Veneering Stair Stringers in Place

Advise on adhering paper-backed veneer to curved stair stringers as a retrofit on site. April 24, 2009

I have a client looking to update their staircase. I will be replacing all of their railings as well as dressing up the stringers on the stairs (the steps themselves being carpeted). The goal is to veneer the pine stringers with a 10mil paper backed hickory veneer (what is available to me from my supplier). I can't put their stringers in a press as they are part of the house. I need to know the best means of applying the veneer. My intention is to finish all of the wood work with a water based clear finish. The bond obviously needs to hold up for a long time and be unaffected by the finish. I see water based contact cement as being not only easy to apply but low VOC preventing me from smelling up the house. Will the contact cement meet my criteria?

Forum Responses
(Adhesive Forum)
From contributor J:
It doesn't sound like a good idea. Besides the fact that contact cement isn't great for veneering in any case, hickory reacts pretty dramatically to moisture. I'm afraid your carefully fitted piece of veneer might roll itself into a tube while you waited for the glue to dry.

From contributor V:
If you could do a wood on wood crossband, you could use contact. The perpendicular grain will prevent the piece from rolling up. It would be best if you could glue the edge down, the last 1/2 inch is enough. This will prevent the piece from lifting, as contacted veneer usually does.

From the original questioner:
What about FSV? Does anyone have experience with this?

From contributor C:
I think ease of position ability is going to be an extremely difficult operation with contact cement. It will require careful planning and sticking, etc. After a nice dry fit I would cut an exact sized plywood caul, glue 100% both surfaces with extend glue, micro pin right through the 1/2" caul and let it dry. Protect any edges and areas of seams with tape and wax paper to prevent glue staining and gluing the caul to the face veneer. With a little practice this method is very dependable. A syringe and a small block will take care of the few bubbles or loose edges that might need fine tuning. Take the caul off after six to eight hours and clean and hand sand and trim as needed.

From contributor K:
I used FSV with great success, on a series of inside curves, when I didnít have access to a vacuum bag. Pretty simple application: apply the glue per instructions, hammer on the veneer. Very short open time, though. The guys at Veneer systems, 800.825.0840, were extremely helpful.

However, on this project, I think contributor C's idea is the way to go. Maybe Iím just a little slow, but when I read his idea it was like a light when on. Itís simple, clean, manageable, and allows you to choose a glue with lots of open time. It gives you options, even during the ďwet runĒ. I chuckle when I think about the Keystone Kops impression Iíd be doing when that long jagged length of veneer covered with contact cement started to roll up on itself, or if someone slipped on the steps and it stuck somewhere it wasnít supposed to.

From contributor Y:
A basic problem with 10 mil paper is that it is too thin. If possible, use phenolic backer or at least 20 mil paper. Iím not sure about all the other issues.

From contributor F:
I just solved this problem in our shop. Solvent based finish was dissolving the contact cement through the veneer and yes, the backing. Most contact cements are terrible choices for wood veneers of any type besides the phenolic backed type. Found a product called Titan. It is water based, no odor, water resistant when dry (for when we change over to water based finishes) and solvent resistant as well. It had incredible adhesion and invisible glue line. I used it on walnut, maple and ash. It works so well we usually just use a "fid" to work it on and bypass the pinch roller altogether.