Tips for removing peeling veneer

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Im sure lots of you already know this, and it may seem pretty self explanatory.  But, when i started working on this vanity and removing the veneer i thought maybe i might have a couple tricks that some of you may not know.


Lets take this antique vanity that i just finished up.  We found it outside and obviously it had been out in the elements for a bit.  Overall it was in good shape, but the veneer on the tops was peeling up.

1st – did you know that under that peeling veneer is good wood!  Just because the veneer is peeling, doesnt mean that the furniture is trash or cant be fixed.

     a.  If the veneer is in good enough shape, you could glue it back down.  Even if it has small gaps or some pieces missing and you plan on painting, glue it down and then fill in the cracks with some type of wood filler to smooth out the surface.

     b.  If the veneer is beyond repair, just take it off so you can either stain the wood underneath or paint it.

In my case, and all the peeling veneer furniture pieces that i have worked on in the past, under the veneer is solid pine or pine planks.  It looks great stained or can easily be painted.

2nd – Im sure there are tons of ways to remove veneer and you have to find what works best for you, but this one little trick will make it lots easier.

    a.  Rather than using a chisel, use a large metal putty knife with a sharp edge.  A hammer is also useful to get the putty knife under the veneer.

    b.  Keep the putty knife nice and flat, only at a slight angle so it will just slide under the veneer and peel it up.  Otherwise you will gouge into the wood making lots of dents and making the job harder.

Much better…

In my case, there were 2 layers to the veneer.  The top layer came up super easy and i just peeled it up with my hands.  The 2nd layer was tougher, but i was able to get most of it up with the hammer/putty knife.

After peeling up the veneer, there were some spots that had remaining wood glued to it and the old gluing papers.  Both were easily sanded off with an electric sander starting with an 80 grit paper and then working up to a 220 grit to get it stain ready.

After final sanding…

After stain… i did remove the veneer on all 3 tops so i had matching wood.

Anyone have some more useful hints @ peeling up veneer?  I would love to hear – just leave it in the comments so we can all read them!

To see more pics of this finished vanity, get paint or stain colors – go here

28 replies
  1. Rhonda
    Rhonda says:

    This post has impeccable timing – my sister wants me to redo a piece for her and there’s peeling veneer from the elements too! This will help me get started – thanks!

  2. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Thank you! I have a piece with peeling veneer and was too afraid to do anything yet.
    This helps a lot.
    Thanks, and glad you are “back”!

  3. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I have had a love/hate relationship with veneer! I know have an old iron from a thrift store and use a wet towel. I put the wet towel over the veneer and heat up with iron. How long you leave it on depends on how tough the glue is. When you do it right, the putty knife just glides under the now melted glue! SO EASY compared to the hammer and chisel method, which i almost ruined a top with. (I am incredibly impatient ;-)

    Love you site, i anxiously await new posts. Keep up the great work. May the Lord bless you abundantly this coming year!!

    • Sausha @ {Sweet Pickins}
      Sausha @ {Sweet Pickins} says:

      Ive read about the iron trick before, i will have to try that when i have a tough one, luckily so far everything ive had to remove comes off pretty easy – only had to bust out the chisel a couple times!!

  4. Shari @ Turnstyle Vogue
    Shari @ Turnstyle Vogue says:

    I use a wet towel and an iron to steam the glue and then it usually will peel right off with a little patience and a slow hand. I’ve had to get the sander out a few times, but so far, I’ve been luck with the iron.

    Happy New Year!! Thanks for all you do and share!

  5. Rose
    Rose says:

    That’s the way I do it to. Someone gave me an old 1940’s TV cabinet to bring out here where I live in the country to burn it. She just needed it hauled off. At the time I had much too many projects going on and didn’t have the time to do another one. All the while hauling it out here I kept looking back there at this piece thinking, this is going to haunt me for the rest of my life IF I don’t keep this and fix it up. It had potential and I knew it! BUT did not have time nor energy for one more project! UGH BUT I put it into a safe area on my carport, covered it nicely with some black thick plastic and it sit there for I know 4 years until I tackled it. And tackle it I did. It had the same old cloth in the windows on it from the 40’s. I had to take out some old boards on the insides to where I could use the areas for our VCR and DVD stuff. Anyway after I got it fixed I have had the most comments on it. I had to get the veneer off it to.
    I also have another piece this same friend gave to me that is sitting waiting on it’s redo. It ALSO has peeling veneer BUT some of it is not peeling and is mega hard to get off. I am going to use the hair dryer to help loosen up the glue and use the putty knife to and that should do the trick to help loosen it up so I can get it off. This piece is an old side board with the old skeleton key holes and everything. I don’t have the keys though. :( So I plan on putting something haven’t figured out what, some kind of knobs or something over the holes since they are messed up and also doesn’t have a knob to open the doors with either. I posted a pic of it awhile back on my blog. I want to paint the top another color but the bottom will be country white.

  6. Jamy
    Jamy says:

    Great tips! I have also used a heat gun behind the wide putty knife when it won’t budge. You have to wear leather gloves just in case but, works magic! Thanks for the post!

  7. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m planning to work on drop leaf side table with pealing veneer next week. I wanted to use the wood underneath and am happy to see this way of removing some of the veneer that is left. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever posted on your page, but I’m a huge fan. Thanks so much for your honesty, helpfulness and sharing your talent with the world. You’re amazing.
    Sarah from New York ;)

  8. AD
    AD says:

    Hello! I love your furniture makeover, very pretty! I would like to paint my old front door, which has peeling veneer. I have always thought it would be neat to paint as it has a really pretty design on it, but now my 9month old seems to think we should just continue to peel it off piece by piece, so it’s becoming more of a priority before she ends up eating it. My problem is enough has came off at the bottom that I don’t think I can just glue it back, but if I remove the veneer layer what do I do about the squares (panels?) of detailed cut out designs? I could try removing the veneer from them also but think it would be very tedious and risk damaging the design. Can I just do the flat part around the squares and not cause the squares to start peeling? What do you suggest?

  9. Mj
    Mj says:

    So can you be certain that under the veneer is a piece of wood to be sanded? I just bought a piece that I plan to use in my dinningroom. First time I’ve ever attempted a DIY project/ restoration. Kind of afraid I bit off more than I can chew :/ I Bought it from a picture, and thought it looked like just a paint job, but it has veneer that is pretty chipped up on the edges and peeling in a few spots. Also it has really pretty designs carved into the legs and around the edges, but covered in Fire engine red paint. How do I strip the paint without messing up the design (lots of tiny detail lines)? One more thing, the hardware is kind of rough looking/rusty. Is there a way to clean it up as well??? Guess I could have left the part out about me being a newcomer to all this, the questions I’m sure are a dead giveaway.

  10. Vickylpw
    Vickylpw says:

    This is just what I needed! Thanks for the helpful pics and tips. My veneer is going to have to go and then I will paint my gateleg table. Thanks again!

  11. Holly
    Holly says:

    Great advice all around on this veneer project. Any suggestions for the remaining glue? The table I’m working on now has residual glue on the sides. Every time I use an electric sander, the glue heats up and just get super tacky. Sanding by hand work a little better, but not much.

    • Sausha @ {Sweet Pickins}
      Sausha @ {Sweet Pickins} says:

      you can try lacquer thinner or a paint stripper for the glue. What i also do a lot is use a really low grit sand paper, like a 60 and just go over it real quick, moving around a lot. If you let your sander stay in one place to long it just heats it up and gets gummy. After you have removed it with the 60 grit paper, just go back up to a higher grit to smooth it out.

  12. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    a heatgun is very useful too. Just heat the veneer up in small areas before using the putty knife to lift it up.

  13. Teasha
    Teasha says:

    I have a table with drop down leafs that is missing one corner of the wood on the main middle piece. (Like a triangle of the corner). The veneer is still there, but I think it has seen better days, so thank you for the advice on how to strip that off. Is there any way for me to match a piece of wood to that corner and attach it? How? I plan on painting the whole table black, so it doesn’t need to necessarily have grain match or anything.
    Thank you!

  14. Old Woodworker
    Old Woodworker says:

    Veneers will usually come off with heat or water. Better yet, combine the both. Get very hot water in a spray bottle and sprits that water on. Let it sit for a few minutes or longer. It won’t work as well if there is still a thick coat of old varnish on though.
    Good job!


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