Jump to content

Veneers without the tears!


Recommended Posts


Thanks for the encouraging comments and feedback from you all for the quick 'tips and techniques' relating to wipe-on varnishing.  The problem with encouraging a Brit, is that they have a tendency to come back and pester everyone again :lol:

I thought it might be of interest to some of you in terms of how you can easily and cheaply make a basic flat-topped entry-level guitar or bass look a million dollars.  Veneering!



...can be transformed to this:


...with a surprisingly small outlay.  

Does it take years of practice?  No - the above one was my first go.  BUT there are things that make it a lot easier and much more likely to end with a satisfactory outcome.  And that is what the next few posts will be - the Andyjr1515 outlook on how to strip and veneer a guitar or bass without ending up blubbing like a baby or resorting to terrorising local pets, children and old blokes like me out of sheer frustration :)

Like before, I'll probably do a bit of cutting and pasting from previous threads in various forums.  So, if you've seen them before then apologies - but also be reminded that you can run from misguided and over-enthusiastic contributors, but you can't necessarily hide!!!!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK - so, let me start by saying what this is and what it is not:

  • This is not how the manufacturers such as Epiphone, Ibanez, Squier, etc, etc do their solid body / fancy veneer tops (although the veneer used is)
  • This is not how you would do a carved top with compound curves (eg Les Paul standard).  It IS, however, ideal for the great majority of entry level guitars that play great but where you want a bit of individuality or bling.  Simple curves, even tight ones such as the stratocaster arm relief, are fine.
  • This is not how you would probably do it if you were trying to make a business out of veneering tops
  • This IS how you can do a very professionally looking veneer job, on the dining table, with the minimum of standard household equipment while your partner/wife/husband/housemate/landlord is at the shops / hairdressers / pub / baseball game

In my own case, this particular example was while my wife was at the hairdressers.  Luckily, she doesn't read these posts :D

I'll go through the basics, starting off with an already sanded body and then some of the more specific hints and tips - including stripping an existing finish and applying further finishes once veneered - in a later post.

The equipment needed is basic:

  • Household iron
  • Sharp modelling knife
  • Scissors
  • Standard decorators small gloss foam roller and tray
  • Decent quality PVA wood glue.  I would avoid Titebond Original - it's too thick and dries too hard.  Titebond do a cold veneer glue but I've never tried it.  I use a standard hardware store product.
  • A fine water spray pump.  The travel perfume atomisers available widely in pound shops and bargain drugstores are ideal.  You only need a tiny amount of water mist, so anything that will spray fine enough
  • A board to cover the dining table!

You can see most of the equipment in this shot here.  I use a small aeromodelling heatshrink iron, but a household iron (run dry - no steam!) works absolutely fine:



The example I'm going to show below is a single veneer sheet.  Bookmatching is also fine (and the majority of what I do) but there are some additional hints and tips I will cover in a later post.

The principle is this.  We are going to IRON ON the veneer.  We put a thin covering of PVA on the body and the veneer; let it dry, then iron it on!  

  • FIRST TIP is to do a template so you can refind the voids and screwholes once you've covered them with veneer.  All I do is run round the outlines on a piece of paper with my thumbnail:



  • Cut the veneer with scissors to a shape an inch or so (c30mm)  larger all round than the body shape 


  • Then on goes the PVA using the foam roller - gives a nice even finish.  Make sure the edges, particularly, have a decent covering:





  • SECOND TIP: use the fine atomiser (you can see a cheap travel one in this shot) to pop a very fine spray of water on the opposite side of the veneer immediately after the glue has gone on - the moisture from the glue makes the back of the veneer expand rapidly and it will start curling immediately...the fine spray on the other side counteracts it and it will flatten out.  
  • Wait the 20 or so minutes until both veneer and body are touch dry then position the veneer on and get the pre-heated iron out.


  •  Use a hot setting on the iron.  Place the veneer carefully in position. Then, if it's a single sheet, iron from the middle out.  If it's book-matched, do one side at a time and secure the middle join line first then fan out from there.  Firm pressure and trying to progress outwards avoiding kinks and creases - just as you would iron a sheet!  THIRD TIP: to help the glue to grab while it's cooling, it's sometimes helpful to heat it up, then remove the iron and press down firmly with a duster or clean rag 


  •  FOURTH TIP: the great thing with this is that - as long as there is glue there - the melt and stick process is completely repeatable.  If you have a slight bubble in the veneer after it has cooled, then you can reapply the iron, heat it up and press down with your duster/rag until it cools and holds (usually just 10-15 seconds) 


  • Work the iron progressively round the edge line, securing the edges and forming the veneer round - it is VERY important that the edges are properly secure before you do the final trim!

Here was mine after the first pass:



  • The dry PVA makes the veneer quite leathery and much easier to handle.  Before final trimming, it is sometimes easier to take a bit of the excess off.  You can use a very sharp modelling knife or scissors
  • Now for the final trimming.  I use disposable modelling knives - they are sharp, they are rigid and the long blade allows you to 'saw' the veneer where appropriate.
  • FIFTH TIP: use the body itself as the template, pierce the veneer overlap with the blade and rest the blade (at the required angle) on the body so the body stops the blade digging in:


  • TIP SIX: cut in the direction where veneer grain tear will take the blade AWAY from the body, not into it.  Above is one example.  At the waist areas, cut towards the middle from either side to achieve the same thing:


  • When the outline is trimmed, go round it again with the iron - it is crucial that the edges are secure.


  • We now have a shape...



  • The main voids are pretty easy to find because they sound hollow - time to chuck the first disposable and get a fresh one!  This is why I use disposables...to try to use the same blade is very false economy for this bit.


  • Go over the void edges again with the iron.  Pierce the blade in the centre and, with the blade vertical, cut towards the body wood.  Then, do the same - use the body as your blade guide.  Work carefully - it's easy to tear out a bit of veneer here.


  • When the main voids are cut, this is where the paper template with the outlines impressed into it comes into its own :D 

...and hey presto, it's done:


....and wife's not back yet so I will clear up quickly, vacuum the bits and wait to tell her how nice her hair looks....  

Next post, I'll cover the edge sanding... 

Edited by Andyjr1515
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, folks :D

OK - we are now at the finish sanding of the sides. Once again, it is straightforward but with some important tips and tricks:

  • Go round the edges with the iron one more time...it is essential that the intended demarcation line is stuck down


  • Use a sanding block with medium grit and start to sand ALONG the join line, not across it:


What you are seeking to achieve is to feather the veneer down to nothing.  Because you are following the profile round, the join line where this happens will be continuous and even (hence never to sand across the join!)

  • Ensure that the join line sands right down to the wood - any PVA left on the wood will reject stain and finish and show as a light patch.  You can see the PVA overlap here:


...but actually, the easiest and best way of spotting it is to simply wipe with a damp cloth - the PVA patches will show up very clearly as the rest of the wood darkens as it dampens, but the PVA doesn't!

  • There will be a very fine line of PVA that shows at the join - the objective is to make that as fine as possible by sanding through at the join.  In this shot, the arrow points at that thin line - that's what you should be aiming at.  The area circled is where I missed a tiny bit of PVA!!! :rolleyes:


And that's about it for the basics!

By now, again, having sanded the veneer also to remove any PVA bleed-through, it should be ready for staining, varnishing or oiling.  The was the stratocaster after the first coat of red ink:


Note that the fairly pronounced typical strat arm relief has covered fine.  The veneer is 0.6mm thick and generally pretty flexible.

In the next and last post, I will cover bookmatching and CRACKS!


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting. Thanks for this, looks like this is much easier than the titebond+clamp overnight method that I used so far. 

And you don't put anything between the iron and the wood? I think I used aluminum foil when I tried to iron out veneer bubbles in the past...

I have one project that will be veneered coming up so I just might try your method ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/8/2016 at 2:40 PM, pan_kara said:

And you don't put anything between the iron and the wood? I think I used aluminum foil when I tried to iron out veneer bubbles in the past...

Hi @pan_kara

I don't generally.  If I need to heat it more than normal, I sometimes use a piece of kitchen roll just to stop it scorching.


So, some of the variations on a theme and things to look out for.  

First - Bookmatching:

  • Pretty straightforward.  Basically do one side at a time.
  • I razor cut the veneer with a steel rule to make sure I have a couple of straight edges to start off with
  • Draw the join line in pencil on the body.
  • Apply one half, starting at the join line and working outwards away from it


  • I find it easier to cut the main voids before doing the second half:


  • When you add the second half, be aware that
    • the veneer on melted glue 'floats' a little until it is bonded
    • when it cools/dries, the veneer shrinks
  • So....again start at the joining edge and iron the veneer towards the join so it firmly butts up against it.  Let it cool and bond before moving outwards.  When you do, again, iron towards the join.  As the middle gets progressively bonded, radiate outwards as normal

With the shrinkage comes (sometimes) cracks - I'll cover that in the next post.  The shrinkage makes the kind of thing below quite tricky, but if you want a guitar that no one will possibly steal ("could you give us a description of the stolen item, sir?")  It's one seriously pimped up Epiphone! :D:



Next post:  dealing with shrinkage without cracking up!


Edited by Andyjr1515
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

Hey @Andyjr1515 any advice about shrinkage? :) I hit this exact problem twice already. Haven't tried on a guitar yet but I was just playing around and veneered an IKEA stool with some padouk veneer leftovers and had it develop some cracks after cooling down.. this wasn't a big deal, but recenly I've been veneering a HiFi speaker cabinet that I'm trying to make for a change and the speaker to ended up being three pieces of veneer side by side (like in the guitar photo above, though using one type of wood) and there I ended up with ~1mm spaces between the pieces a few minutes after the application.

Is there some magic trick to avoid this? I guess this is some effect of the wood swelling from the water in the glue and then compressing after the water evaporates from the heat, but I'm not sure how to counter this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, @pan_kara  

Your question has reminded me that I never covered this aspect...in spite of the last line of my last post! :rolleyes:

I'll try to remember to do a more comprehensive answer but in brief:

  • Using 'wet' glue and heat using the iron approach certainly exacerbates the expansion / contraction  cracking issue for some veneers (and veneer types really do vary a lot with this).  I'll cover this when I add to this thread...
  • However, to get an edge that doesn't shrink away is, potentially, easier than some of the other veneering techniques
  • Basically, whenever the heat is applied, the veneer is 'floating' on molten PVA.  You therefore iron it INTO the desired critical position.
  • But then the important point - AS SOON AS you've taken the iron away, press and hold the veneer in position firmly with a rolled up cloth (to apply very firm pressure without burning yourself) for a few minutes until the PVA has solidified back enough to fully grab.  That edge will not move again until and unless you reheat that area and re-soften the glue

I'll try to find some time to more fully complete this thread in the next couple of days :)


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Andy, looking forward to your writeup.

What I was trying to do on the second speaker (after finding out what is happening on the first one) was to first glue down the veneer edges and then when they cool down a bit try to move on to the rest without re-heating them. I did get better results this way, but still not perfect. Didn't think simply holding down the wood in place could fix this. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, @pan_kara

I still experiment from time to time and you have me thinking.  Folk who use vacuum bags for cold gluing veneer (including most commercial ones) would glue the sections together first.  For a multi section area, it might be possible to pre glue and the ne careful with the iron to not melt the joint before the adjacent sides are secure...


For the above example, however, I secured the middle strip, then pushed the second strip against it with the iron and held firmly with the cloth until the glue grabbed, then pushed the third strip against the second in a similar manner, etc

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...