Plastic Laminate Cabinet Tips

Advice for a first-timer who is tackling an all-plastic-laminate kitchen job. July 3, 2006

I have been asked to bid an apartment kitchen and the owner wants it all done in plastic laminate. Any things I should consider before I bid the job?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor A:
Only the price.

From contributor A:
I think you should consider how much experience you have with laminate covered cabinetry. If you have worked in laminate woodworking houses or the display industry and you know how to bid the work, go for it. If not, will it be worth it to learn on this job and then never or rarely use this new found skill again?

From contributor C:
Laminate cabinets can be very profitable and are well worth the effort of braving the learning curve to produce this job. Just make sure you have the production basics in place, such as adhering the P-lam, trimming it, cabinet construction method you will use, and handling of the P-lam thru your shop. When pricing, consider using standard grade everywhere, because vertical grade tears easily if you are not used to handing it. You may decide after this job that you want to pursue more of this kind of work, as there is steady demand in most markets.

From contributor A:
I have to disagree about using standard grade throughout because of the risk of tearing a sheet of vertical grade while handling it. Vertical grade costs less and takes less than half the time to file as standard. I would recommend using standard thickness on horizontal working surfaces only. VG is easy to break while handling, so just get used to it.

From contributor D:
1. Consider having the panels laid up by someone else
2. Use a no-file bit where necessary, don't hand file.

From contributor B:
You asked me by personal message if you should laminate the face frame with a full piece and then rout it off leaving a center waste piece. First, most laminate cabs I have ever done were Euro style (no face frame). But either way, I would do the edges or face frame with strips of laminate, not a full piece.

When I am doing such work, I always have a router table set up jointer style to put machined and straight edges on laminate strips and pieces. I would cut the stripping .5" (1/2") wider than the part to be laminated. Letís say you have a simple face on a cabinet with two stiles and two rails of equal width dimensions:
Run one edge of each stile strip on the jointer (router table).
Make a second jig that puts a machined edge on the ends of narrow strips of laminate.
Make the rail laminate pieces finish out at about 1/2" (.5") less in length than the distance between the stiles of the face frame and machined cut at 90 degrees on each end. The length accuracy only needs to be +/- 1/16" but the two pieces for the rails should be the same length.

Now you should have two pieces for the stiles that over hang the stiles by some amount in the length and by 1/2" in the width with one machined edge each and two rail pieces that are about 1/2" shorter than the distance between stiles with machined ends. Put all the laminate and the entire face frame in glue (apply contact cement).

After the glue is dry, stick one stile piece in place and leave the machined edge towards the inside of the cabinet overhanging about 1/4". Now stick each rail piece in place butting against the just placed stile piece for a tight joint. Lastly, place the machined edge of the second stile piece tightly against the two open rail laminate ends and of course, J-roll everything. They have a commercial jig that can be used to make these joints and you let the rail pieces run wild in length. I find this method to be faster and makes a perfect joint if you do it correctly and are properly set up.

From contributor E:
I agree with contributor D. Purchase the laminate already laid up on 4 x 8 sheets. I went this route on a school job and it saved a huge amount of time, and the laminate was laid up perfectly. All I had to do was edge band.

From contributor B:
Laying up full 49" x 97" sheets of laminate makes a lot of sense for doors and the like. It wonít work on carcass parts very well due to order of assembly, order of lamination and the necessity for through fasteners. As far as outsourcing pre-laminated panels, it depends on your particular business and production. For me, it takes me about 5 minutes to apply 3M fast bond with a paint roller on a 4 x 8 surface and I am free to do other work while the adhesive dries so it doesnít make sense for me. I want to mention also that in quality laminate doormaking, typically only the back of the panel is pre-laminated. Then the doors are cut to dimension minus the edge laminate. The edges are then laminated and the door face laminate is applied last so that the black lines of the edge laminate don't show on the doors face.