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Trash to Treasure: How to Remove Damaged Wood Veneer from a Piece of Furniture

If you love searching for vintage furniture finds like I do, you've probably run into a fair few pieces that could be incredible, but have been a bit neglected. A common issue I run into is water damaged wood veneers. Often, I'll see a piece with a warped and water damaged top, and keep walking.  I'm not going to make that mistake again! Here's a look into my first 'trash to treasure' desk!

At the start of this week, a friend of mine tipped me off on a few pieces of furniture on the curb by her house, so I jumped in the car and made my way there as fast as I could! Naturally, there was a passing storm that morning, and by the time I reached my free finds, they were sopping wet.

I could see all three pieces were in rough shape, but no matter, free is free and into the car they all went. My favorite piece had to be the desk [I always love a good desk!], which happens to be a vintage Ivan Allen-Marshall Co. desk, a furniture maker based in Atlanta.  

It's rare for me to run into locally made vintage finds, so despite its slightly disastrous condition, I was determined to forge ahead and restore this little piece of Atlanta history! After doing some quick repairs on the legs, I moved straight to the key task at hand: removing the severely water damaged wood veneer top. I've made repairs to veneer before, but never have I attempted to strip it off a piece entirely! It seemed daunting, but really the key to it was patience and a good pair of gloves.

The method I chose to use involved taking a sopping wet bath towel and covering the entire top with it.  I left the towel there for about two hours, removed it and began to shave at the veneer with a putty knife. There were two layers that needed removing, the finished veneer and the plywood base beneath it. It's not exactly easy, as the veneer doesn't just pop off in one piece.  I had to repeat the wet towel procedure about four times total until I was able to scrape away at every last bit.

Beneath the surface was a rough hewn top, which had so much character, along with quite a few splinters! I tried to sand it smooth, but sanding it seemed to be making matters worse.  My hope was to restore the top and simply seal it with a stain, but ultimately I knew the best decision was to go with a paint wash and wax finish.

Using a mixture of paint and water allows the paint to soak into the surface and allow the grain to show through.  You can do a paint wash on pieces without a grain, but this process looks infinitely better on wood like oak and pine. I went with Annie Sloan's Duck Egg Blue for the top and a white wax finish.

I continued the washed effect on the base of the desk, going with Old White mixed with a hint of Duck Egg Blue. I love how the white wash draws attention to the simple turned leg detailing. 

The dark wood finish peeks through beautifully and gives the simple facade of this desk a texture and depth that photographs beautifully and looks stunning in person.

Considering the state I found this desk in, I'm absolutely floored by the finished product. It's quite literally a trash to treasure story!  It feels good to rescue something from going into a landfill, and when it comes out this beautiful, the process is all the more satisfying! I'm posting it for sale soon in my shop, and if you want to see more details of this desk, check out my other website States of Reverie for a more in depth look at the styling process.