One of the most common questions we get is this:
What’s the difference between laminate and wood veneer? And can I paint it?
You ask, we deliver:
Now, we don’t claim to be professionals by any means, but we’ve been around the block with ALL our furniture transformations… and we’re happy to share what we’ve learned!
Let’s start with the definitions of each… because they’re totally different things.
- A thin layer of hardwood (usually thinner than 1/8/inch) that is bonded to a less expensive surface below (often a cheaper wood, particle board, or MDF).
This allows the manufacturer to create a beautiful piece for less than it would cost for a solid wood piece. Often, if the veneer is in good shape, you can’t even tell that it’s not solid.
This photo is to demonstrate how thin the layer of wood is.
- A man-made product (usually plastic) that is actually ‘printed’ to look like it has wood grain. It allows manufacturers to create furniture, cabinets, and flooring for less money. You canNOT stain laminate. It’s not wood! The stain has nothing to soak into, and will literally sit on top of the laminate and never fully dry. It will be a nasty sticky mess forevermore.
How to paint:
- If the veneer is in good condition and isn’t chipping… you can sand, prime, and paint like you would any piece of furniture. If the veneer is damaged or has chipped off in some places, but isn’t loose and flaky… you can either fill it with wood-putty and sand it smooth, OR you can embrace the character and prime and paint right over it.
BUT! If the veneer is chippy and loose to an extreme, and the damage is widespread… it’s really best to replace it with a new slab of wood like we did with Dawn’s woodgrain butterfly dresser. Do you see how loose and irreparable this veneer is?
Another option is to chip off the veneer with a putty knife, like we did on this buffet.
With a little elbow grease, the veneer came off (one splinter at a time), and then there was a lot of sanding involved to cut down that chunky adhesive. But in some cases this would be less work than actually replacing the wood. It may also help to soak the wood with a wet towel for awhile to loosen up the adhesive.
NOTE: Because wood veneer is actually real wood (and often has a beautiful wood grain), you CAN stain and varnish it! However, be careful if you’re using an electric or belt sander, because often the veneer is so thin that aggressive sanding will wear though the veneer quickly. Also, because it’s real wood, it’s important to sand in the same direction as the wood grain.
- I have GREAT NEWS (no we’re not pregnant… why does your mind automatically go there?) You can sand, prime and paint laminate as if it were a solid wood piece of furniture! It’s easy to skip the sanding step, because sanding is a drag… but it’s especially important with laminate. Because it’s often somewhat glossy-looking, and important to sand it down until the finish is very dull before priming. We recommend using 120 grit sandpaper for this. And, unlike real wood, it’s unnecessary to sand with the ‘grain’.
While the finish will be just as durable as if it were applied onto wood, laminate furniture by nature, is built more poorly and isn’t as heavy-duty as a solid wood piece. But next time you’re at the thrift store or a garage sale and you spy a laminate piece… IT CAN (and should) TOTALLY BE PAINTED!
Best news you heard all day right? That and it’s almost the WEEKEND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Questions? Comments? Have you had any luck removing veneer using a different method? Are you doing any furniture-updating of your own this weekend? Have you tried our tutorial on making new wood look old?
THANK YOU for pinning!