The Furniture Doctors LLC

Scottsdale Furniture Repair Specialists


What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?

People often ask me how we got started in the furniture restoration business. I like to answer that was part necessity, part love, and part luck.

Let’s start with Gerry, the backbone of the business. As a lad in upstate New York, he was raised by parents who grew up during the depression and never threw anything away. If it was usable, it was re-used, refurbished and given a new life. One of Gerry’s earliest memories is when a hickory tree in their yard was struck by lightning, his dad used the wood of the damaged tree to make lamps and handles for tools.

Gerry’s dad owned several rental homes and furnished them with appliances and furniture he bought new, but damaged and at a discount so he could fix them up. Soon, the kids (all ten of them) joined him in refurbishing the houses and furniture.

In later years, a typical Altman family reunion event consisted of some family members going on what they called “Junkin’ Excursions” to yard sales, thrift stores and old barns – American Pickers style. By this time, Gerry had developed a love of old furniture and his purchases were usually quality pieces that were in need of a little TLC.

Gerry graduated from Penn State University with a teaching degree and got a job with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Anxious to learn how to properly restore the vintage furniture he had purchased, he visited several refinishing shops in the area for advice, subscribed to woodworking magazines and eventually honed his skills. Other teachers were impressed by his craftsmanship and asked him to find and restore pieces for them. He often drove his van home to family reunions and loaded it with good pickins’ for himself and his friends. As his reputation grew, he decided to moonlight as a refinisher and opened Gerry’s Customer Refinishing, offering his services to friends and other teachers.

Now let’s go to me, as Gerry calls me, the lifeblood of the business. Growing up in Oregon, I was also raised by depression era parents who bought used furniture, not to fix it up, but because it was cheaper. We learned early on that we had to have a vivid imagination to turn household objects into toys and games. We used clothes pins for toy soldiers, rocks for marbles, and made musical instruments out of tin cans. We once made an entire village out of appliance boxes we got from the grocery store they were building across the street. We learned to paint and draw and how to be creative.

After studying art in college, I became a banker, crunching numbers instead of painting masterpieces. Throughout my 20-year career I developed skills in marketing, organization, accounting, time management – all the stuff required to run a small business. During a reassignment to the Los Angeles area, I met Gerry in a ski club we both belonged to.

I was homesick for the northwest and Gerry was looking for a way out of LA, so we both moved to Portland in the middle of the school year. While waiting for a teaching position to open up, Gerry thought he’d test the market for refinishing furniture. We made 1000 flyers and walked them door to door, offering a 20% discount to new customers. The phone started ringing off the hook. We found a little building for sale 4 blocks away from our home and snatched it up (from proceeds from the sale of Gerry’s home in L.A.)

Gerry had turned his part-time job and hobby into a full-time business, and he never looked back.

I continued my job at the bank, but worked evenings and weekends doing the books and drumming up new business. Gerry hired a couple of part-time employees from the local trade school. One became full-time after graduation and he remains a dear friend and our best and most loyal employee ever! We added a couple more employees and the business grew.

In 1991 I decided to retire from the bank and work for Gerry’s Custom Refinishing full time as the Operations Manager and Director of Marketing. That basically meant that I answered the phones, paid the bills, ran errands and distributed the 20% discount coupons throughout the neighborhood.

I vividly remember the day I became the refinisher. It was December, almost Christmas and Gerry was home sick in bed with the flu. Our full time refinisher suddenly quit and a customer called, wanting to know if her dining set would be ready for Christmas dinner. Frantic, I carried a chair home to Gerry’s bedside and said “Tell me what I need to do.” He gave me step by step directions on how to properly sand the furniture with the grain (fortunately it had already been stripped) then how apply the stain and finish, carefully sanding and pasting between each coat. I finished the project on time and the customer was happy. We never replaced the refinisher who quit.

Gerry taught me all his secrets in refinishing and I changed my title to Operations and Design. I was the new refinisher. And loving every minute of it!

We are now called the Furniture Doctors and have moved our business to Scottsdale Arizona.

So, out of necessity for a job, for the love of what we do, and a little bit of good luck, we started a business in 1986 which continues today.






Aloha! I Just Discovered Koa!

Published on February 26, 2013, by in Education, Wood.

Gerry and I recently returned from a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, where we first learned of the Koa tree, and immediately fell in love with the wood. Hawaii is the only place on earth (so far) where the Koa tree is found, and only grows at altitudes between 1500 and 6000 feet. We never actually saw a tree because we basically stayed at sea level (hey, it’s Hawaii with an ocean and sandy beaches, and we live in Arizona!) but we did visit several galleries and even a lumber yard to purchase a block of wood for a wood-turning friend.

The Koa tree can reach heights as tall as 49-82 feet, with a spread of 20-39 feet. I’m told that it can even grow as tall as 98 feet in some of the volcanic areas. Since the Big Island is mostly volcanic, I assume there are several that reach 98 feet. The tree is actually called Acacia Koa and is a member of the pea family (imagine that!) and the leaves look like pea pods. But what is so beautiful is the wood itself; it can have a variety of grain, ranging from plain to curly to fiddlestick. Colors can be reds to chocolate browns.

Ancient Hawaiians used Koa for carving canoes, paddles and surfboards. Yes, surfboards! I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen petroglyph drawings of surfers and surfboards at the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. Today Koa is used used for making furniture, ukeleles, acoustic guitars, bowls and pens, and I assume they still make surfboards. I saw a photo of Taylor Swift at one of the galleries with an acoustic guitar made of Koa.

I don’t have any photos of anything made of Koa because I promised the gallery owners I wouldn’t post any of the photos I took on the internet. But I did take a couple of pictures of raw boards of curly Koa I saw at the lumber yard.

Oh, by the way, in Hawaiian Koa means brave, bold, fearless, warrior. I kind of like the sound of that.


It’s What’s Underneath That Counts! (Wood, Wood Products & Veneers, Part 3)

This is Part 3 in a series of posts about wood, wood products & wood veneers

If your mom was like mine, she warned you to always wear clean underwear in case you got in an accident and had to go to the hospital. I think she thought it would be a reflection on her if the doctor had to cut off your already torn underwear to operate on you. As if she or he would care…..

Well I’m here to tell you that it does matter what’s underneath the beautiful veneer on your furniture, especially if it gets in an accident and needs to be repaired.

Around the 1970′s furniture makers began using thinner veneers on particle board, medium density fibre boards (MDF) and plywood cores. Some of the benefits of using particle board, MDF and plywood are that it is cheaper, saves trees, and does not warp like solid wood can. However, if particle board and MDF gets wet, it will swell, never to return to its original shape. If plywood gets wet, the glues can sometimes break down, causing de-lamination. Solid wood can sometimes warp, shrink or expand depending on humidity, causing veneer to crack.

In our experience, veneer over solid wood is easier to repair, because wood can be patched and even glued back into shape. Even high end plywoods can be repaired in most cases because it is made with several layers of wood and glue. But particle board and MDF repairs are the most technical and difficult to do, with often the least effective results

Water is not the only problem with furniture made with particle board and MDF. If a part of the piece is crushed, dented or broken, it cannot just be glued back into place like wood can. Particle board is made up of wood chips, sawdust, glue and resin. MDF is made up of sawdust, glue and resin. This makes the repair difficult and complicated.

Just make sure you know what you’re buying. Ask the salesperson what the furniture is made of. A good way to check is to look underneath the piece, under the table top, under the legs, behind the drawers.

Yes, it does matter what’s underneath the veneer, especially if it is damaged and needs to be repaired. The more difficult the piece is to repair, the more it will usually cost to repair it.

Look at this table top, veneer over particle board.
Water damage caused the particle board to swell, making it virtually impossible to repair.
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This is veneer over particle board.
Particle board is made by bonding together wood chips, sawdust, resin and glue.
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More photos to follow.
Please refer to parts 1 & 2 of the series on wood, wood products & veneers for more information and photos:

Veneer is Not a Bad Word….unless it’s bad veneer! (Wood, Wood Products & Veneers – Part 2)

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about wood, wood products & wood veneers

“Ugh” the customer said after I told her how beautiful the inlaid veneer was on her 1920′s sideboard that she brought in for repair.

“I didn’t realize it was veneer,” she continued, “I thought it was solid wood.”

Veneer has gotten a bad reputation over the years (and some for good reason.) Many people think of wood veneer as inferior and cheap. Some think it’s only on new furniture, and is not really wood, but a manmade product. But veneer has been around for a long time, and historically has been used on the finest furniture.

What is veneer?

Veneer is a thin layer of wood that is cut or peeled from a log, then bonded onto other surfaces to create a visually pleasing pattern. It is usually the finest grain of wood from a tree, with the most interesting grain or pattern. Veneers of exotic wood are often used as inlaid pieces on fine furniture.

On older and finer pieces of furniture, the veneer is glued onto pieces of other wooden boards. On newer and cheaper pieces of furniture, veneer is often glued (and sometimes stapled) to plywood, particle board or MDF (medium density fibre board.)

In the past, wood veneers were as thick as 1/32 inch or more, allowing the furniture to be repaired and refinished over the years. Today, some veneers are as thin as a piece of paper, making them difficult to repair if damaged.

How long has veneer been used?

Veneer has been used for centuries. Elaborate veneer work in ebony and ivory were found in King Tut’s tomb. During the Renaissance era, tiny pieces of exotic wood were used for marquetry on the finest pieces of furniture. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the finest furniture makers used exotic wood veneers to create beautiful and intricate patterns on their finer pieces. In those days, veneers were used as a piece of art and you will find many of these pieces of furniture in museums.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, furniture makers began using veneers to make the more beautiful and valuable pieces of wood go farther. Beautiful veneers of mahogany, walnut, or quarter-sawn oak were often glued to birch or regular cut oak. Much of this furniture has stood the test of time and is still being using by many households today.

Around World War II, fine wood became scarce and lesser wood veneers were used to create quality, affordable furniture. Around the 1970′s, manufacturers began using thinner veneers and adhering them to plywood, particle boards, and medium density fibre boards. The lack of good quality craftsmanship and inferior adhesives since then has resulted in veneers getting a bad reputation. That being said, there are still some fine furniture makers today who make quality furniture with thicker veneers bonded to wooden surfaces. But you have to pay the price for their superior craftsmanship.

What area of the furniture is veneer usually used on?

Veneer is often used on table tops and other horizontal surfaces. Since it has the prettiest grain, it is used on surfaces to hide inferior grain. Table and chair legs are often made of solid wood, although less expensive ones are made of particle board and covered with veneer.

How to determine if furniture is made with veneer?

Remember, not all veneer is bad. Like I stated above, some of the finest pieces of furniture are made with veneer. But here are some things to look for:

1. Check the underside of the piece. If the grain from the top surface is not the same on the underside, it is most likely not solid wood.

2. Check the edges. If there is a seam or a band where the grain does not continue over the edge, then it is most likely veneer.

3. Check the width of the surface. Since veneer is usually rolled from a tree, the width of the veneer can be much wider than a wooden plank.

4. Check for inlays. If there are inlaid pieces, it is veneer.

It is very difficult to determine the thickness of the veneer unless there is some sort of blemish or the veneer has chipped off.


This early 20th century drawer was inlaid with 2 different veneers to create a beautiful design.

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The veneer on this newer table was beautiful, but it was so thin, it was difficult to sand when the customer wanted it refinished.

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This 1920′s – 1940′s table top has quarter sawn oak veneer. Notice how the edge banding has a seam and the graining is different than the graining on the top. This is an indication that it is veneer

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This mahogany table top is made of solid wooden planks. Notice how the graining continues over the edge of the table, indicating that it is solid wood and not veneer

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Please refer to Part 1 in this series about wood, wood products & veneers for other photos of veneer:

If you have any questions, please call The Furniture Doctors LLC at 480-219-4158.




How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck? (Wood, Wood Products & Veneers – Part 1)

This is Part 1 in a series of posts about wood, wood products & veneers

A friend of mine recently purchased a dining table from a high end furniture store, after being told by the salesperson that it was solid wood.  While it is true that the table was made mostly from wood products, it was not solid wood. I am not going to say that she was purposely misled or lied to, because most furniture store workers are salespeople and not wood experts. A table or an armoire might look like it’s solid wood, but most furniture made today is made from a combination of any of the following wood products: wood veneers, plywood, particle board, medium density fibre board (commonly known as MDF) and solid wood.

Wood veneer is a thin layer of wood that is glued down onto other wooden boards. It is either cut or peeled from a log, so it is in fact real wood.

Plywood consists of multiple layers of wood veneers that are glued together.

Particle Board is a combination of wood chips, sawdust, glue and resin.

Medium Density Fibre Board (MDF) consists of wood dust and glue.

Solid wood is the actual wood cut from a tree.

The salesperson might have thought the table she sold my friend was solid wood because it was so well made, and the particle board cores were covered with beautiful wood veneer. If she had said it was a wooden table she might have been closer to the truth. I kind of compare it to misquotes and mistruths during political campaigns. Someone might repeat something out of context, or misrepresent a figure; while it might not be a total lie, it is misleading.

That being said, there ARE pieces of furniture being made today that are solid wood. Just make sure you know what you are buying.

This table top has veneer over particle board . Water caused the particle board to swell, making it difficult to repair.

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This chair has wood veneer over a solid wood base on the seat. When the veneer was damaged, we removed it, cleaned the glue and refinished the seat.

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This 1920s’ – 1940′s dining table has quarter sawn oak veneer over a solid wood core. Notice how the grain on the banding is not the same as the grain on the top. This is an indication that it is veneer

Click on image to enlarge

This mahogany table top is made of solid wood planks. See how the graining continues over the edge.

Click on image to enlarge

Please refer to Part 2 in this series about wood, wood products & veneers for more information about veneer and the history of veneer. Think King Tut!

Please refer to Part 2 in this series about wood, wood products & veneers for more information about veneer and the history of veneer. Think King Tut!

Note: I stole this title from my friend Jeff Jameson who used it as an opening when he substituted for me at my weekly networking breakfast.