Touching Up a Veneer Burn-Through

but this thread delves deep into how to make them pretty good. July 3, 2008

I have customers that ask me to perform amazing feats on their furniture. I never have a problem touching anything up that isn't natural. Lately I have been faced with a lot of natural jobs that have been cut through with some sort of damage. No matter how I touch it up, from one angle it looks perfect, but when you look at it from a different angle, it stands out like a sore thumb. How do you handle situations like this?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
There is no one way and sometimes it's virtually impossible depending on the type of damage it is and where on the piece it has occurred. Horizontal surfaces are the most difficult.

From the original questioner:
I am speaking of horizontal panels, and the touchups are usually at eye level. There were some vertical shelves cut through on the edges about 3 feet off the floor, corner shelves on an island. From one way they were invisible, from the other angle it looked like someone spilled something on it. Is there a way to make it disappear from both angles?

From contributor R:
Those can be the toughest of touchups. Sometimes we get lucky and the TU becomes invisible, other times as you mentioned, you can see the TU from different angles. I'm not sure if you remember my posting about using fingernail polish for touchups. The shimmering polishes have some pearls and metals in them that give a sort of pizzazz. Try the yellows and oranges. Sometimes the pizzazz is what the touchup needs to bounce the light off into different directions. This eliminates the bland look of a touchup, especially when performed on a clear coating. Dig through your wife's "touchup kit" - you'll be surprised the goodies you will find that can be utilized in our trade.

From contributor A:
Can you be more specific? What do you mean by natural... no stain? If so, these are pretty darn easy. Do you think maybe you're trying too hard? What I mean is, perhaps your approach is more than is necessary. Go back to basics and figure what the base is (natural wood or not) and blend gently from there as you would in a step finish and perhaps widen the boundary of the defect... feather/blur the edges. What exactly are you doing?

From the original questioner:
Picture a 4X4 clear natural (unstained) piece of maple plywood that is being hung at eye level. Right where your eye is looking, someone sanded through the veneer, and now there is nothing but a big black circle surrounded by the whitish/yellow color of the natural maple with a few mils of clear lacquer on it. First of all, no matter what touchup you do, it will look raised up. Second, the wood color shifts. Looking at it from the left, the wood appears to be yellow. Looking at it from the right, it is whitish. No matter which side you choose to do the touchup from, it will stand out like a sore thumb from the other direction. Is there a way to fix it so it disappears from all directions and does not look raised up?

From contributor C:
Ahh, a veneer sand-through - someone has sanded so much that the veneer has been removed! And now the glue/core is exposed as a dark area. What are you using to cover up the dark color so far?

From contributor A:
These can be difficult, but not impossible. Is there a divot where the burn through is? Are you confident enough to create one (if there isn't) just enough to allow for a few coats of finish to relevel? This takes some balls but if you can bend the way the light hits your touchup, it might help. Sand lightly enough to allow for a slight dip (eyeball estimate) and only deep enough so as not to create a dip that needs a whole can of finish to level again. You obviously have no grain to work with, so very gentle blending, or better, stippling with a blend/combination of color(s) you see within the wood might be another approach. Break the way the light hits the touchup. Otherwise you might try adding white to whatever blend you are using and create a wash... sometimes a hell of a lot easier to turn the thing around and blend from there. The trick is to get the color down with little build. Not knowing what you are using...

From contributor D:
As stated these repairs are possible with the proper touch and eye. You will need to blank out the core with an opaque color and blend into the surrounding areas. Then you will have to replace missing grain from one ending point to its opposite ending point. Then you will have to blend in the color and sometimes shimmer or the underlying colors. I like to use an airbrush for these adjustments.

The alternative would be to replace the damaged panels, and match the color of the undamaged ones. I would recommend that you repair one of the panels, to the best of your ability, and see if it passes muster with your client. Track how much time it takes you to make this one repair and base your price from reality. This will also give you an idea if replacement is a better option.

From contributor C:
The problem with using opaque colors is that they cause the dark/light scenario the questioner is talking about. Even with the help of interference pearl pigments usually you will have a light/dark issue going on with light colored woods such as maple, birch, etc. When applying opaque color over a natural wood you're painting the surface to whatever degree you need to produce a color close to the background color of the wood itself. The natural chatoyency of the wood fiber that makes up the wood surface is not visible anymore, thus the paint looks dark from one angle and light from another. What the questioner needs to know is how to stop this from happening as much as possible, especially when a dark core/glue area is present. Example - how would you take care of a cigarette burn on a natural maple coffee table top? Burning it in will lead to the same opacity problems.

From contributor D:
Yes, you are right. However, except for cutting and replacing the damaged veneer, your only alternative is to cancel out the black. No translucent color will do this. For maple I normally start with a white base and build color and depth from there. Chatoyence is almost impossible to simulate, the light must be defracted to accomplish this. Metallic powders need to be used in association with this technique. I was taught by an "old world master" and this is the method he passed on to me.

That said, he also taught me to repair damage from the perspective of the most common vantage/viewing point and that people tend to see with their minds eye more than with their actual vision. I have experienced this first hand.

Example - I get a call to repair a dining table that has been scratched by a careless child and a knife. Scratches are into the wood and cover a 16 square inch area at one end of the table. I make the repair and turn the table around. I polish the entire table and call the client in to inspect my work. I ask her to inspect the entire table and point out any issues she has. Upon inspection she points to the spot on the wrong side of the table and says she can still see the faint traces of the damage, but that it looked very good and she was pleased. The spot she was pointing at had no repair, I had only polished this side of the table. She inspected the entire table and found no other issues, I was paid and left. Her mind's eye had a memory of the damage and its location, which lead her to see something which was not there.

A panel with damage at eye level will always be a difficult repair, chatoyance or not. This is why I also suggested replacing these panels. No matter how good your repair is, if the client feels that they have damaged or inferior goods, and that damage is imprinted in the client's mind, you will be hard pressed to satisfy anyone, most importantly yourself, on this job.

These repairs require a lot of time and may require multiple visits to the jobsite to finalize. Replacing the panels will require measuring, manufacturing, finishing and one final visit to remove and replace.

From contributor C:
You stated at the beginning of your post what I wanted to read - patch the area with a diamond shape veneer inset so your only touchup is the seam. I agree with what you say - I was taught all that also.

PS - If there is the possibility of hyperbleaching the damaged area, you can lighten the wood past the natural color and darken as needed. This will not work if there is glue present, though, only if it's wood with nothing to stop the bleach from acting. Hyperbleaching is using 2 part bleach and drying out immediately with hot air which will make it lighter than the maple normally is, giving you room to use dyes/pigments very thinned out to darken/color as necessary.

From the original questioner:
I have read all the replies thoroughly and in the end, from what I gather, there is no possible way to make this touchup disappear. There are many ways to mask, cover over, and certainly make a lot less noticeable. But the bottom line is the only way to make this completely disappear is to replace it. I have a customer that insists that I am just not well trained enough with the issue and that other finishers tell him they could make this disappear. I have spoken to several experts in my area and even paid a few to come in and do a touchup or two for me. They all failed miserably. I do my best to touch up in my shop and tell them if I do it in the house I can make it almost perfect, but that is because I then see what angle the customer is seeing it from. I have been finishing for 15 years, and I never doubt myself. But being faced with this issue over and over again recently I did start to question myself.

From contributor I:

If it is a burn through, I would bring a sheet of PSA maple veneer and go over the whole shelf. That will take about 10 minutes to veneer and sand, then you can clear coat it and go home. I really can't think of a better way to repair something than that.

From contributor C:
Welcome to the imperfect world of wood finishing. Don't doubt your abilities. I've never been beaten by a painted finish, no matter how complicated - paint on paint is relatively easy. But naturals? A whole different ball game. The problem lies with those who think we should be able to perform miracles, and we are not always able to. I usually tell my clients up front that it won't be perfect.

From contributor L:
Three things.
1) Match the existing form (flat and level or whatever). Fill, sand, etc.
2) Match the existing color and grain. This is the most difficult. Mohawk or Impressionism.
3) Reflective angle or sheen.

From contributor I:
Veneer it.