Refinishing techniques for wood veneer are essentially the same as those used for solid wood. You must use a gel stripper to keep it from penetrating to the glue level, and use a very fine-grit sandpaper lightly when it comes time to sand out the surface. Make all needed repairs to the veneer before beginning the refinishing process to ensure that the veneer top is stable and secure.
Making Veneer Repairs
Glue down any loose veneer with wood glue before beginning the stripping process. Clamp a board over the glued down veneer to press it into place for 24 hours. Repair blistered or split veneer by slicing the blister open with a utility or razor craft knife, injecting wood glue from a syringe into the damaged area, covering in wax paper and pressing the repair flat with a board and clamps, or a flat board and heavy bricks or books.
Stripping Off the Old Finish
Apply a coat of gel stripper to the table top using a soft-bristle brush. Following the manufacturer’s instructions will give the best results. In general spread the stripper evenly and allow it to sit for the manufacturer’s recommended time before scraping the stripper and old finish from the table top with a chemical resistant plastic scraper. Keep a container with a lid available for disposing of the used stripper.
Clean the surface of your table top with a rag dampened in odorless mineral spirits. Although odorless mineral spirits have reduced fumes, it is best to work in a well-ventilated area and wear a filter mask. Especially if you have sensitive skin, use gloves when handling harsh chemicals.
Filling and Sanding
Fill any voids or rough spots in the veneer with a professional, solvent-based wood filler, which is available in a variety of wood colors from your hardware store. It hardens faster and takes stain better than traditional wood fillers. Allow the filler to dry thoroughly before sanding the surface with 150-grit or finer sandpaper on a random orbit or other finish sander. Do not allow the sander to stand in one place for more than a few seconds at a time to avoid friction burns to the veneer. Sand lightly to prevent rubbing through or damaging the veneer. Clean the dust from the surface with a dry fine-bristle brush. Be sure to get all of the dust to avoid a gritty texture in your finish.
Applying Stain and Finish
Brush or rub on a coat of stain in your choice of color. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. Typically you brush stain on and wipe the excess off with a soft, clean rag. Allow the stain to dry thoroughly before applying the finish. Apply two coats of clear polyurethane or other clear furniture finish. Follow the label directions for best results. Use the best brush your budget will allow. Natural bristles are generally better. Use long, straight strokes in applying the finish, and resist the urge to go back over an area more than once to avoid brush strokes.