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Do-It-Yourself Weekend Project #104
"How to Install Plastic Laminate Countertops"

Tool and Material Checklist

Plastic laminate of proper type, Contact cement, Fine-toothed hand saw, Wooden mallet, Paint brush, Roller, Power sander, Work gloves, Steel square, Router with special grooving disk, Sanding block, Straightedge, Utility knife, Hand cleaner, Fine-toothed backsaw, Power saw, Fine-toothed blade for power saw, File, Sandpaper

1. Preparing the Surface for Laminate Plastic

Laminated plastics are available in many colors, patterns and designs. They can be used for counter tops, table tops and many other surfacing applications. Such sheets are available in dull of gloss finish. Laminated plastic is made from layers of paper which are first impregnated with resin and then bonded together under pressure and high temperature.

This forms the resin and paper into a rigid sheet. Laminated plastic sheets of 1/16" thickness are usually recommended for a flat surface which will be used as a work area. Laminated plastic of 1/32" thickness can be used on vertical surfaces.

The surface where plastic laminate is to be applied should be thoroughly sanded and cleaned. Any paint or varnish should be removed before the laminated plastic is applied. Plywood and chipboard make ideal bases for plastic laminates. It is usually wise to attach an inexpensive backing laminate to the base before the finish laminate is applied. This backing laminate helps prevent moisture absorbtion which might cause the base board to warp.

2. Cutting Laminated Plastic

Plastic laminate material can be cut with a regular circular power saber saw. However, a fine-tooth blade, recommended for the cutting of such plastic laminates, should always be used. Unless you are doing a big job, it is usually best to cut plastic laminate with a fine-tooth backsaw or a utility knife. Whether you use a knife, a hand saw or a power saw, always cut at a low angle on the decorated side of the laminated sheet. Important: Always cut the sheets of laminated plastic slightly oversize to allow for trimming.

Special laminate cutting blades are available for cutting laminated plastic with utility knives. A straight edge or a steel square can be used to guide the knife for a smooth and even cut. After the sheet of laminated plastic has been scored with the utility knife, it can be snappedon the scored line by lifting the shorter end and applying a slight amount of pressure.

Laminated plastic sheets can also be cut with a fine-tooth hand saw. The type of cutting tool used will depend on how big a job you are undertaking . As a rule a utility knife or a fine-tooth backsaw is the most desirable cutting tool.

3. Applying Laminated Plastics

Laminated plastics should normally be applied with contact cement. Epoxy adhesives can be used but contact cements are generally recommended. Use coarse sandpaper to roughen the surface to be covered. Clean away the residue left by sandings by brushing with a light brush or by blowing away with compressed air.

Brush the contact cement onto the counter surface after it is sanded. Also apply a smooth and even layer of contact cement to the back of the clean laminate sheet which is to be applied to the cemented area. Let both surfaces dry for approximately 15 minutes before attempting to install the laminated sheet.

Extreme care must be used when laying the sheets after contact cement is applied. Remember, 50% to 75% of the bonding strength of contact cement is present in the first contact. This means the pieces which are to be glued together must be accurately positioned before the glued areas touch each other.

Although one coat of cement on both the surface to be covered and the back of the laminated sheet is usually adequate for flat surface application, it may be necessary to apply 2 to 3 coats of contact cement for the trim strips along the counter edges.

A regular paint brush can normally be used for applying the normally be used for applying the contact cement to both the back of the laminated sheet and the flat surfaces. However, in some cases a hand-made paddle of wood may be more desirable for spreading the cement.

After the 15 minute drying period, you are ready to place the laminated sheets into position. However, you must keep the laminated sheet and the cemented base apart until they are correctly positioned. On narrow strips this can usually be done by laying small strips of wood or a piece of wrapping paper, figure, between the two cemented pieces until they are properly positioned. A stiff piece of paper will not adhere to the dried cement and can be moved along the surface to keep the cemented back of the laminated sheet and the cemented base apart during the positioning process.

When laying a large sheet of laminated plastic, it may be necessary to use large sheets or paper rather than small strips. Again, the paper will not adhere to the dried cement. The paper can be laid into position and then removed after the sheet is in the proper position on the cemented surfaces. When applying laminated sheets to vertical surfaces, you can usually position the glued sheets without the use of wooden strips or heavy wrapping paper.

4. Finishing off the Job

When the laminated sheet is in the correct position, the paper or wood strips can be removed and the two cemented pieces bonded together. A roller can be used to apply pressure to the newly laid sheets of laminated plastic. Roll the entire surface thoroughly to eliminate any air pockets and to be sure the plastic sheet is firmly attached to the surface at all points.

If it is necessary to make a seam, a clean joint can be made by overlapping the two sheets by approximately 3/4". Cut completely through the thickness of both sheets at this point of overlap. Lift and remove the waste strip underneath the cut and the two sheets will align perfectly. A wooden block and mallet can also be used to assure good adhesion at all points on the newly laid surface. Work from the center of the job toward the edge to work out any air bubbles that might be hidden underneath.

In some cases you may want to use special metal or plastic moldings to finish off the edges of the plastic laminate installation. In other cases you may want to use thin edging strips of the same material to create a neat edge. When using the same laminate material for edging, apply two coats of cement to the edges and let dry thoroughly. Now apply 1 coat of cement to the back of the laminated sheet.

Place the edge strip into position carefully using the fingers to align the sheets along the top edge as they are applied. It is usually best to start applying pressure to the edge strips in the center of each strip. Work in both directions from the center on long spans. Short spans can be worked from one end to the other.

A fine-toothed backsaw can be used for shaping the edging strips where it is necessary to trim away surplus material or to cut portions of the strip at the end. Run your hand along the edge stripping. The stripping should be slightly wider than the edge it covers. however, this extra width should be at the bottom. Obviously it will have to be perfectly aligned at the top.

Allow the edge trim to dry approximately 30 minutes. Then touch off the edges with a file which is set at a 45 degree angle to avoid any danger of chipping the laminate with the teeth of the file. When using metal strips for finish work, it may be necessary to use a router, to cut a groove for certain types of trim materials. Special bits are available for routing work of this type.

Any surplus contact cement should be removed with a special solvent. If such a solvent is not available, nail polish remover can be used.