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Veener over Drywall

Installers puzzle over how to veneer a gypsum-board wall. September 24, 2009

I have an upcoming job to veneer one wall of a foyer in a high dollar condo in SF, CA. The door is off center and the designer wants it to disappear as much as possible. Our task is to cover the wall with Mozambique veneer. The wall will only need two 4x8 sheets to cover it. I plan on putting the veneer on phenolic backing sheets and then send to finish.

Cutting the sheets and attaching to the door is easy; my only concern is gluing the sheets to the sheetrock. Will solvent based contact cement work on a painted wall? Or am I asking for failure? I don't want a callback for de-lam.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor L:
Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Rather than dismiss this out of hand for being a screwball idea, there are two immediate reasons why you're likely heading for trouble as described.

First, there isn't a sheetrock wall anywhere that is as straight and flat as you need to veneer the wall. I don't believe a grounded and plastered wall would be much better, either.

Second, you will be gluing to paint, and that paint is only as strong as the bond it has to the layers beneath it. I have seen more than my share of failed paint, most glaringly on a gazillion dollar job a few years back. In a nutshell, the wall was taped and finished to class 5. Then sanded, but less than stellar care was given to removing the sanding dust from the wall before the primer was sprayed. Net result, you have painted dust without much mechanical bond to the wall. When it came time to hang pictures and install hardware, even blue tape pulled this paint off in sheets. Granted, this was an extreme example, but the phenomenon is not uncommon.

Even mounting your veneer to a 1/4" substrate would be a vast improvement if also nailed to the structure of the wall in addition to your glue. Whatever you do, get that wall as flat as you can, first. On one recent job, it took me 100 lbs of joint compound to straighten out an 18' long wall even though it had two doors in it!

From contributor J:
The one and only time we tried this we tore it off within minutes and that was 20 years ago! The time and small investment of a 1/4" substrate will go a long way to a beautiful wall. Hopefully reveals are in order.

From contributor M:
I would screw some 1/2" ply or MDF to the sheetrock first, then I would laminate the veneer to some 1/4" or 1/2" MDF, and then I could glue the stock to the wood on the wall, not depending on the drywall for anything. It's a little more work up front, but you should have a much flatter surface when you are done.

From contributor K:
Replace the sheetrock (whether it is 3/8" or 1/2") where veneer is being applied with same-depth ply, fill the seam and laminate.

From contributor L:
Depending on location within the residence as well as the municipality (SF), you may not be able to replace the sheetrock with plywood because of fire code. I would be cautious and check if that is an issue before doing it.

From contributor K:
Good point... I assumed it was an interior, non-bearing wall because of the veneering, in which case it shouldn't matter.

From contributor N:
You probably don't have to use any of the overkill "cures" recommended in this thread. What you really have going for you is that your veneer is phenolic backed. That basically makes it Formica, and Formica has effectively been applied to sheetrock walls for 40 years with contact cement. Your wood veneer will not swell or shrink if it is hard glued to phenolic.

Just do a tape-pull-off test to see if the paint on the wall is well bonded. Then use a straight edge to see if the wall has any excessive humps (gradual humps are not a problem, since the phenolic will bend to the wall contour like wallpaper, though not as much). If there are excessive or sudden humps, you can either grind them down with a belt sander or use drywall mud to even them out. Do not apply contact cement to bare drywall mud; you have to seal it first to have a bondable surface.

I have also on occasion used panel adhesive in a caulk gun to apply phenolic, but it is a little trickier. You have to shoot on the glue, press the panel to the wall, remove it, let the glue tack up, and then reapply the panel.

From the original questioner:
Thanks all, points well taken.

The door is a high gloss entry door owned by the condo and we can't add much thickness before tracking down new butt hinges. Don't wanna go there.

How to treat the edges of a 1/4 panel on a nice door? I'm confident that we can apply veneer to the door on site and the lockset and hinges will still work with a fine black line of the backing sheet - that's the easy part.

I think we will try having the GC bondo between the jam and rock then skim coat followed by a coat of plaster weld, the pink stuff. Then we try troweling on some PL to apply the mica and veneer to the wall.

Luckily this client is all T&M and is understanding when the designer's ideas don't meet reality.

I appreciate the experience and help this site provides. One of my installers thought we could spray slices of veneer and seam it and glue it up on site. Now that's scary!

Thankfully backing sheet is a stable substrate and the client will be informed that the veneer can move with time, but the building is sealed tight and the environment should be stable as well.

From contributor A:
Do they make fire rated MDF?

What if you bonded the veneer to laminate then bonded the laminate to the sheetrock? I've seen lots of laminate on sheetrock in houses built around 1960.

From contributor W:
We have done this using large soss hinges.

From contributor O:
You are asking for a beating trying to instant glue finished panels to a wall. No matter how hard you try you'll never get the seams tight even if it holds. I tend to think your best bet would be to screw 1/4 MDF to the wall, bondo screws, then attach your veneer already adhered to the backing of your choice. You might try a mastic with a fine notch trowel so you get a bit of wiggle room once it's up.