After Problems Occur With Contact Cement Veneer Installation

So you've installed the wood veneer on to your project and now problems have occurred - cracking, bubbling, etc. Some woodworkers get fed up and conclude that they won't work with veneer ever again. But please, read this article before jumping to conclusions.

One of the main reasons that problems occur when installing wood veneer is that the same techniques from installing plastic laminate are used. While they share some similarities, veneer and laminate have largely different installation methods. This is mainly due to the fact that plastic laminate does not move (because it is simply a piece of plastic) while wood veneer does move, due to changes in humidity and temperature as well as general settling of the natural wood material.

Contact cement can also move after installation, which can doubly lead to problems if the proper steps are not taken. First, be sure to purchase your wood veneer from a specialist who can guide you through all necessary steps to make sure that no problems occur. Also, be sure to NOT use 10 mil paperback veneer with contact cement. Instead choose the much more stable backers, including 22 mil paperback, phenolic back, or wood-on-wood back. 

Common Issues When Applying Wood Veneer with Contact Cement 

One of the most common issues associated when applying wood veneer with contact cement is not allowing the adhesive enough “flash off” time before applying the veneer to the substrate. This can result in poor adhesion, bubbling, edge curling, and other issues. Extreme temperature and humidity swings can affect flash off time, so it is critical to follow the manufacturer’s recommended application instructions, as well as to acclimate the veneer and substrate together for at least 24 hours.

Another potential problem, although this is not specifically or exclusively related to contact cement, is failing to apply enough pressure when applying. A J-roller alone is insufficient; you want to bear down on the veneer with a lot of force, evenly and outward from the middle, to press it out. The radiused edge of a 2x4 is good for this. Failing to properly press the veneer flat can also cause bubbling and curling, especially in species with harder, stiffer wood. 

Inconsistent contact cement application is also a cause of bubbling and peeling edges, among other factors. Though these issues can be corrected after the fact, it’s best to prevent them by applying adequate amounts of adhesive to both the veneer and substrate, ensuring an even coat. 

The solvents found in some finishes can “reactivate” the contact cement underneath the veneer, causing it to release its hold on the veneer. Always be sparing in your application of whatever finish you use and do not overapply.