Removing Old Veneer
By 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 itís 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
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.
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