How to Remove Wood Veneers

A dresser with a veneer finish on a white background.
  • 2-4 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 20-50
What You'll Need
Steam iron
Putty knife
Distilled water
Clean spray bottle
Clean rags
Hammer and chisel
120-grit sandpaper

If that beautiful dresser would be perfect if only the veneer was in better shape, try removing the wood veneers. Although the process can be terribly time-intensive, the results are well worth the effort. With plenty of time and a lot of elbow grease, you will be thrilled with that dresser in no time.

Step 1 - Heat Veneered Surface

Fill the iron with distilled water, turning it to the highest setting. Allow the iron to heat up. Starting at one corner of the surface of the wood veneers, place the iron directly on the veneer. Move the iron in a circular motion and steam every 30 seconds. This will force the heat and water into the glue. With the putty knife, lift the surface just heated with the iron. Repeat process across the entire surface. Some areas will require multiple ironings to melt all of the adhesives.

This method is especially effective for furniture that is at least 50 years old. Old furniture makers used hide (hyde) glue to adhere wood veneers to their creations. Newer furniture (less than 50 years old), may take extra effort. For difficult areas, squirt or pour water directly between the furniture and the veneer and heat with an iron. Or, take a towel, fold it several times, and lay it on the veneered surface. Boil water, and carefully pour onto the folded towel. Wait for the towel to cool. Pry the veneer off with a putty knife.

Step 2 - If Steam Doesn’t Work

If your furniture is newer than 50 years old, the steaming may not quite do the job. Try a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water. Pour mixture into a spray bottle. Pry up one corner of the veneer. Spray solution directly onto glue and allow to sit for three to five minutes to soften the synthetic resin, and pry up the wood veneers with a putty knife.

You may find that the water/vinegar solution is not working. In that case, you may have to resort to lacquer or acetone. Apply directly to the glue and, let it sit for three to five minutes to melt the glue. Pry up the veneer with a putty knife. In extreme cases, you may have to resort to a hammer and chisel. The synthetic resin glue used in newer furniture’s veneers is much more tenacious than the older hide glue. As a result, removal of the wood veneers may require more drastic measures.

Step 3 - Remove Remaining Adhesive

When all the veneer has been removed from your piece of furniture, there will likely be some glue remaining on the surface. Start on older furniture (hide glue) with additional steam. Lay a folded towel directly over the residue and pour near boiling water on the towel. Let the hot water sit on the glue to melt it. Scrape melted glue with a putty knife.

For newer furniture, first try spraying the 50/50 water and vinegar solution onto the glued area. Let the solution sit for three to five minutes to melt the resin. Scrape softened glue with a putty knife. If the solution doesn’t work, apply lacquer or acetone directly over the glue. Let the remover sit on the glue to soften it, and scrape. Once you have removed as much of the wood veneers glue as possible, sand the wood until smooth with 120-grit sandpaper. Prepare the wood for the desired finish.