Durable, hygienic and available in a wide range of colours, laminates are the ideal decorative surface for kitchen worktops. Here are the techniques to help you get a really professional finish and avoid costly mistakes.
Laminates are thin sheets of extremely tough plastic which are stuck to more vulnerable surfaces both to protect and decorate them. As the material can stand heat up to 180°C (356°F), they won’t be damaged if boiling water or hot fat is spilled onto them. Most of the common domestic liquids won’t stain them and they’re durable. Sharp knives can, however, scratch them — and in return the laminate will blunt the knife. Dark colours will show these scratches but they’ll be less obvious on patterns.
Laminates are mostly used where their special qualities are really called for — in the kitchen, especially on worktops, and in bathrooms to give wipe-down surfaces. Whole sheets can be used in shower cubicles as an alternative to tiles as long as the laminate is held rigidly.
To bond properly, laminates must be stuck to a stable base (called the ‘core’ in the trade). In fact, plywood, chipboard and blockboard are all suitable — but natural timber isn’t, because its moisture content makes it expand and contract. You can’t therefore give new life to an old timber table with laminate. In any situation where water will be constantly present (eg, a kitchen worktop with an inset sink), the base material should be ply, not chipboard which is absorbent, and joins should be properly edged to prevent water getting beneath the laminate.
You can apply new laminate to an existing one if you wish to change the colour scheme or if the original is slightly damaged. Where a surface is unsupported (eg, a coffee table with legs screwed to the underside) laminate must be fixed to both sides. This is needed as a balance, as laminate fixed to one side could cause the board to warp. Where the balancing veneer will not be seen you could use a less expensive laminate, or an offcut.
Types of adhesives
Conventional contact adhesives and their fumes are highly flammable and work must be done where there are no pilot lights, electric or gas fires.
HOW YOU BUY LAMINATES
Sizes: Most laminates are sold in large sheets. The common sizes are:
– 3050 x 1220mm (10 x 4ft).
– 2745 x 1220mm (9 x 4ft).
– 2440 x 1220mm (8 x 4ft)
Selected colours or patterns often come in smaller sheets. For example:
– 1830 x 610mm (6 x 2ft).
– 1220 x 610mm (4 x 2ft).
– 915 x 610mm (3 x 2ft) Thicknesses: most laminates are 1.5mm (1/16in) thick; thinner laminates are for light-duty use only. Check when you buy.
HOW MUCH ADHESIVE?
Solvent-based adhesives: these are spread onto both surfaces.
– 1 litre will cover 5-7 sq metres (55-75 sq feet).
Water-based adhesives: again both surfaces must be covered, but the adhesive is brushed on rather than spread. It’s also more economical.
– 1 litre covers about 15 sq metres (approx 160 sq feet).
The fumes are also very unpleasant so adhesives of this type are best for small jobs which will not take long to complete. This type of adhesive acts when the two surfaces come in contact with each other.
Solvent-based contact adhesives are flammable but non-drip (gel) which makes them easier to use on vertical and overhead surfaces. These thixotropic adhesives have a — they don’t ‘grab’ on contact and allow a little time for you to move the laminate.
Contact adhesives are nonflammable and therefore can be used where the solvent-based should not. They work in the same way but the fumes are not unpleasant — useful if you are working in a confined space. (resin and hardener) adhesive is used where laminate will be subjected to wet conditions — eg, in bathrooms and around sinks. This type of adhesive has to be cramped till adhesion takes place. The adhesive is applied to one surface only.
How to apply adhesives
Adhesives can be applied with notched spreaders, brushes or filling knives (for thixotropic ones only). Brush-on types are obviously the easiest and thixotropic ones won’t run — but always read the manufac-turers’ instructions on the back of packs before you decide which one to use. Also take note of any warnings: eg, protect your skin against contamination by using a barrier cream on your hands and cleaning them properly afterwards; avoid getting adhesive near your eyes; and make sure there’s good ventilation so fumes are not inhaled.
All adhesives have different covering capacities according to the surface to which the laminate is being stuck. You get better coverage on new ply than you do on chipboard, and chipboard edging — which is very absorbent — will often need two applications of adhesive.
Preparing the surface
Laminate won’t stick unless the surface is sound, clean and dry. Sand and dust off new plywood or chipboard. Wash down, sand and fill existing surfaces as necessary to produce a sound base; providing a level surface is the object.
Where the surface is an existing laminate use an abrasive cleaner, then thoroughly rinse with clean water. Alternatively, rub well with wire wool and then wipe over with methylated spirit. Either way, leave the surface to dry before cladding. If existing laminate is substantially damaged, it should be removed using a sharp chisel and hammer.
Edgings for laminated surfaces
For durability equal to that of the top surface it is best to fix an edging of the same laminate. Edging strips of laminate should be applied Apply them in the same way as the top — ie, cut a strip slightly oversize, stick it in place and then trim to fit. Where you are using urea formaldehyde adhesive, the edging can be held in place with sticky tape until the glue sets.
Joins between laminate lengths are un-avoidable on worktops longer than a standard sheet, or when offcuts are being used. The meeting edges must be cut and planed very accurately to achieve a neat join. Attach the front edge strips first, then stick the first top section in place and test the edge of the second against the first before sticking it down. Where separate worktops meet, each meeting edge should be laminated to prevent water seeping into the board edges.
After you have fixed the top you should trim its overhang at an angle to avoid splintering the laminate and to give the characteristic black line where the top and edge surfaces meet. _
For sawing: use either a fine-toothed or a power fitted with a fine blade.
• remember to keep the laminate fully supported on both sides of the cutting line as you saw.
For scoring and cutting: use either a special which has a hard cutting tip (and can also be used for trimming and bevelling the edges) or a fitted with a special laminate-cutting blade.
• remember to break the laminate by bending it upwards, not down.
For trimming laminate: as an alternative to the special laminate cutter, use-either a which is small enough to hold in one hand – a or an ordinary flat
• always trim the front edge of a worktop with a bevel edge.
For fixing laminate, use only if you’re using urea formaldehyde adhesive (these are waterproof) which does not bond on contact.
• with other adhesives, press the laminate in place then use a hammer and a block of wood to make sure no pockets of air or lumps of adhesive remain.
Marking-up accurately is very important — even more so when a patterned design is involved. When you’re measuring up, add 3mm (Vsin) to each measurement — this is a safety margin which will be trimmed off when the laminate is fixed. For small, awkward shaped areas, make a paper template and then transfer the outline directly to the sheet. Mark the cutting line with a pencil (or use a coloured wax pencil if the surface is dark).
Laminate should always be cut with the decorative face upwards. Basically there are two cutting methods: using a specially designed tool, or a saw. Unless you are experienced in using a saw it is best to use a special tool, since sawing requires skill to avoid chipping the vulnerable edges of the laminate.
If you are using a laminate cutting tool or handyman’s knife to score along the cutting line, make sure the whole panel is on a firm base — a bench, stout table, or even the floor with an offcut of hardboard or something similar under the cutting line. Place a straight edge along the cutting line and score firmly until you’ve cut halfway through the laminate, then snap upward and it will break clean along the line. (You can tell when it is ready to snap cleanly because the cutting line will change from a powdery white to a dark colour). Alternatively, you can continue scoring until you have cut right through the sheet.
When sawing, hold the saw at a shallow angle (ie, close to the horizontal) and cut on the waste side of the marked line. Complete the cut with great care so the laminate does not splinter.
Apart from the necessity for a sharp saw, the most important thing to remember is that the laminate must be properly supported as you cut it. Laminate bends easily, which means that it’ll vibrate if it’s not firmly held — and the result will be a wavy saw cut and splinters along the cut edge. Rest the sheet on a table with the cutting line just over the edge, and kneel on the table — it sounds awkward but it works.
To hold the laminate sheet down even more firmly, lay a sheet of plywood or chip-board on top of the laminate so it is sandwiched between board and table top with the cutting line just exposed. And if there’s a lot of waste hanging over the edge support this too — either rest it ‘on another table, or have someone else holding it as you saw.
Fixing in position
If you’re using a contact adhesive with instant gripping power you must position the laminate on the base material accurately from the start. There are two basic ways of doing this that’ll help prevent disaster. -j Push several large-headed I drawing pins into one side edge of the base so that the heads project above the surface and they protrude 3mm (Vsin) from the edge — the same amount as the overhang allowed for. At one corner place a drawing pin on each edge about 25mm (1 in) from the corner.
Having spread the adhesive evenly on the reverse side of the laminate and on the surface of the base material, leave it until it becomes touch dry or until it changes colour (follow manufacturer’s instructions). Then, keeping the laminate at an angle to the surface, place one edge against the heads of the pins, with the corner fitting neatly between the other two corner pins. Gradually lower the sheet into place, smoothing it down to avoid air being trapped beneath. Then, with a smooth block of wood and hammer, tap the sheet firmly into place. If the sheet is very large, you’ll need someone else to help you manipulate the laminate.
After the laminate is set firm and dry, the next step is to trim flush the 3mm (Vsin) overhang left all around. Traditionally a plane is used for this, cutting at an angle to give the 30° bevel edge to the corner. But laminate will very quickly blunt a plane’s blade, so it’s usual to use a Surform to remove the bulk of the overhang and then finish off with a plane or file you have to use the second method.
Place a series of thin (6mm-12mm/V4-1/2in) flat battens at regular intervals on top of the glued surface — they won’t stick as contact adhesives only work when two glued surfaces meet. Position the laminate accurately on top, and when you’re satisfied that it’s right, slide the first batten out and smooth the laminate down onto the base. Take out the next batten and smooth down a little more.. and so on till the whole sheet is fixed. This method can be used without help from another person. If using an adhesive with a delayed action,
Using a plane can be tricky; your strokes should be long and steady with the blade set for a very small cut, so you very slowly trim off. Alternatively, there are now proprietary laminate trimmers available which actually cut the laminate with a bevelled edge. Even so you may still need to smooth off the edge, so use the flat face of the file with careful downward strokes, never up.
You can slide the glued laminate over the base When you’re ready you can exert some pressure, then go over the surface with a block of wood and a hammer to ensure a strong bond.
With urea formaldehyde adhesives you can slide the laminate round till it’s correctly positioned — but then the laminate needs to be cramped until the adhesive sets. Ideally you should have a sheet of ply or chipboard the same size as the surface to ensure that the weight is equal all over. If this isn’t possible cramping several pieces of wood the same width will do. Arrange them at intervals on the surface and cramp in place — the wood in either case will prevent the cramp exerting too much pressure on the small area of laminate immediately beneath.
TIP: LAMINATING WORKTOPS
It’s usually easier to laminate existing worktops when they’ve been lifted off their base units, rather than trying to work in situ.
– remove the drawers and open the doors of the unit so that you can get at the fixing screws (driven either through the frame rails or through small brackets). Once these are undone, you’ll be able to lift off the top.
– if two worktops are butting up, both the meeting edges must be laminated to prevent water getting into the base-board and causing it to swell.
TIP: AVOIDING WARPING
Laminate may cause an unsupported surface such as a cupboard door to warp if it is fixed to only one face.
– to prevent this, cover the reverse side of such surfaces with a cheaper laminate (look out for off-cuts) to act as a balancer.
WORKING IN COLD WEATHER
In cold weather, contact adhesive (especially water-based types) may take considerably longer than usual to dry.
– speed up the evaporation of the solvent by playing warm air from a hair dryer over the adhesive-coated surfaces.
DO’S AND DON’TS
Don’t put laminate onto plywood, chipboard or blockboard that’s come straight from a timber yard – it needs to be conditioned in the room in which it will be situated for 2 days before starting work. Don’t apply adhesive in very humid weather or condensation will prevent it bonding.
Do put the adhesive on the laminate first and then the base. As laminate is non-porous and wood porous, both surfaces will dry in about the same time. Do note the time when you applied the adhesive so it doesn’t pass the stage of being touch dry. If it over-dries, apply the laminate to the surface then go over it with a hot domestic iron.
Laminate not only adds a touch of colour to work areas, it is also a reliable, trouble-free material in situations where spills and bumps are inevitable. To reap the rewards of its qualities though, laminate has to be well applied, with proper care taken so that nothing can seep underneath and the edges can’t be chipped.
Remember the golden rules.. the sharpest of tools are essential — change them frequently if in any doubt. Make sure the adhesive is completely touch dry before the surfaces are brought together. Remove the overhang carefully. And where a laminated edge meets a top sheet, bevel it to give it a neat finish.
When using laminate for furniture it pays to be economical with materials. the table for example was made from equal-size sheets of both laminate and chipboard so there would be no waste.