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A Simple Veneer Repair


 Sandy and I received this old radio cabinet during an acquaintance's move for the cost of hauling it down 3 flights of stairs and hauling it away - It dates from around 1929 or so and at first glance looks in pretty good shape.  In actuality, it looks better than it is - the doors are in great shape, but the case is really poor.  Also, all of the original radio parts have been cannibalized, so all that is left is basically the cabinet itself:

Radio Cabinet

 For Christmas, one of the gifts I gave her was one of those record players that can record LP's to CD, so it seemed right that this old radio cabinet be transformed into the stand for it.  It's the right size, and the interior can be converted to hold LP's and CD's.  But it needs restoration first.  One of the most obvious problems is where the veneer has come off, as you can see in the above photo at the lower left corner.  It's such an obvious flaw, that I just have to repair it.

 Here you can see the broken veneer close up (sorry for the poor photography):


The first thing you need when repairing a flaw like this is some matching veneer.  Luckily, I have a source that should match nicely - the former interior panel that held the radio dial and switches won't be needed in the cabinet's new life, so I was able to remove some of that veneer to use as a patch.  

To remove existing veneer without damage, I use an old iron set on low to heat the old hide glue up, then  work a dulled scraper under the veneer.  The scraper is dull from years of use - the danger with using a sharp tool is that it will cut the wood rather than separate the veneer at the glue line. I then work my way up with the iron and the scraper underneath the veneer until I have enough for my patch (more if I can), this piece ended up being about 1-1/2" wide and 10" long.


 Once a large enough piece of veneer is procured, I cut the damaged veneer out to it's full height (see photo below) - a patch that goes across the grain is more difficult, more visible, and it's fortunately this is a short piece of veneer...  I will do a piece on patching where there is cross grain the end where I have a problem on the side in a later entry.

I use a piece of paper laid over  the patch, then use the side of a pencil to trace out the shape and size of the patch.  You know the method -  remember as a kid when they showed you how to trace a nickel with a piece of paper laid over it and to shade it with the side of the pencil?  It's a similar technique.


 Then, using a spray adhesive, I attach the paper template to a piece of the salvaged veneer.


 Then, using a pair of scissors, I cut out the veneer along the lines on the paper.  I tested first to make sure I could use the scissors to cut the veneer without damaging it - then I also left about 1/32" around the outside so I can trim the patch down to fit.


 I fit the patch into the corner.  It was a little oversized at first (as expected), so I used a block plane to size the veneer a bit better, holding the plane in one hand and run the trim over the plane's blade with my left hand.  It also helps that the patch is just a hair thicker (I got lucky!) than the surrounding veneer - this will make the patch easier to level out with the surrounding veneer after.


 Using a heat gun, I heat the location of the patch along with the veneer so the glue doesn't set up too fast on me.  If the veneer patch is curling a bit, I use the iron to flatten it a bit before gluing it into place.


I slather hot hide glue (the very best glue for the job) on both surfaces, and place the patch.  You can see the top of my homemade double boiler just above the cabinet in the above picture.  You could also use liquid hide glue - but I would not suggest using any yellow glue.  If you mess up and have to remove the patch or re-position it, the hide glue will allow it.  Other glues simply will not.

Using some wax paper I place a caul over the patch to hold it in place while the glue dries.


Once dry, I remove the caul and wax paper:


I then scrape the glue off, and use a cabinet scraper to level the patch with the surrounding veneer.


A little sanding with 220 paper, and the patch is ready for finish.  Here I put some alcohol on the patch to show what the patch looks like finished:


Yes, you can see it - but after I finish sand the rest of the veneer, replace the applique, and then apply a colored shellac (or stain), the patch should be almost invisible.

Look for more adventures in restoring this cabinet in the near future...