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How to Keep Thin Veneer Wood Doors Beautiful

How to Keep Thin Veneer Wood Doors Beautiful! 

I can't tell you how many times I get calls from people who have sanded right through their veneer.  It does't have to be like this!  It is very easy to check and see how thick your veneer is, so you don't sand right through it.  

The main problem is homeowner's always say "my door ish't veneered".  They say this like a badge or honor.  I always get the feeling when I bring this up that I'm telling them their kids have a below average intelligence.  

Veneer isn't bad, in fact where you normally find it is on the vertical pieces on the sides that go from top to the bottom of the door.  This is usually done because the veneer has a better grain pattern than the underlying wood, also when you have a sandwiched piece of wood, it is much less likely to warp.  

Veneer comes in many types and thicknesses.  This would be considered thick veneer:  

If You Have Veneer Like This- Consider Yourself Lucky!

This is laminated veneer.  This is the way some large beams are made.  This is not going anywhere.  This is about the most stable wood you will find. You still have to look at the outside pieces of veneer.  Sometimes they are thinner than the inside veneer pieces.

The Next Best Veneer:

This is good.  You have enough veneer to be able to refinish your door-if you are careful, several times.  Still, only take off the bare minimum and don't use a belt sander.  You can go through any thickness of veneer too fast, Too many people with doors just figure the more they take off the better.  Not so with doors for sure!

Really Thin Veneer- On probably 50% on US Wood Front Doors:

The problem is, especially with straight-grained, vertical fir and sometimes oak, this veneer can be 1/64th of an inch thick- which in the thickness of cardstock!  . If you don't pay attention, you will quickly go through this thin veneer and begin to see grain loss and a different color behind the veneer.  

You see that piece of wood on the very side of the door.  This is usually 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick.  That's how you know you have veneer the most easily.  That piece of wood has to be covered on the front and back of the door or you would see it on the front and back running all the way up and down on the inside and outside of the "styles" or vertical pieces on both sides of your door running from top to bottom.

You have to look VERY carefully, the veneer is so thin, on the face, you can barely see it.

I have even seen doors, especially in Florida that are just paper over a cardboard material that is not even as durable as MDF:

No we are really in trouble.  When I tell people that their Doors are made of paper, and they thought. they were made of solid mahogany, you have to be VERY careful.  Several times I have thought the customer was going to throw something at me!  This is literally a paper covering an absorbant backing that has a print of mahogany grain on it.  Can you imagine?  The sad part is that these paper doors cost as much as solid mahogany.  

Here is this door after we refinished it- the paper door above:

What Do I Do if I Go Through My Veneer?

If this does happen, it can be re-venered, or just stain it really dark, or paint it.  If you just put a light or medium stain over it, the backer material under the veneer will stand out like a sore thumb!  Very few door refinishers can repair veneer burn-throughs or damage to paper doors like this.  Luckily, with the door above made from paper, I was able to call the manufacturer, and they sent me new panels.  So in the end, the door looked as good as new. 

How Can I Make a Veneered Door Last as Long as Possible?

With thin veneer, and especially paper, you MUST stay up on maintenance.  That means each year just putting on a thin coat as any finish will evaporate over the years especially if they are exposed to sun and moisture.  A door like the one above will usually take no more than 2-hours/year to re-coat.  With thin veneers you usually cannot sand them down to bare wood more than once.  And with paper, unless you know what you are doing, not even once.  So you must reapply a thin coat every year.  

I know many people reading this are thinking - what a hassle.  You need a soft finish that moves with the weather- I prefer fine oils.  That's what my company uses.  Poly's mean plastic and they will peal, flake and haze over.  Our fine oil finishes last decades with only a few hours of maintenance each year.  With that, your door, regardless of the thickness of the veneer can last decades.  Just don't wait too long.  As the finish degrades, weather will get in the veneer.  When this happens, your door will never be the same again.  What is it they say about an ounce of prevention.....?


If you’re in Florida or Colorado, Choosing SWDR as your door refinishing company means you're choosing a company with a commitment to quality and professionalism. With experience and professionalism, your doors will look and function at their best for years to come. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you with your door refinishing needs.