Applying Paper-Backed Veneer

A question about the best adhesive to use for paper-backed veneer over plywood leads to an extended discussion comparing professional methods to inexpensive and less-durable DIY options. March 18, 2006

My plywood supplier tells me there can be big problems using contact cement to adhere a paperback veneer to any substrate. The contact cement forms a flexible bond resulting in a cracked finish over time (the finish doesn't move). Has anyone had consistently good results with paperbacks and contact cements? There are a number of veneers I'm thinking of using but they're only available in paperbacked version.

Forum Responses
(Adhesives Forum)
From contributor A:
I never had a problem using this method, especially when sprayed. Your plywood supplier should stick to his plywood supplying.

From Jeff Pitcher, forum technical advisor:
Your plywood supplier is right. You may get away with it a few times but eventually you're going to have problems if you use contact cement with any kind of veneer. My advice is to either invest in the proper equipment to do the job or let someone who already owns the right equipment do it for you.

From contributor A:
To Jeff Pitcher: Plastic laminate is a veneer, correct? Might you be that plywood supplier?

From Jeff Pitcher, forum technical advisor:
I suppose plastic laminate is a veneer. And, as such, it would be fine to use contact cement with it. I was referring strictly to wood veneers. And, no, I'm not in the plywood business except to say that I sell the adhesives used to manufacture plywood and none of my customers would use contact cement with manufactured plywood.

From contributor B:
I have been using paper backed veneer with contact adhesives on many different surfaces for nearly 15 years and have not had a problem yet. The company I currently work for does this daily.

From contributor C:
We have used contact cement for many years also with no problems. The problem as I understand it is not the board or the veneer, itís the finish. A hard rigid finish such as CV or precat is not as flexible - they just crack. Urethane type finishes or poly acrylics work best, moreso on large pieces like table tops.

From contributor D:
To contributor C: Just because you haven't had problems with contact cement and paperbacked veneer doesn't mean it won't happen. I've seen it, especially when the work is finished with catalyzed coatings. That's one of the reasons why paperbacked wood veneers seem to give poorer results than p. lam - you don't put finishes on p. lam. I think that the most important question to ask is this: what do you expect from the finished product in terms of wear characteristics and lifespan? It seems to me that paperbacked gets used a lot in things like retail fixtures that have a relatively short life expectancy and relatively low expectations for appearance. As a furnituremaker and architectural woodworker who specializes in veneer work, I would never recommend higher-end work being done with contact cement.

And in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that much of my work is custom veneer layups using raw veneer, hard glues and high pressure and these factors are, in fact, a selling point for what we do.

From contributor E:
As a retailer of paperback veneer, we recommend contact cement for the weekend warrior to use with the veneer. What adhesive should we be selling this customer who does have not as Jeff Pitcher says "the proper equipment"?

From contributor D:
One option would be FSV, which as I understand it is a PVA that tacks up quickly enough that you can just keep rolling it down until it sets. I haven't used it because I have the proper equipment.

I think contributor Eís question is interesting because it really points out what paperbacked veneers are for. Either operations that don't want to make faces from raw veneer but have the proper pressing equipment (in which case they are going to have fine results); or operations that don't have the proper setup for good, sound veneering. Is it responsible for a vendor or anyone else to advise people to use a woodworking technique that is iffy just because the means are easily accessible? I like to make the comparison to frame and panel doors: some people use biscuit joinery to join stiles and rails. I've even read catalogs that recommend this. I think it's safe to say that most people with a reasonable amount of experience in cabinetmaking would not recommend this, because they've either seen similar joints fail or understand why they would. Veneer work is another area of woodworking with its own set of accepted techniques based on experience and understanding. Why would you fly in the face of this just to make it seem easy to the novice? People should at least be told what the trade-offs are, and how craftspeople who do it in a serious way approach it, and why.

From Jeff Pitcher, forum technical advisor:
The bottom line is that unless you have a vacuum press, at the very minimum, you shouldn't try to veneer. To contributor E: I would be curious to know how many customer complaints you've had regarding bad glue and bad veneer. Judging from my friends in the paperbacked veneer industry and their distributors, there are many. Yes, FSV is, in some cases, a viable alternative to contact cement. However, it will never overcome the issues of inexperience and lack of equipment. I would try to partner with a company in your area that can do lay-ups for a reasonable price. In the long run, it will save both you and your customers money in terms of rejects and quality product.

From contributor F:
I have to very respectfully disagree with Jeff Pitcherís conclusion - not with his technical answers. The question posed was what to do with a weekend warrior. I'd direct him to the site describing the best way to attempt a contact cement job. Do the same for FSV. Suggest that he try non-critical, small jobs. As pointed out in the above responses, just selling him the glue will likely convert you into the goat. Counseling might develop loyal customers, if you want the weekenders.

From Jeff Pitcher, forum technical advisor:
To contributor F: Well put. I often forget that the audience out there is large and varied. Of course a weekender or hobbyist should pursue veneering using any and all methods available. But when it comes to guys who make a living through woodworking, I believe it should be done right or not at all. Veneer is one way to make a piece worth $500 into a piece worth $5000 or more but if it's done incorrectly you end up with a pile of wood worth nothing.

From contributor F:
I agree with Jeff Pitcher and contributor F. By the way, in contributor F's example above, you could probably get good enough pressure and distribution to use real glue with 8 heavy duty clamps and 2-3 pieces of 3/4" MDF on either side for cauls. In other words, veneering does not have to equal vacuum bag or other press, depending on what the project is. And let's not forget hide glue used with raw veneer - a vanishing art that would be cheap for a hobbyist or novice to experiment with.

From contributor G:
The operative words here are "responsible" and "professional.Ē The fact that the forum is for professionals yet open to all, should be enough to keep the conversation in the professional arena. Folks like Jeff Pitcher and contributor D are always willing to share their expertise with even the most casual poster. This is to the benefit of all readers, but only if the reader chooses to make use of it.

Responsibility is in the eye of the beholder. Those who have the passion and love of craft that underlies so many of the better discussions on WOODWEB understand the responsibility (sometimes called liability) that should be inherent in this work.

Just because a product or process allows one to "get by" does not validate either the product/process or the woodworker. I choose to believe this forum is for the advancement of skills and enhancement of the woodworkers who elect to participate.

From contributor B:
From my standpoint in the marine field, I would have to say I've never seen a contact cement/veneer job *not* fail in a yacht or small boat. Granted the conditions are pretty harsh, with wide temperature and humidity swings, but we had great success veneering with epoxies and a press. We did several field jobs with layers of plywood and dead weights on a flat surface. These days I use a vacuum bag and Protack.

From contributor E:
Both of our veneer suppliers recommended 3M Fastbond 30 for use with paperback veneer. Their tech guys said application and substrate made more difference in failure rate than the glue. Since we stock about 50 sheets at any given time, we are now a bit concerned about the glues being used. I used Weldwood contact adhesive with WOW on a wood door with success, still there 5 years later. Customer problems with veneer are rare. We actually have more complaints about plywood delam than problems with veneer.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor H:
Speaking from 25 years experience in 'high end' cabinet making, using any contact cement with paperbacked veneers is a bad idea. We used it for awhile, but then about 10% of our very nice kitchen and fancy receptionist center and entertainment center owners etc. would call us and complain that our catalyzed lacquer and conversion varnish finishes were "cracking" and "bubbling". It's not worth the risk of doing all that work and finding out that sometimes it just didn't work. Use the right glue the first time - it's not like it's going to cost you very much money or extra time to do it right the first time.

Comment from contributor T:
I have just removed paperback maple veneer from a buffet that we re-veneered a year ago. We used a Wilsonart adhesive - highly recommended by our veneer vendor, and sprayed a high gloss pre-cat finish on it. The finish cracked all over the top and now I am re-doing this top, and from what I have read here, it was the glue that failed me. The nature of our business is refinishing and repair, and we have re-veneered hundreds of tables, breakfronts, nightstands, and etc. This is the first one to come back, but I want it to be the last. I am going to try Heat Lock on the next job and pray that I do not see this buffet again.