Lipping the Wood Edge of a Laminate Table Top

Advice on setting up to make wood edges flush to laminate table tops on a production basis. July 3, 2008

I have a small but growing business and have been asked to make a line of plastic laminated tables with a wood bullnose edge. Would a lipping planer be a sensible investment to flush up the wood to the top and bottom in a production sense, or is there another way to go?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor S:
Perhaps in a production sense, the lips could be machined with a tongue and the fitting is more accurate to avoid the need for trimming flat. Just an idea to get you thinking!

From contributor D:
In higher production quantities, the wood edges are applied first, sanded level through a widebelt, then the laminate top and backer applied. The edges are then shaped, leaving a step at the face of the laminate for clean transition. Better craft will level the wood to the laminate, but the better craft is difficult in those high quantity situations.

I was privy to the design evolution and pre-production runs of laminate tops for several national fast food chains (tens of thousands of tops), and while they started out trying to level wood and plastic, once they worked through the problems, they always ended up back with the step. One design even called for CNC to inlay different colors of laminate into the center of tables, which worked pretty well, but the CNC could not be counted on to level the wood dead flush to the laminate.

Another option is to leave a machined slight v-joint between wood and plastic that minimizes any slight difference. The food police call this a microbiological nursery.

From contributor V:

The shop I used to work at did many of these tables. Put a small v-groove on the laminated table, put same size v-groove on solid edge. Glue on solid edge. Machine the solid to almost the same thickness first, and make a couple passes with your hand plane. Should be high angle, and a little dull so as not to scratch the laminate. The v-groove will hide any obvious wood movement and give you something to tape to when you spray your lacquer.

Using a lipping planer (Adler, Virutex), you would require touching up with a hand plane anyway. Cutting exactly flush with one of these is virtually impossible, and would probably scrape off the top layer of your laminate. The slightest tilt or catching of the cord, and you will have ruined your laminate. There is some forgiveness when using them on a veneered table or surface, because you can always sand a bit more. But with laminate...

From contributor G:
Take a look at the Lamello Cantex Lipping Machine. The price is a bit of a shock, but once you use it you will never look back. My rep left one with me for two weeks to try out and there was no way I could let him have it back!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the feedback. I like the looks of the Lamello planer. Can that be set a hair lower for the thickness of the finish?

Contributor D, if I understand you correctly, they laminate after the trim is on. Does the finish make up the thickness of the laminate for a flush top?

From contributor D:
Nope. The step from the laminate surface to the wood is about the thickness of the laminate. Not the look you want, I understand. I was just relating the high points of a large shop's evolution to that stepped face from the too-difficult-to-do flush joint in a production atmosphere, even with state of the art equipment (albeit in 1998). They would also fabricate with a mask on the laminate so when shaping and sanding was complete, the finish could be applied with no additional masking.

From contributor G:
Yes, the planer can be set to lower the edge enough for finish. You need to get the fence with it. The fence is like the rest of the machine - very well made and very accurate. It does take a little time to master the technique required, but it comes naturally after a few edges.

From contributor S:
Reminds me of an amazing discovery a couple of months back. Some guys let me come and inspect their production of lipping machines. These things were of the utmost "colour brochure" Italian quality, the size of big CNC routers, and homegrown technology that used hydraulics to hot glue plastic edging right around curved tops without the normal use of CNC programs to follow the edge. And all made in a back country shed here in New Zealand surrounded by dairy cows! They are exporting them to Australia and around, building each in a couple of months... 4 guys in a tin shed - amazing!

From contributor T:
Many pre-made wood edges have tongues. We have done counters with them. Set a slotting cutter for the tongue, pre-finish the wood edges (not the glue side), miter, tap them in, caul and clamp where necessary - bingo, you are done. Set the cutter so the wood will be just 1/2 hair below the laminate. Any glue squeeze-out, either from the wood to laminate or the miters, will be removable with a wet rag, because one surface is laminate and the other is finished. Buy or make your edging in/from one run: it makes accuracy a lot easier. Last time I did this it was for about 400' of edging for a job. Made it easy and accurate.

From contributor T:
P.S. Of course the bottom is not flush with this method. If this matters, use your lipping planer for that!

From contributor C:
Homag has an aggregate that is very sensitive and will do this edging, and follow the height variable.