Laminating Tops and Surfaces – Part 1

Laminating tops sometimes includes installing a solid wood edge. In this page I’ll cover both laminate and solid wood edges. Part 1 will just contain information about acquiring the laminate and preparing to install it. Part 2 will cover the tools needed to do the laminating. Part 3 will cover all the rest including solid wood edges and filing laminate edges.

There are several brands of plastic laminate but the two I’m most familiar with are Formica and Wilsonart.

Granite and many other specialized materials such as Corian have become the standard for kitchen and bath tops. Some believe this transformation took place because laminate didn’t work well in wet areas, but that isn’t the case. The main problem with laminate, in my experience over the years, is the particle board surfaces under the laminate. Even though used consistently, it’s not a good product for wet areas. Some say that it’s important to use particle board instead of plywood because it’s smoother and more stable than plywood. That may be true but it doesn’t hold up when it gets wet and this is a problem in kitchens and bathrooms. Particle board is also cheaper and weights more than double. I prefer using a good grade of plywood with a solid wood build up at the front edge where it most vulnerable to water. If you must use particle board then I suggest that you seal the bottom surface with a good coat of paint or other sealer.

I built the kitchen cabinets in our home and used laminate over a good grade of plywood, a common practice in my woodworking business over many years. I didn’t see the need for the high-cost surfaces in our kitchen. Our old countertop was butcher block color laminate over particle board, and except for the edges of the particle board, it was still in excellent condition after 24 years. Barbara is a regular and excellent cook who makes heavy use of our kitchen. It was clear that plastic laminate, properly installed, is still an excellent surface for a kitchen, bathroom, or any project.

Buying the laminate can be a problem. The nearest laminate manufacturer to my home is in Temple, Texas which isn’t far, and there are laminate dealers in this area who serve cabinetmakers. These dealers carry many sizes of laminate making it easier to get the size you need for a project. My recent searches for online sellers and local home improvement stores showed only 4-foot by 8-foot sheets available which means you may have to buy more than you need.

Besides the laminate, you need contact cement. For most projects, a quart should be enough. Contact cement is difficult to clean so I always work with throwaway chip brushes and rollers to apply the cement. You also need a solvent for cleaning any excess cement. I suggest Contact Cleaner but lacquer thinner also works. Don’t attempt to clean with mineral spirits or paint thinner as it won’t break down the contact cement.

Part 2 – Tools to Use for Laminating Coming Soon.