How to upcycle veneered furniture
Veneered furniture is essential in most modern homes. Sure, most of us would prefer to have solid wood furniture rather than veneered, however, for many reasons, including budget and having small children, veneered furniture is a great way to furnish your home.
Unfortunately, over time, veneered furniture can chip, fade or just start to look dated. It is at this point that most of us start to think about replacing our units. This is a shame as, outside of the top level of veneer, the core of the furniture is often in very good condition.
So, instead of throwing away and replacing, how about spending a few hours of your time and taking on an upcycling project to give your current items a whole new future.
Firstly, you need to remove all the drawers on your piece of veneered furniture. If there are no drawers, it is still a good idea to remove the doors because they may have another thin layer of wood. You can also go ahead and take off any hardware that is attached at this time.
Next, you will want to sand down the surface of your furniture, starting with an 80 grit sandpaper. Use long even strokes when using this type of sandpaper in order to get a smooth finish without creating waves or lines in the surface of your veneer. Continue sanding until there are no more high or low spots left behind from where you removed the veneer.
Now you can use 180 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches made by the 80 grit paper. You want to make sure you do not round over any edges or corners of your piece with this higher grit paper. Instead, use this grit to take out any unevenness left behind from the first step.
Now that all the initial rough work has been done, it is time to go ahead and begin removing veneer from your furniture. The first thing you will need is either a heat gun or a vacuum system that you can hook up to an air compressor. You will only be using these tools to loosen up the glue underneath, so they are ,unnecessary, but we recommend them because they do cut down on dust and damage caused to your furniture during the next step.
With the heat gun/vacuum system in hand, start by heating up one small area of veneering until you can remove it with a putty knife or stiff card scraper. You will want to continue this process all along the edges and corners of your piece in order to get rid of any raised bits. The glue should go ahead and soften when heated so that it is easy to cut through with either an x-acto knife or a sharp utility knife. Now, if you are working with a thicker layer of veneer, then you may find that this method does not work too well because it requires quite a bit of time to get through large panels/sheets of veneer. To fix this problem, you can try using a heat gun directly to start pulling up the veneer and then use your putty knife or scraper to pull it off. You will want to make sure that you work slowly and carefully with either method because if you damage the core of the furniture, it is almost impossible to fix without starting over.
Once all of your top layers have been removed, now is time to take out any staples/nails from where the drawer fronts were attached. Again, be careful not to stretch these panels too far as they are easy to rip or tear beyond repair.
Now you can fill in any holes/gaps left behind from removing your top paneling with wood filler. Once dry, sand down flat and smooth
and try to match the color of your furniture as closely as possible. (Note: If you are going to be painting over the top of your finished piece, then this part is optional and can be skipped).
Now that all of your creative work has been completed, it is time to apply a finish. You will want to use a spray-on veneer adhesive in order to attach any new pieces left behind when removing your bottom paneling.
Once dry, you can go ahead and begin reattaching drawer fronts by nailing them in with small finishing nails/stapling them back in place depending on what they were attached with originally. Once again, if you do not feel confident enough about doing these steps, we recommend consulting a professional.
Now fully assemble your piece of furniture and staple/nail on any new veneer you may have cut out to replace a missing section. They should fit perfectly if done correctly. Once dry, go ahead and use a nice clear topcoat or varnish all over your raw edges in order to get rid of any potential sharp corners that could catch on clothes. In addition, be sure to go back over your entire piece one more time with fine-grit sandpaper in order to smooth away any roughness from the glue or finish application.
Some of our favorite finishes include teak oil, wipe-on poly, and danish oil.
With just a few supplies and some patience, you can breathe new life into an old piece of furniture that would have otherwise been destined for the landfill.
However, if you’re not ready to start this process on your own veneer furniture quite yet, don’t worry! We here at RetroRenovation know what it is like to be overwhelmed by a project, so we always recommend hiring a professional if needed. For anyone who lives in New Jersey, we cannot more highly recommend Vintage Design Co. They will take care of all aspects of renovating your vintage finds, from finding the right pieces and repairing them up to sanding down and refinishing any necessary items.
We’ve used them to restore the majority of our furniture, and we couldn’t be happier with their work.
P.S. A big thank you to RetroRenovation reader “Archie McGillicuddy” for sharing this great tutorial and tips!