Laminate Counter Top Edge Trimming

Tips and tricks for quick, clean work on laminate top edges. July 10, 2009

We seem to have hit a wall with our P'Lam counter top fabrication. When we are busy it remains a significant bottleneck. Right under weird items like curved nurses stations and reception areas. I expect those to take extra time. But square edge laminated tops are too slow.

We typically buy our tops in blanks and cut, build up, and end cap. Sometimes, lead time requires we do it in house. We usually use a PB substrate, spray glue (propane tank style), laminate front edge, trim with trim router, file flat, then do the top. When we trim the top or the end caps of the blanks or backsplashes, we invariably scrape into the adjacent edge with the router. Or we cut "heavy" then file for hours. We are using flush bearing bits that we clean continuously. I also made an aluminum fence screwed to the bottom of another router to allow use of any straight bit. The geometry is such that even if you tilt the base, the bit should stray away from the work, but it somehow digs in.

What am I missing? Are there any suggestions as to how to improve this tedious process? How does "Hartson Kennedy" do it? Is there some machine (monster sized edgebander) that you can just run these edges through? I hate having to always buy extra laminate for the "OOP's." I hate it even more when my guys get out the heat gun to peel the front edge and attempt a re-do when we don't have extra material.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
Itís been many years since I did any amount of laminate work, however I always found it to be quick and easy. I would ditch the flush trimming bits with bearings. They are nothing but trouble. Use the 1/4" solid carbide variety. Prior to trimming, wipe off excess glue with a rag and thinner, I guess you could also try the blue tape on the edges to keep the glue off, but if I remember correctly wiping it off was pretty painless. After laying the top wipe on a generous coat of paste wax on the edge to lubricate the bit, then a light touch and keep the bit moving to trim flush. After flush trimming, and insuring any remaining glue residue is cleaned off a bevel bit with bearing will eliminate most of the filing, but you will still want to finish with a file. As far as trimming the edge band flush with the top prior to laying down the laminate this is the easiest part and a file is not necessary; use a belt sander with a coarse grit 60-80. Keep the majority of the platen on the substrate to maintain a flat edge and angled so the nose is overhanging the edge (belt will be pulling the band towards the edge) and move fast. Like most everything else in life worth doing, this takes skill and practice but in my opinion is worth the effort.

From contributor T:
To do laminate work quickly requires a little finesse with the router and file. The first thing I would change is use a solid bevel bit instead of a flush trim with bearing. Keep it in a 1/4 trim router and use this for nothing else. You can adjust it so close that one to two swipes of a file and you are done. You need to set the bit and mark which side of the router was toward the work surface and use it this way all the time. This accounts for any out of square in the base. Get a product called Lamilube it is in an Aerosol can it speeds the process and you don't get burn from the router bit. This may sound strange but after you route do not clean top till after you file. You can file by eye instead of feel this way. You file one light stroke past when you see the glue line go away.

From contributor X:

After the edge has been applied and before the top goes on, I coat the edge with Parafin wax. After the top is applied I then use a flush bearing bit that is adjusted properly and trip the excess off. I make sure to have a small bottle of lacquer thinner on hand to clean the bearing should there be any attachments to it. I rarely use a file on the next step. Instead I use the blade from an old block plane and in a scraping action (pulling on a bevel action) I clear the bead line of all its imperfections of ridges and bumps. Itís quite fast this way and the bead line is uniform in its entirely. Working plastic is easy when you get away from filing.

From contributor I:
We use several trim routers (four) total, and each one is set with a 1/4" solid carbide bevel bit for various laminate brands and labeled for that particular brand. Each brand varies in thickness just enough to allow one bit set for one brand to dig into another brand that is slightly thinner. This set-up allows for quicker trimming and negates setting up for different laminates. Another trim router is set with a simple straight 1/4" solid carbide bit, that is all that is needed for the trimming the edges.

As far as lubrication, I found it easier to purchase a small container of Crisco shortening. Using a simple 1" paint brush a light coat of this applied along the edge prior to trimming is quick, easy and all that is needed to keep the bit from scratching or burning the laminate. Also, you will find that the Crisco will clean off quicker than the wax.

On tops that are straight we apply the edge on our edgebander and then run it through our wide belt sander. Splashes are all banded on the edgebander and run through the wide belt. All larger tops are applied the same way with spray contact and roller. I like the pressure pot sprayer better then the propane, simply for cost.

From contributor B:
Edgeband the core, route with a straight bit, (we also keep trim routers set up for specific purposes) draw a pencil line on top of the core along the edge and lightly hit it with belt sander till the pencil line is gone, laminate the deck and pinch roll, use Crisco and a brush (as mentioned before) and route with a solid carbide bevel bit. Wipe off the excess grease with a rag and lacquer thinner and touch with a file. Clean it and youíre done. Splashes are edged on the edgebander as are straight tops when there is sufficient quantity to do so.

From contributor V:
Use a solid carbide seven degree bevel bit and lubricate the path of the bearing. Leave the glue until you are finished hand filing the joints. The glue helps you see the moment when you file flush so as to avoid over-filing. The file and learning to use it is the key to speed. Use a real laminate file with one coarse face, one fine face, one cutting edge and one "safe edge".

After flush trimming the "self-edge" the coarse side of the file held at a diagonal and worked from left to right makes short work of flushing the edging to the top without the need of a beltsander. A simple sanding belt block sander makes short work of staple pops and other assorted small sanding tasks.

When filing the top to self-edge joint the file is held backwards (hold the non handle end) in the right hand and the joint is filed from right to left. In those pesky inside wall corners use a sharp pair of dikes to snip it close and then file coarse as close as you dare before finishing with the fine side of the file.

From contributor S:
As with a few others, the solid carbide bits are the best. I use paste wax to lubricate the face. You just use your finger to apply and away you go. I have never had a problem since going to this method, and we do nothing but laminate work. A can of paste wax lasts a long time.

From contributor M:
Hey guys - doesn't the solid carbide with no bearing mar the laminate as it is spinning?

From contributor B:
That is where the Crisco/wax/grease stick comes in - keeps from marring the laminate.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all who responded. I will take another run with the solid bits. I tried them about a year ago and my main guy didn't like them. He said they kept burning the work. We used a light grease as a lube. I'll try the wax or Crisco. Am I correct in that you go right to the bevel bit in one step? We have been using three routers to "sneak up" on it. Maybe it's overkill. We cut with an offset to leave an 1/8" or so, then the flush bearing (problem), or the one with the custom fence we can adjust to get real close, then file. What do you do when you have texture in the laminate? We had one doctor's office last year where the laminate had heavy "in and out" surface texture like slate.

From contributor S:
We do one pass with the solid carbide in the laminate trimmer. Then out comes the file, and it doesn't matter textured or not. You have to have a good file, like the Magicut or plasti-cut. I can only vouch for the paste wax because it is the only thing I have ever used, but I am sure the others will work as well. I have done laminate doors edged with PVC and it doesn't leave a mark on the edging when waxed.

From contributor V:
They sell solid carbide in straight cut and 7 degree bevel but in truth, the bevel bit will leave enough overhang when a square edge is needed even when set to trim laminate to laminate. In other words one solid carbide bevel bit set for you laminate thickness will trim to raw substrate and laminate to laminate.

The problem you are having with the bearing guided bits is one of two or both.

1. Set the bit only as low as needed to trim the plastic. The more carbide you have extended below the top the easier it is to rout into the face of the laminate.

2. Itís all in the wrist. You have to learn to lock your wrist on the hand holding the trim router to prevent it from tipping at all towards the surface the bearing is riding on. Tipping away slightly wonít hurt you like the other.

From contributor W:
Try this. Apply edge and trim as usual. Before laying top down run some painters tape along the edge adjacent to the top deck. Laminate the top deck as usual and peel away tape after top is placed. Follow with flush trim bit but try dragging a scrap of laminate with you as you go keeping the bearing on the scrap piece. For safetyís sake keep the scrap piece about ten inches long so your hands are at safe distance from bit. This leaves about 1/16 overhang leftover. Follow with seven degree trim bit. Light filing and minor cleanup with lacquer thinner and youíre done.

From contributor T:
I've used contribuort Wís method of trimming. It does work well. It works because the trimming with the bevel bit is on a consistent cut off so you can set the bit closer. You can use this method take one controlled stroke with a file to clean off any chatter and youíre done. I wouldn't start off training with this method because if you use the router set for this method without trimming the edge you are very likely to cut too deep. Remember when routing and you are cutting through material wider than your router bit half of your router bit is climb cutting which pushes your bit into the material. If you are spraying glue you just have to spray from the inside to the top and over the edge. If you are careful all you get on the laminate edge is strings that are easy to wipe off and faster than applying tape. Teaching/training people to think is always a challenge, but if tell your guys if they follow the "new" procedure they will have to less hand filing and less cleanup. It usually motivates.