Laminate Cabinet Tips

Advice (sometimes conflicting) about how to build high-quality laminate cabinets. July 5, 2006

We are a two man shop and were approached about doing a set of laminate cabinets for a new hospital. Does anyone know of a web site that has instruction on how to build using laminates? We would love to do the job if the learning curve isn't way out of line. Any help that you can give us is greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Get a copy of the plans. The GC should be able to provide you with these. This will give you a good idea of what is required and what the elevations look like. If they make no requirements of you, you might want to check out AWI. Many architects spec their guidelines.

From contributor B:
I have worked in a few shops in my past that were mainly laminate outfits. Typically, carcasses are built complete before any laminate is applied. This enables you to use staples, glue and screws to assemble your carcasses that will be later hidden by the laminate. Once in a while, you might be able to pre-laminate a part or two, but in better quality laminated cabinets, the convenience of pre-laminating takes a back seat to strong and permanent assembly methods.

I am sure some folks will tell you to pre-laminate every thing and then use knockdown fasteners and pocket screws, etc., but thatís not how the higher quality work is done. The order that the different surfaces of the cabinetry are laminated in is determined by a couple of factors.

One, the black line (laminate edge) is usually placed where it will be the least noticeable.

Two, it is preferable to lay the edge banding first on, say, an open shelf. This is done so that objects being taken off the shelf in a sliding motion will not snag the edge band and pull it loose.

3M Fast Bond 30 is a great contact cement to use because it is non-solvent base and easy on the lungs. However, be sure to use a good quality solvent based contact cement on narrow parts such as edge banding or small pieces that do not have a lot of surface area.

Quality laminate doors are laminated in this order:

Pre- lam full sheets of MDF or P.B. on one side. This will be the doors back side. Cut doors to net size minus two thicknesses of laminate. Naturally, the material is sawn laminate side up.
Edge band all four edges with laminate and trim. Laminate door faces last. The backs of door can be made to match the cabinet interior in cases where it is different than the cabinet exterior.

The rest of it is hand skill which must be learned through time and patience. If you do laminate work you will eventually have "filed your mile". Hand filing is an essential skill for a laminate worker.

I like to have a router table set up like a jointer to mill finish and straighten edges when I am laminating cabinetry. There are more tricks to this work than can be written here. There is a method to put all four edges of a door in glue and laminate and trim out instead of two edges laid and trimmed, and the second two edges laid and trimmed.

Be sure and use vertical grade laminate for vertical surfaces and even cabinet interiors. It is less money per square foot and is faster to file, etc. Also, in superior work, actual plastic laminate is ripped and applied as edge banding instead of PVC edge tape which is falling off of cabinetry world wide. Be different - build something that will last a good long while.

From contributor A:
To contributor B: I am not sure I agree with your ideas of superior laminate work. 3mm PVC is preferred over laminate edges. Not only does it absorb blows better than the hard plastic, but it does not have an off color phenolic edge. It looks better and wears better. And as far as material falling off, many will tell you that HPL is more difficult to stick than PVC. The HPL edges fall off because the back side was not prepped properly. This can happen with hot glue or contact cement. As you know, HPL is made with a release agent (anti-stick) and is sanded off. In some cases, the release agent remains and it doesn't matter what kind of glue you use, it will release. If you are referring to the hit and miss preglued PVC, then yes, it does have its problems. But I really don't see that used much in commercial work where 3mm is the norm.

From contributor C:
I liked contributor Bís explanation on doing things. Since I worked plastic a lot, I found that when I was routing an edge line, rather than file the edge, I would take my block plane blade out of the block plane and use it in a scraping way along the edge. It would get rid of all the ridges and gave a far cleaner look. It did a better job in tighter spots. Prepping your material is a must do when gluing. When done right it will stick forever or so it seems. Pinch rollers were handy and saved time when doing a lot of flat work.

From contributor D:
The only thing I would like to add is you must pre-laminate all your inside surfaces first, then assemble however you like, then laminate your outside surfaces. The real pain is the edgebanding. I normally use pieces wider than the side thickness so I cover the joint lines, then I use an edge sander to fit between the 2 side pieces, and then trim everything together. Remember to leave a small radius in corners to prevent stress cracking.

From contributor E:
A hospital is a commercial job. Not to step on any toes but on commercial jobs it is not what you want or how you want to do things. You must go by the Architectural drawings and specs. Also in my area most hospitals require the shop to be AWI certified. When it comes to commercial work it is a whole different bet than residential. Shop drawings are a must along with all of the specs for hardware and materials. I cannot stress how much you must follow the specs to the T, because if you donít you will be reworking a lot of stuff. Also the bookkeeping is different also. This is why you basically have two different types of cabinet shops - Residential and Commercial.

From contributor F:
Laminate edges are less durable than 2 or 3 mm PVC and unless primed will have problems with either an automatic edgebander or contact cement. The automatic edge bander is capable of doing a high quality consistent job but requires a skilled operator and top quality adhesive (Dorus) that matches the machine speed. There is a big difference between what a bander with two pressure rollers and one with 5 or 6 can achieve. The faster the chain speed, the less cooling of the adhesive, and the better the bond. Hand banding is really slow and if that is what you will be doing to compete against the commercial shops itís going to be difficult. If you lay-up panels single sided, you need to get them assembled and the second side put on very quickly to avoid cupping. You may want to pass on a large laminate job as a learning experience. There is more to commercial work than meets the eye.