Plastic laminates, also known as Formica, come in various sizes, colors, and patterns and they make an excellent impervious surface treatment for counter tops, tabletops, and work surfaces. They are not particularly difficult to install, requiring very little in the way of specialized equipment.
The substrate that will receive the plastic laminate must be flat, clean, and free of any defects. It can be plywood, particleboard, or even another plastic laminate surface.
- Sand the new substrate and remove the dust with a vacuum or brush. If the substrate is another finished product, clean it thoroughly and let it dry before proceeding.
- Ensure that the substrate is flat and defect free. If there are low spots or defects, fill them in with a product like Bondo auto body filler, or Fixall. Trowel the leveler off, sand it smooth, and remove all the dust.
Plastic Laminate Preparation
- Cut your sheet of plastic laminate a little oversize with a fine blade circular saw, a laminate trim knife, or a fine tooth handsaw. In general, cut from the back side of the laminate. Trim it to fit once it is installed.
- Coat the substrate with at least one uniform moderate coat of contact cement and let it dry to the touch.
- Coat the bottom of the plastic laminate with at least one coat of contact cement and let it dry to the touch as well.
Plastic Laminate Installation
- Lay 3/8” wooden dowel rods across the substrate surface about 12” apart and parallel.
- Beginning at one end, lay the plastic laminate in place being careful not to let the laminate touch the substrate surface.
- Remove the dowel rods as you lower the plastic laminate in place.
- When the final dowel rod is removed, use a roller to work out any air bubbles. You can also use a wooden block and mallet. Work from the center outward.
- After the cement has dried according to the manufacturer’s instructions, trim the plastic laminate. You can use a router with a plastic laminate trimmer bit or a file.
Always use as large a piece of plastic laminate as possible to avoid unsightly seams. If you have to use two or more pieces, bevel the adjoining edges with a fine tooth file so they are almost invisible when overlapped. You can also butt them together but the seam will be highly visible.
You can use a sabresaw, jigsaw, or even a tablesaw to cut the laminate but cut from the back side to avoid chipping. If you cut it with a razor knife or laminate cutter, cut from the front side.
Contact cement will hold up to 70% of its permanent strength upon initial contact so avoid letting the two cemented surfaces come into contact until they are perfectly lined up. After the job is done, clean up any excess contact cement with acetone. Let it dry and wash the laminate with a mild detergent and warm water before use.
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