How to Paint Over a Veneer Finish: Step-by-Step Guide

A piece of veneer finished wood.
  • 3-6 hours
  • Beginner
  • 100-200
What You'll Need
Wood glue
Replacement pieces of veneer
Dishwashing liquid
Warm water
Clean cloth
220-grit sandpaper
Tack cloth or handheld vacuum
What You'll Need
Wood glue
Replacement pieces of veneer
Dishwashing liquid
Warm water
Clean cloth
220-grit sandpaper
Tack cloth or handheld vacuum

Applying a couple of coats of paint over a veneer finish can give an item a fresh, new look. The key to a successful paint job, however, is all in the preparation. If you don't prepare veneer surfaces properly, the paint won't stick as it should, or it will peel off later. Fortunately, the preparation is easy and just requires a little sanding and a couple of coats of primer.

You may be wondering what veneer is. Veneer is incredibly thin wood. The thin piece of wood is then applied to both sides of a surface like a medium density fiberboard or other types of fiber boards and particle boards to help stabilize it. Veneer can also refer to bark. It is generally thinner than 3 millimeters.

Veneer can be used for a variety of things including, most often, cabinets and furniture. It is also used in some types of flooring and panels. Since veneer is real wood, many people like its appearance. Since it is not wood all the way through, however, it is cheaper than something that is 100% wood making it an ideal material for many.

    Step 1 - Repair Damaged Areas

    Before starting to paint your veneer finished item, you will need to take time to assess the item and repair any damage so that it is in great shape. Veneer, which is a thin layer of decorative wood, can crack, chip, or pull away from the item you want to paint. Repair such problems to ensure that the paint will adhere properly.

    If part of the veneer has begun to pull away from the underlying surface, use wood glue to set it back in place. If the veneer is missing sections or has become cracked, carefully remove the damaged section or sections and glue a replacement piece of veneer in its place.

    After doing this, wait until the wood glue has dried completely before moving on to the next step.

    Do not skip this step. This is necessary in order to make your final product look its best. The point of painting items is to breathe new life into them and save some money over the cost of replacing said items.

    If they have a giant crack or chip in them, however, it won't look any better than it did before painting. Some colors and painting choices may even make the chips more obvious than they were before so make sure to spend a little time before painting on this step.

    Step 2 - Clean the Veneer Surface

    Like with any project, make sure you take some time to clean early on. In this case, dirt, dust, and grime can cling to a veneer surface and interfere with your efforts to give it a new look.

    Clean the surface of the item you're planning to paint with a solution of mild dishwashing liquid and warm water. It's best to avoid soaking the item, however, as the underlying construction may be damaged by too much.

    Instead, wet a clean cloth with the cleaning solution, wring it out, and then wipe the surface to remove any built-up grease and dirt. Rinse the surface and let it dry completely when you're done.

    If you have a particularly dirty veneer surface, you may need to do this more than once. Make sure the veneer item in question has been thoroughly cleaned and dried before you move on to the next steps.

    hand sanding wood

    Step 3 - Sand the Veneer

    After your veneer surface has been thoroughly cleaned and dried completely, it is time to sand. While sanding is often seen as burdensome, it will really improve the quality of your work.

    For this project, use 220-grit sandpaper to sand the veneer finish, being careful to use only light pressure. Avoid sanding it so hard that you move through the veneer to the underlying construction. You should use a tack cloth to remove dust particles periodically.

    Make sure you are getting the whole item including the sides and even insides of pieces of furniture if you plan to paint there as well.

    After sanding, use a handheld vacuum or your tack cloth to clean up any dust particles that have settled around your work area. If you allow them to remain there, they may blow onto your work as you paint, ruining the look of your paint job.

    Again, this is an important step that can not be avoided. Spending a little extra time on things like sanding and cleaning early on will help your project in the long run tremendously.

    Step 4 - Apply a Primer

    It is now time to apply primer to your project. Primer is essentially a base coat that helps smooth the surface and makes your actual paint coats go on smooth.

    Use a paintbrush to paint a coat of primer onto the veneer finish, sanding the surface once more after the coat of primer has dried thoroughly. The extra sanding helps to make the surface you're painting smooth and unblemished.

    Use your tack cloth to remove dust particles again, and then add another coat of primer. Let the primer dry for about 24 hours in between coats and then let the primer dry again before you start using your chosen paint color.

    Step 5 - Paint Over the Veneer

    After your primer has dried, it is time to paint the veneer with the paint color you selected. You should apply at least two coats of your chosen paint to the veneer surface, painting over the dried primer.

    If you're opting for a light color, you'll need to apply two coats at a minimum, and you may need to apply additional coats in order to achieve the desired effect. If you've chosen a dark color, you may need about four coats of paint.

    Give each coat of paint enough time to dry completely before adding a new coat. Not doing so can ruin the smooth finish you desire from your project. Wait 24 to 48 hours before you move on to applying varnish.

    brush varnishing wood surface

    Step 6 - Apply Varnish

    After your paint is totally dry and you have waited one to two days, it is time to add varnish to your project. Apply a few coats of varnish to your painted surface. This is particularly important if you plan to place items on it, work on it, or even handle it frequently.

    The varnish will help to seal and protect your paint job, ensuring your work lasts a long time and does not go to waste or need to be done again soon. Wait at least 24 hours before you use the freshly varnished surface, making sure it has cured completely.

    Caution—Like many paint jobs, this one can produce an odor and be quite messy. If possible, paint somewhere like a garage or even outside.

    What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Veneer Furniture?

    The best type of paint to use when painting over veneer furniture is acrylic paint. The acrylic paint has a great finish and a lot of color varieties. It also does not need to absorb in order to adhere correctly the way some other types of paint do.

    An oil-based paint will also work to paint over the veneer furniture.

    Some people prefer to use an enamel paint, which is also a great option for veneer furniture. Enamel paint dries smooth and bit muted. It is available at many stores so it is not difficult to find.

    Depending on the veneer item you are trying to paint with the enamel paint, you may not even need to use primer which is also a plus. Ask someone when you are purchasing the paint if this is the case with the particular paint you are purchasing.

    Can You Paint Veneer Furniture Without Sanding?

    While sanding is preferred with all wood and painting projects, you can paint veneer without sanding but the results might not be as good as if you had taken the time to sand before starting on your painting project.

    If you are not sanding beforehand you may want to consider using a mineral paint. Mineral paints are known for their ability to adhere well, making them a great option for this project.

    Chalk paint also adheres well to surfaces without sanding.

    You can also mix a bonding agent into some types of paint. Again, this will help the paint adhere to the veneer item without sanding.

    You could also use a bonding primer. When you are purchasing your paint and primer, look for one that indicates that it has bonding capabilities and sanding is not necessary.

    You will still paint over the primer but not need to sand in order to get the paint to adhere to your veneer finished item. These primers are generally more expensive than primers without bonding capabilities but are worth the extra cost if you will not be sanding your veneer item before painting it.

    Another option is using a liquid sandpaper. This is still a type of sandpaper but is a lot less work than regular sandpaper. The liquid sandpaper should be applied to the items you wish to paint per the instructions on the bottle. This will help your paint stick to the surface better.

        What Kind of Primer Do You Use on Veneer?

        Primer is definitely recommended for projects that involve painting over veneer. Veneer can often be shiny, making it necessary to prepare the area before just painting it. There are some primers designed specifically for slick surfaces that can work well in these types of projects.

        When you purchase your paint and other materials necessary for this project, ask what type of primer is recommended based on the paint and specifications of your project. Sometimes there will be paints and primers recommended to be used together that you should consider purchasing for the project.

        Can You Paint Over Shiny Veneer?

        Even if your veneer is shiny, you can still paint over it like you might other materials and other types of wood.

        Make sure, however, to take the time to prep the area. Do not immediately start the project with a paintbrush and paint. You will need to make sure to do the steps laid out above and sand it and then prime the veneer finished area before going in and painting it.

        Taking the time to do this will give the paint a better chance of sticking to the veneer finished wood for a long time period and will be less streaky and give you an all around better looking item.

        Bottom Line

        Painting over the veneer is a great option to update the look and feel of your home without breaking the bank. For example, you could paint veneer cabinets white to modernize your kitchen and give it an updated, airy feel.

        If you change the cabinet pulls as well it will look like a brand new kitchen with only a small amount of money spent.

        Furniture with a veneer finish can also be updated. If you have an old dresser that will be in a kid's room, consider going bold. You can paint it a bunch of bold colors or even have the base be one color and the drawers be another.

        Get your kids involved in the project. While you should be the one painting if they are young, your kids will love getting involved in the process by helping to pick the colors. This will also help them feel some ownership over the room.

        Other veneer materials can be painted as well. For some, like a dining room table, you may want to go with a more natural color.

        With just a little patience and know-how, the sky is the limit with painting your veneer wood items.