbie to woodworking…I’ve already noticed several videos that I need LAST week! Thanks for all the great instructions and encouragement!

    Reply
  8. Linda S McConnell

    I nee some help. I am new to DIY projects and I bought a 1920’s end table. It’s gorgeous but needs a redo. I am scared to death to touch it in fear of messing it up. If I send you a picture do you think you could tell me the best way to redo it?

    Reply
  9. Gwen Stevens

    I have a old couch table that needs new vener the top is flat but 1 1/2 in from the edge. Of the table ther is a cut in the center making a pattern some what like a router would make but the cut in the vener is no larger than the width of a knife blade giving the appearance the vener has been laid in two different pieces. The ends of the cut have a pattern and are not straight how do I repair it?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Gwen. This sounds fairly complex. While we do have an article or two on WWGOA covering simple repairs, we’re more about starting-from-scratch woodworking than about refinishing and repairing. Sorry, but we’re not your best resource for this question.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
  10. Craig Vanaken

    This is exactly what I was looking for!!! Question(s) however. I actually am fixing a White sewing machine cabinet top for my wife. When you put the veneer down was it saw side down? I assume you sanded it as flat as possible first but does a few residual saw marks matter if it is saw side down? I resaw with a 1″ steel blade, no carbide. Also, rabbit plane is good going with the grain, how about getting the ends flush? Lastly, any tips on matching finish? I cant wait to get started now!!!

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Craig. Yes, the veneer was installed with the saw side down facing the substrate. Minor imperfections in the surface should not cause problems with adhesion. Clean-up with light sanding or a cabinet scraper is fine if needed. A rabbet plane can work well on end grain with the usual end grain caveats; light cuts, sharp tool, etc.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
  11. Cheryl Doss

    I have an antique bookcase with glass front and a thin veneer design on that whichis shaped in an archway with more thin veneer that makes it look like lites but it’s one piece on each door. It’s has been losing pieces over the years. When I can, I have been glueing them back on. If I can’t find the pieces that come off Ive stained the veneer behind it to blend color. So it’s really two layers of veneer actually. I would like to replace the top layer of veneer. I imagine the only way is to remove all of the old and replace each section which will take me forever. I don’t mind doing it as I love it. What is the best way to saw curved thin strips of veneer?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Cheryl. Unfortunately we don’t do a lot of veneering, so don’t have a great answer for you. I feel like producing a template in hardboard and then running a utility knife along the edge of the hardboard to cut the veneer could work, but this is just a stab in the dark. Sounds like you really love the piece, so it would probably worth some more research on your end to see if there’s a better solution.
      Thanks
      George-WWGOA

      Reply
  12. joe burttcshell

    Images of pictures did not show up, and interested in learning more about repairing Wood veneer on antique furniture. Thanks.

    Reply
  13. Laura Michelle Reynolds

    We’re working on what we thought was just a strip and finish, turns out to be a severe repair job, where another contractor used an undercoat of primer, to cover up damage he/she had done. This article is extremely helpful.

    Reply