Delaminating veneer

Wood doors, just like your car, need regular maintenance. You wouldn’t think of foregoing basic maintenance on your car; change the oil, check tire pressure, get it tuned-up, keep your tires in good shape and so on. Well, your front door also needs regular maintenance to prolong its life. If your wood entrance door goes without maintenance the finish will fade, cracks may appear, water damage could occur and, the focus of this blog, the veneer can pull away from the core. This is called de-laminating.

 Restoring a wood door with delaminating veneer can be done if the damage isn’t too far along. First, however, let’s talk about veneer and why it would pull away from the core. Many homeowners think that their wood door, be it mahogany, oak, cherry or walnut is made from one solid chunk of wood. While the door is 100% wood, it’s certainly not from a single piece of mahogany, oak or cherry. If it were, the door would easily crack, warp, twist and bend. Doors are constructed of many separate parts to allow for the normal expansion & contraction brought on by humidity and temperature changes.

 Veneer is another component of wood doors, especially those built in the last 50 years or so. Nicer woods, such as mahogany, walnut, cherry, etc. are more expensive than, for instance, spruce, pine or fir. Some of these nicer woods are not as plentiful as they once were. To keep costs down and extend the supply of the nicer woods, veneer is used. This veneer can be quite thin, sometimes the thickness of 2 business cards. For an interesting diversion look up in Youtube how the veneer is ‘shaved’ from a mahogany log. So, when viewing a door we see the beautiful mahogany, oak or walnut grain. This is, of course, the veneer. Peel off this veneer and you have a core made of less expensive and more plentiful wood products.

 Let’s get back to the topic of this blog, de-laminating veneer. Before talking about the restoration let’s dive into the reasons the veneer pulls away. The veneer is held to the core with some sort of glue or other type of adhesive. This is strong stuff that does a great job and last for years. When the veneer starts to peel away it’s not due solely to a failure of the adhesive. It’s usually a combination of factors that goes something like this. First of all you get some moisture on the door. This could be rain, sleet, snow blown against the door or a sprinkler head that got hit by a mower and is now spraying on the door. The moisture runs to the bottom of the door. The bottom edge of doors is rarely painted or varnished, although it should be. This bare wood acts like a sponge, absorbing this moisture. The wood swells. There is now moisture behind the coatings that are on the exterior surface – and behind the veneer. Temperature and humidity changes cause the door to expand and contract. This cycle can repeat multiple times each year. Over time the attack on the wood begins to take its toll. The damage will be most prevalent on the bottom quarter of the door. This is where the moisture collects, where cracks can occur which allow moisture to get in from the outside, and is the part of the door that gets the most sun. Delamination can also occur around windows or other areas where moisture can creep around an edge of the veneer. Most of the time, however, we see it at the very bottom. Along with the delamination it’s common that the veneer is cracked badly and some pieces may have broken off. So, go out right now and check your door, paying special attention to the bottom.

 When Door Renew is refinishing a door with delamination we can usually repair it. Very occasionally the damage will be so severe that it’s beyond a simply repair and needs to have the existing veneer completely stripped off and replaced.  For now, let’s focus on the repair. Should you notice peeling veneer these tips may help you make the repair yourself. Here are some of the steps we use to re-attach the veneer:

·       Put the door on a bench or sawhorses, you definitely need it in a horizontal position.

·       Clean the area between the peeling veneer and the core. Dust, dirt and all other debris must be removed. If not, your adhesive will be clinging to the debris, not the veneer/core, and it simply won’t hold for very long. Use a vacuum to suck out the dirt. Insert a knife blade between the veneer and core, while vacuuming, to further loosen the dirt/debris.

·       Fold a piece of sand paper, around 150 grit, and work it between the core and peeling veneer. This removes even more debris and the old, failing adhesive. Vacuum out the debris.

·       With the area between veneer and core clean it’s time to apply the adhesive. A strong, high-grad, exterior wood glue is fine. Put the glue on the end of a narrow putty knife. Insert the putty knife into the gap, forcing the glue up as far as possible. Do this as many times as needed to get glue on both the core and the veneer across the entire damaged area.

·       With the glue applied it’s time to clamp the veneer onto the core. Lay a piece wood, a 2×4 works great, across the width of the damaged area. Use 3-4 clamps to force the 2×4 down on the damaged area. By using a 2×4 you spread the pressure evenly, not just where the clamps are. Attach the clamps down very tightly.

o   Extra tip 1: put a piece of cardboard or small piece of wood between the clamp and the interior surface of the door. This prevents the clamp from marring the inside surface.

o   Extra tip 2: put some wax paper between the 2×4 and the damaged area. When you tighten the clamps glue will be forced out. The waxpaper keeps this glue from sticking to the 2×4, which would create big problems when you try to remove it.

·       Let’s the glue set up for several hours. Better yet, let it set up overnight. Give it time, more than the instructions on the glue may indicate.

·       Use wood fill or bondo to repair cracks or areas where small strips of veneer are missing. Do this before you sand.

·       After the glue sets up you can remove the clamps. Now that the veneer is re-attached you can proceed with stripping, sanding and refinishing the repaired area.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To prolong the life of your door make sure sprinklers aren’t spraying it, inspect the finish (especially the bottom third) annually and handle issues sooner rather than later.