How to Remove the Peeling Veneer From Cabinets

by Karie Lapham Fay

Little more than an extremely thin sheet of hardwood, veneer offers the ability to transform furniture and cabinetry into works of beauty. Using solid sheets of exotic and costly woods increases the price of any furnishing. But with a thin sheet of veneer, a much cheaper material appears as if it's made only of the veneer wood instead. The problem starts when -- with age, abuse or other environmental factors -- the veneer begins to peel away. You may be able to readhere some areas, using specialized veneer glue. Sometimes, the only solution is to remove it.

1 Remove cabinet doors, pull out drawers or otherwise disassemble the item so you can work on each area separately. Detach any drawer pulls, knobs, hinges or other hardware that interferes with your work or covers the veneer.

2 Cover your work surface with a blanket, newspaper or other protective material to prevent gouging the veneered item or the work surface. Choose an area at comfortable working height to make the veneer removal easier.

3 Lay the veneered item flat on the work surface. Hold the piece in place, using clamps. Alternatively, ask an assistant to hold it for you while you work.

4 Slide a wide putty knife underneath a section of peeling veneer. Alternatively, begin at a corner and work the putty knife between the veneer and the base wood.

5 Hold the putty knife almost flat, angling it only slightly. Continue to drive it under the veneer as far as possible. Grab the loosened veneer edge and pull upward as you continue working the putty knife.

6 Tap on the putty knife with a hammer to encourage stubborn veneer. Switch from the putty knife to a chisel, if necessary. Keep the chisel as flat as possible to avoid gouging the base wood.

7 Score through the veneer in several spots, using a utility knife, if the veneer refuses to budge. Cut shallowly so only the very surface is cut to avoid damaging the base wood. Wipe or pour a solvent -- acetone, lacquer thinner or a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar -- onto the scored areas. Wait 5 or 10 minutes, then pry up the veneer as stated in the previous steps, starting at the score marks.

8 Heat the veneer to loosen the glue, if necessary. Set a clothes iron to a high "Steam" setting. Place a towel or sheet between the hot iron and the veneer. Work in small areas, moving the iron in circular motions to loosen the glue. Apply steam occasionally. Alternatively, use a heat gun. Point the tool at the veneer, pull the trigger and move the heat gun slowly back and forth to release and target very hot air. Eliminate the towel if using a heat gun.

9 Slide the putty knife under the veneer edge after heating the veneer several minutes. Create a slightly twisting, rocking motion with the tool to encourage the veneer to break free from the warmed adhesive. Remove any glue that remains after the veneer is gone, using sandpaper.

Items you will need

  • Blanket, newspaper or drop cloth
  • Wood clamps (optional)
  • Putty knife or chisel
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Vinegar, acetone, lacquer thinner or similar solvent
  • Steam iron or heat gun
  • Sandpaper

Tips

  • In most cases, having the veneer surface horizontal will help you remove the veneer without damaging the wood underneath it.
  • Starting at a loose section of peeling veneer makes removal much easier.
  • Some veneer will come up easily while other sections must be removed piece by piece. Much depends on the age of the piece, what glue was used and how well it was installed originally.

Warnings

  • Wear gloves and other protective gear during removal to prevent injuring yourself.
  • If using a solvent, ensure there is adequate airflow to prevent inhaling harmful fumes.