We were seriously confused about veneers when we started refinishing wood furniture. Almost every piece we picked up seemed to have a veneer surface. Are veneers real wood? Can you sand and stain them? The answer to both is YES!
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What is wood veneer? It is a thin layer of real wood. It’s often good quality wood with amazing grain that is especially beautiful when stained. Wood veneers are part of many very good quality antique pieces. Below we’ll share with you a few tips for successfully refinishing furniture with wood veneer.
Tip 1 – Make sure it is wood veneer and not laminate
Wood veneer is a thin layer of real wood. Laminate is not wood but rather plastic printed to look like wood. If you don’t know whether a surface is laminate or wood, try sanding a small patch. If you see wood grain, it’s not laminate. Laminate can’t be stained (but it CAN be painted).
To figure out if you have veneer or solid wood, take a look at the back. If you can see pressboard or what looks like different substrates, it is not solid wood.
Tip 2 – Check the thickness of the veneer
Wood veneers are thin – we’re talking less than 1/8th of an inch and whether you can sand and restain a veneer will depend on how thick the particular wood veneer is. Start by hand sanding a small section to see if you can remove the old finish without sanding through the veneer. If your test patch is okay, you can continue with the rest of the piece.
Tip 3 – Sand the wood veneer carefully
We’ve got three young kids so we’re always looking for ways to work efficiently. More than once we’ve pulled out the old belt sander to save time and gone right through the veneer we wanted to save. Sand lightly, by hand if necessary, or using a palm sander. We have good success with this relatively inexpensive Black & Decker palm sander which you can find here:
Tip 4 – Have a back up plan – paint!
If the veneer is too thin to remove the finish, consider painting some areas and sanding and staining other areas of the piece that are solid wood. We almost always start by trying to sand the veneer and, if it doesn’t work out, we paint it. The mixed paint and wood look can be quite striking. You can read more about our technique for getting a near perfect paint finish here.
Tip 5 – Stain the wood veneer as you would any solid wood
Once you’ve managed to remove the old finish without sanding through the veneer, you’re golden (or whatever stain color you choose :). There are no special rules for staining a veneer and you can use your favorite oil based, water based or gel stain as you would on solid wood. We used this one here.
We hope this has cleared up some of the confusion about what veneers are and whether they can be refinished. It might seem tedious to have to sand so carefully but the results are almost always totally worth it! Below is refinished wood veneer on a waterfall dresser we refinished for my sister, which you can read about here. Have you successfully sanded a veneer? How did it go? Share you tips below!