Saturday, January 17, 2015

VS2 Resoration: Veneer

The continuing saga of the complete restoration of a Singer VS2.  See the previous post for more details.

And a warning:  if you don't like taxidermy, don't read this post.  What does taxidermy have to do with veneer?  Nothing, but there is plenty of taxidermy coming up for your enjoyment.  My personal favorite is the coyote.


The veneer on the top of the cabinet was discolored, split in places and missing in others.

I did strip off the original finish first (using Citra Strip) to see if it was salvageable.  The grain on the old wood just cannot be matched today.

But I decided that although I could fix it up, it was too far gone to ever look terrific.

I had carefully checked with owners Sadie and Patricia before I began to find out if they wanted a conservation job (fixed but showing the wear and use patterns) or a restoration (fixed up to look as good as possible).  They wanted it pretty!  The original wood was never going to look pretty again, so I consulted my friend Myra and her husband Dexter, who have successfully replaced the veneer on old treadle cabinets before.  They advised me on what to get and where to get it.

So I took a piece of the bonnet top to The Hardwood Store in nearby Gibsonville NC.  You can order from them online but because I don't know much about wood I wanted to consult them in person.  The store clerk confirmed that it was mahogany.  Most of the treadles I have restored have been oak, but this one is clearly much older and it didn't look like oak to me.  I ordered a 2' x 8' roll of peel and stick mahogany veneer and had it shipped to me.  It arrived THE NEXT DAY.  Impressive.  The roll is enough for two treadles with bits left over.

I had never done any veneer work before so I worked out a barter with Dexter where he would both do the work and (even more importantly) teach me how to do it.  In return he got my late husband's Sennheiser cordless headphones.

Before taking it over to Dexter I fixed the loose veneer on the bottom by gluing and clamping.  There were several areas that needed it, the photo only shows one of them.  Elmer's wood glue does the trick.

BTW, when you are gluing veneer down, clamps are an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.  Just weighting things down with heavy things is NOT going to do it.  My mission in life seems to be to make as many mistakes as possible and this was one of them--my first restoration was a family treadle and the reglued veneer on that one has ripples in it from not using clamps on it.

I filled in the missing area of veneer on the bottom with wood filler.  The photo shows a jar of wood putty which I discovered is NOT the thing to use.  It never hardened.  I think it is just for tiny holes like old nail holes.

DON'T use wood putty!

I had to scrape it all out and clean it all off before replacing it with wood filler.  That dried nicely and I was able to sand it smooth.  The whole point of repairing the bottom of the cabinet, which no one will ever see, is to get it smooth so that the person using the machine will not get their clothes snagged on a rough surface underneath.

Notice that some of the holes go all of the way through at the same width and some of them don't.

I also popped all the hardware out of the top so that the veneer could be applied.  Then I took it over to Dexter and he prepared it for the re-veneering.  (No photos of this part.)  He carefully sanded off all of the old glue and got the surface smooth.   Then he sealed it with polyurethane varnish.  He says that you have to put enough coats on so that there are no longer any dull places showing.  If it is not completely sealed, the veneer will not adhere properly.  It took three coats of the poly.

We worked in Dexter's spacious man-cave, and we had plenty of supervision.  These are only a few of the supervisors.  I will show you more of them as we move along.

We talked about the fact that some of the holes are smaller on the back then they are on the top.  I offered to make a paper template of the entire top.  Dexter said to wait and see if he could get all of the veneer off in one piece, in which case we could use it as the template.  I never dreamed that this would actually work.  I have removed veneer before, and it was a highly destructive process!  But in this case the veneer was pretty loose all the way around and he got all of it off by sliding a putty knife in between the veneer and the wood beneath. Only one tiny piece broke off.  Pretty neat, huh?


The major crack in the veneer went through to the wood below.  I asked if we should fill it in with wood filler, but he said no.  If the filler expanded later it would push up on the veneer.

He laid the old veneer on the new veneer and traced around it with a pencil, and allowing for the missing pieces that had cracked off on the edges.

Then it is a fairly simple matter to cut the veneer with ordinary household scissors.  Cut OUTSIDE of the pencil line.  You want it a smidge too large because you will sand it down to fit properly soon.  He held it in place while Myra cut it.

The peel and stick process is also easy, but it IS necessary to be precise, and it is a two-person job.  Dexter first peeled back about one inch of one corner.  He stuck this in place and then made sure that it was lined up properly.  At this stage it is easy to make corrections.  When he was confident that it was aligned correctly Myra peeled about a hands-breadth at a time, and then he smoothed it down firmly with his hands.  

Peel,  smooth, peel, smooth, until it is completely applied.

Dexter then trimmed off the excess with a carpet knife with a new blade in it.  He tried a few inches in both directions before deciding how to tackle it.  Even though the long edges ran with the grain of the wood, he said that it will obviously be easier to cut going in one direction than in the other direction.

Hold the blade at an angle because the edge should be beveled.

The coyote that did NOT get to eat the chihuahuas.

DEXTER'S SECRET WEAPON.  Do you recognize the object below?

If you said "Callus remover for your heels", ding ding ding, you are correct!  He finds a metal file to be too abrasive--it tears up the edge of the veneer.  He also likes the callus remover because it is plastic around the edges and will not damage the edges of the wood below the veneer.

Use the callus remover on the first pass to remove the roughest spots.  Follow with a sanding with 100 grit sandpaper.  Then a final sanding with 220 grit to make it all smooth.  He used a back and forth motion perpendicular to the edge, like shining shoes.  Does anyone shine shoes anymore?

another supervisor

He used an exacto knife to punch a little hole though from the back in the places that needed to be cut out.  You do this in case the marked holes on the top are not in exactly the right place.

From the top side, he cut from the punched holes to the outside of the openings in several places, then carved around the circles.  You can see in the photo below that he was right to be cautious about the placement of those pencilled circles.

Finish up by sanding the edges of the openings.

He was careful to be sure the grain lines matched as he placed the veneer on the extension leaf.  Then it was the same peel and stick process, followed by sanding the edges.

A final light sanding of the entire top removed the remaining pencil marks and prepared it for staining.  All it needs before that is a light wipe-down with mineral spirits.

Eh, voila!  Perfection!

Wonder why all the photos of Myra and Dexter do not show their faces?  Because they requested it that way.

And even more supervisors.  And I did not even show you all of them.

Next post will cover staining and re-assembly.


  1. Great post, as always! Loved the taxidermy - it's a skill I wish I had!

  2. I am so thrilled for that cabinet! It will look gorgeous when done.

  3. Wow. Who knew applying veneer was so involved? Not I. I am especially surprised to learn about the poly under the veneer. I t looks great, even without the stain. Really appreciate the post. Wish I had a Dexter to help me with mine.

  4. My first treadle, a Singer 99, needs to have the veneer either replaced, or just removed. I have to use blue tape, to tape a large piece of template plastic over the peeling veneer when I sew on that machine. I wish Dexter and his wife were closer (you too). All those deer are making me hungry! I haven't had deer chili in a long time.


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