Repairing Veneer Finishes Repairing Veneer Finishes

Q. I have a 170-year-old antique German music box, (22-W X 9-D X 8"H) which has a very intricate inlaid veneer outer surface. There are flowers, borders, and parquet designs inlaid on the top and on all sides. The veneer is starting to crack and rise.
I believe the dry heat in the house causes this. What can I do to prevent further damage?

A. You have curling, dry veneer that needs to be moistened, flattened, and glued. Actually, there is some art and skill to this. Repairing veneer is not the sort of thing that everyone does. Consider reading the information first and then plan what you want to do.

Flattening a veneer
Veneers that have very slight "bubbling" can be glued without flattening. The key is to lightly mist the topside of the veneer with water or veneer softener after it has been placed on the freshly glued substrate, just before it is placed in the press. Be sure to mist the balance of the veneer, even if it is not bubbly. Veneer softener gives wood cells flexibility, which helps to prevent checks and cracks and is especially useful with crotch and burl veneers. For veneers that require flattening before use, you have two options in veneer softener.

Homemade veneer softener:

  • 3 parts water
  • 2 parts yellow glue
  • 1 part vegetable glycerin
  • 1 part denatured alcohol

Since this homemade veneer softener contains a fair amount of glue, it will also act as a "sizing," which may reduce glue bleed-through, but it will also affect the ability of the veneer to take a deep stain. If you find that the glue in the homemade veneer softener is causing the veneer to stick to the absorbent paper, place a piece of fiberglass cloth between the veneer and the paper. Fiberglass cloth can be found at your local hardware store near the adhesives aisle.

Mix some glycerin and water, mist the wood, flatten it, and let it dry. Then re-glue and clamp it with hide glue to re-establish the original veneering. After this, the surface needs to be cleaned appropriately, then the finish improved by adding to it in its original form. Depending how much damage there is the wood, it may go back to its original damage, even after you mist, glue and flatten.

Make a paper layout and remove each piece. Then remove all the old glue with vinegar, and neutralize with water. Let it dry and re-glue everything back. After every piece is back in place, wipe up as much excess glue as possible than lay a piece of wax paper over it, to keep the excess glue from sticking.

Cut up some pieces of plywood ahead of time to use as holding forms, and clamp every thing down. The next day, remove your clamps and wipe up any excess glue with paint thinner. Next, let dry, then if need be, apply your finish coats of varnish.

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