Laminate Application Basics

Tips on adhesives and trimming for a newcomer to plastic laminate work. December 30, 2005

I am a small one-guy shop in northern California. I have a small banquette job (table with bench seating, recessed kicks) with some fancy laminates to do - Chemetal and Abet Laminati. I plan on using MDF, glued and stapled butt joints, then plan on applying cement, routing it and filing with a light sand with 180 grit on the corners.

What is the best roll on contact cement? Does this sound like a good approach? I don't know how much laminating I will be doing so large canister or spray gun purchase/set-ups might be overkill. How would you do small scale laminate jobs like this?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor T:
You want to be careful with some of those Abet Laminate colors. Some of the patterns are relatively esoteric and, as a consequence, the demand for these is minimal. If this is the case, you can end up with some material that has been sitting in a warehouse long enough to have lost some of the moisture content in the laminate. If the pattern is heavily textured on one face only, it will want to curl up like a sleeping bag when you try to cut it (i.e. it won't go through a table saw).

Plastic laminate is built out of craft paper and phenolic resins, and like a hardwood floor, should be acclimated for a while on the job site before being applied. Because of the paper and moisture composition it will expand and contract until it finds equilibrium with the moisture in the air. This is reason you sometimes come back to the job site and see an edge that you filed last week has shrunk, or needs to be filed again.

Make sure you fill all voids below the surface with bondo or hard spackel. Sunlight or a coffee pot will heat the laminate, and if there is any air trapped below it will expand the the air and lift the laminate.

Always check that the bearing is tight on your router bit. Sometimes when they come from the factory the cap screw will loosen and the bearing will fall out, causing great discouragement.

From contributor F:
Most laminate shops use "pine core" particle board as a substrate. A good choice of adhesive in my opinion is 3M Fast Bond 30. It is water base and I have used it quit a bit and I think it’s the best water base around. No solvent fumes to breathe.

The best way to apply it in a small shop setting or if you only do P-lam once in a while is with a paint roller. Make sure you get the no texture black foam roller covers, they are what works best with this contact cement.

If you are doing a lot of p-lam work, 3M Fast Bond 30 can be sprayed with a conventional spray pot and spray gun. Be sure to use solvent based contact cement for small surface area laminations like egdebanding and etc. Laminate is mostly just J-rolled, trim routed and filed. There is no sanding with 180.

From contributor C:
They actually make a roller especially for applying contact cement, and it works quite well. It is usually available from a laminate supply dealer, or where you buy your P-lam. It stands up to the sticky texture of the CC better than standard rollers.

From contributor F:
The black foam non-textured roller covers? They spread Fastbond 30 like a dream. And you can buy them at almost any hardware store or paint store for a few cents each. When you finish with it for the day, leave it wet and wrap plastic film wrap around it and/or put the whole thing, roller handle and all in an oversized zip lock bag and seal it. You can use one every day for weeks if you keep the glue on the cover from setting up. Some people put them in the refrigerator too.

From contributor J:
I would recommend purchasing a tank and gun. I'm a small shop too and purchased a setup for less than $300, and it’s a much more efficient application, and as long as you keep it at the right temperature and keep the valve off between uses it will last a long time plus there is no clean up. I use CONBOND 690 green.

From contributor K:
I agree with Contributor F's recommendation of 3M Fastbond 30. If you put on a coat or two that has a shine to it when dry it will stay stuck for years. I have stuff that was bonded with 30 years ago and it's still in good shape.

I'm in northern California too - the relative humidity here ranges around 35-40% pretty much year-round so moisture or extreme dryness isn’t a problem. Make sure it's well rolled with a hard rubber laminate roller. I like the one that you hold in the palm of your hand – it’s easier to control and apply more pressure.

A secondary applicator that spreads a nice full even coat is a black foam throwaway paint brush. They have a wood dowel handle you can poke through a hole cut in the plastic lid of a coffee can which will suspend the brush. Leave enough cement in the can to cover about 2" up on the foam brush and it's ready to use in a minute or two months. The foam brush is handy for smaller work and there's nothing to clean up when finished. The foam brush only works with water-based contact cement - like the Fastbond 30. The solvent types melt the foam.