In this blog I’m going to share a little trick that comes in really handy when refurbishing mid-century furniture. Since almost all factory furniture from the 1950s and 60s uses veneer, it’s inevitable that some vintage pieces will incur scratches, gouges, or other abrasions which go through the veneer and therefore can’t be fixed with a normal refinish. Replacing a whole veneer surface can be time-consuming, and the new veneer may not match the vintage patina. Any number of products could fill the cavity, but I’ve yet to find a wood filler that gives a look I can live with.
The solution that I favor involves patching the problem area with a matched, or contrasting, veneer piece of an aesthetically pleasing shape. In this case I’ll use matching cherry veneer in the shape of a double dovetail a la George Nakashima to repair a small abrasion in the top of a Bassett dresser. You’ll need veneer, a sharp (or mechanical) pencil, a sharp craft knife (razor blade or chisel) , super glue, and a sanding block.
As seen below, I’ve drawn out my patch in pencil on a sheet of veneer and placed it next to the abrasion to make sure that the grain will match up the way I want it to. I’ll use a sharp craft knife or razor blade to neatly cut my patch out.
Then I’ll use a SHARP pencil to trace the outline of my patch in it’s intended place.
And now to remove the damaged veneer. This can be daunting if you’re new to this type of work, but don’t worry-even if you mess up really badly, you can just cut a slightly larger patch and repeat this step.
Use your craft knife to carefully cut JUST INSIDE your pencil lines. Make sure you cut through the veneer into the substrate below it. Next, cut a cross hatch (tic tac toe) pattern in the veneer to be removed. This will allow you to carefully pry it up piece by piece with your blade. Hopefully it will flake up easily, but sometimes it is stubborn. Go slowly and don’t get impatient. and you’ll end up with something like this.
Now, put your patch in place and check for a good fit. Trim as necessary, and make sure your cutout has a flat bottom that will provide a good gluing surface. Your patch should look level when fitted, and hopefully will sit slightly higher than the surrounding veneer so that it can be sanded flush. I use super glue (cyanoacrylate) as my adhesive. Apply evenly to the substrate, the fit your patch and hold firmly for 30 seconds or so.
My patch is a little proud (high) so I’ll use my sanding block and some 100 grit to sand it flush, then grade up to 220. Leave the fine sawdust in the seams and the finish will blend with it to fill any miniscule gaps that might exist. After a few coats of finish you’ll have added a unique element to a piece that many people would have abandoned. Sure, the repair will remain visible, but it will add character to a piece that previously appeared hopelessly flawed.