One of the most common questions I get centers around veneer and laminate finishes. Many people use these terms interchangeably but they are not the same thing. It’s important to know the difference so you know how to properly prep for stain and paint.
Let’s start with laminates. What are they? Well, laminates are paper, plastics or foils that have been printed with wood grain or a pattern and then encased in plastics and glued to plywood, particle board, or MDF. They can look like wood but they also come in a variety of colors and designs. Remember Formica counter-tops and kitchen tables? Yep, that’s laminate.
Photo courtesy of Front Porch Club
Photo courtesy of Vintage Kitchen Units
Veneer is real wood! It’s a thin layer of real wood that’s glued to a substrate of plywood, MDF, particleboard, or even a solid wood board. It’s frequently a sign of quality furniture as the wood grain can be applied in a variety of ways to make beautiful patterns.
How do you know if a piece has veneer? Again, let’s feel it. Veneer feels like wood. You should be able to feel the wood the wood grain. Look at the edge. Can you see where the layer of wood attaches to the substrate? Sometimes you can look at the direction of the wood grain on the end. Solid wood frequently (though not always) has wood grain that will run vertically on the edge. If the edge has laminate or veneer on it, the wood grain will run horizontally. Look at the pattern of the wood grain on the surface. If you see a repeating pattern on the surface, that could indicate veneer as well.
Photo courtesy of Hobbit House Inc.
Photo courtesy of Wood Database
Photo courtesy of Wood Database
Since veneer is real wood, it CAN be sanded, painted, or stained. I never use my radial sander as it’s quite easy to sand though the veneer and expose the particle board beneath. To paint veneer, just clean, scuff sand, and paint. To refinish veneer, I prefer to strip and stain.
There’s just nothing out there that can’t be painted with Fusion Mineral Paint! Let’s Paint it Beautiful!
Great article! Thank you for the information!
Thank you, Monica!!
You mentioned that to refinish veneer you prefer to strip and stain. What product to strip? Thank you
I used to use Citristrip but they’ve changed their formula so I had to move on to something else. Right now I’m using STRP Sure and like it ok. It’s just stinky!
Thank you – just answered my query. I find your blogs and videos really helpful – thank you for taking the time.
You’re welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read it!
Read your article and believe my table top is a veneer. I used to and citristrip. Done of the top went to the original wood grain (which is still there ( but the rest idmf the table is still pretty glossy. Any ideas? I planned to stain the top and paint the skirt and legs.
It’s hard to say without a photo. Citristrip changed their formula and it is very weak now. How many coats did you use? If it’s still glossy in places it sounds like the finish hasn’t been removed. You might try a stripper like Jasco. It typically takes me 2-3 coats to get the finish off. Then use steel wool and some stripper to scrub off any excess and then wipe down with mineral spirits. Hand sand with the grain with 180 grit paper and you’re ready to stain!
Great article. I have a quick question: with laminate, do you scuff sand first before applying the Ultra Grip?
No, I never do. Some laminate is made of paper with a plastic coating. I don’t want to compromise the plastic and risk the paper getting wet. Ultra Grip is designed for surfaces that can’t be scuff sanded.