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A simple plastic laminate table as done in Sunset's workshop.

A simple plastic laminate table as done in Sunset's workshop

Furniture in Sunset's Menlo Park offices is a little different than at other companies --most of the desks, shelves, work counters, partitions, and cabinets are custom-made in our own cabinet shop. We use plastic laminate (made by Formica, Wilsonart, and others) for most pieces, so we asked our experts how they would build a simple tabletop. Their technique is virtually foolproof. "The only accuracy you need with this method is when you're sanding,' Sunset cabinetmaker Dave Amendola told us.

The tabletop we show here is 40 by 48 inches. To duplicate it, you'll need:

One 4-foot-square each of laminate and 3/4-inch plywood

16 feet of 1-by-2

About 30 2-inch (6d) finishing nails

Contact cement and wood glue

You'll also need a table saw, router with laminate trimming bit, belt sander, hammer, fine bastard file, paintbrush, dust mask, safety glasses, and a rubber mallet or roller.

We used one of the new solid-core laminates (about $4.50 per square foot; color goes all the way through) rather than a dark-core type (about $1.75; colored surface over dark base). This almost eliminates the dark line on each edge that's the usual hallmark of laminate construction.

A cast-iron pedestal base from a restaurant supply store completes our table.

Start with the wooden top

Laminate is almost always glued with contact cement to a wood or particle-board base. Our top is 3/4-inch birch-faced plywood (for its flat, true surface) edged with pine 1-by-2s. Begin by cutting a plywood piece 1 1/2 inches smaller than the finished top will be (in this case, 38 1/2 by 46 1/2 inches).

Cover the edges with 1-by-2s to stiffen them and give the table substantial look. Let the 1-by-2s protrude a scant 1/16 inch above the plywood; you'll sand all edges flush after attaching laminate edge strips.

Butt-join the corners, letting the long ends extend about 1/8 inch. First set two nails through each piece slightly into the plywood. Remove the pieces, then apply white glue to the plywood edge--the nails line up the boards correctly without sliding on the glue. Set additional nails 8 inches apart and at the corners (step 1).

Complete the edges

With a fine plywood blade in your table saw and the protective coating still on the laminate, rip four laminate strips a generous 1/8 inch bigger than the 1-by-2s-- about 1 5/8 inches (step 2). To create a smooth working surface, set a piece of scrap plywood on the saw table, then raise the blade up through it. This will also keep the thin laminate from slipping under the saw fence. Cut along the longer edge of the laminate (it comes oversized in one dimension).

Apply a thin coat of contact cement to the longer 1-by-2s and the backs of two laminate strips. When the cement is ready (dry but still tacky to touch), attach the strips to the 1-by-2s (step 3). Be sure to align the better edges of the laminate flush with the bottoms of the 1-by-2 lips.

Tilt the strips into place from bottom to top, making sure they are straight and flush--you get only one chance with contact cement. Use a mallet or roller to secure the bond.

With 80-grit paper in your belt sander, sand the corners and top edges flush (steps 4 and 5). Always sand so the belt is pulling the laminate toward the wood. Corners are critical; keep a light touch and use the shorter 1-by-2s as the guide and base for the sander plate. Use the plywood the same way for the top.

Before you proceed, dust surfaces well. Then apply contact cement and attach the other two laminate strips in the same way, letting them hang over at the ends.

To finish the corners, set up your router with a laminate trimming bit. Using a piece of scrap laminate, make up a board to test the bit for the right setting. The bit trims the edge flush, with a slight bevel. Adjust the bit carefully so it leaves just the slightest lip where one laminate surface overlaps another (see drawing). This lip is filed flush later. (Trimming too close can cut into the overlapped laminate surface, making larger than desirable seams with dark-core laminates.)

With plywood top as guide, sand the top edges of the two new strips. Run your finger along the wood-and-laminate joints to make sure they're flush.

Dust and clean up your work area before continuing and make sure the space is well ventilated.

Complete the top

You should now be left with a piece of laminate about 1/2 inch larger than the finished top on all four sides. Using a throwaway brush, coat the unfinished wood top and the wrong side of the laminate with contact cement. Be careful to remove stray bristles off each surface or they'll show through the finished side.

When the cement dries, set five scrap sticks on the plywood top, then set the laminate cement-side-down on the sticks (step 6). Line up the laminate so it overhangs all four edges; working from one end to the other, start removing the sticks and setting the top onto the plywood. Roll or pound the top secure (step 7). Before routing, remove any protective coating.

Cut away the overhanging laminate with the router set as before (step 8; use a smooth continuous motion). File any sharp edges with a fine bastard file (step 9); the file clogs quickly, so clean it often with a file card. Brush all edge surfaces with the file, slightly rounding the seams; this lessens the likelihood that the laminate will catch on something later and pull away from the wooden subsurface.

Remove excess contact cement with lacquer thinner. Follow manufacturer's directions for cleaning the top.

Photo: Crisp-edged white table has plastic laminate top. Material is solid color throughout, so no seams show

Photo: 1. Nail and glue 1-by-2 lips to 3/4-inch plywood base. Let top edges and ends of lips protrude slightly

Photo: 2. Rip strips of laminate on table saw with fine plywood blade. Scrap plywood resting on the saw table supports laminate during pass

Photo: 3. Cement pair of laminate strips to longer 1-by-2s; set good edges of the laminate flush with bottoms of the 1-by-2s

Photo: Adjust router bit to leave a slight lip, file off later (step 9)

Photo: 4. Resting sander on a bare 1-by-2, sand protruding ends of laminate strips flush. Glue on other two strips and trim their ends with router

Photo: 5. With last two strips glued in place, level top edges by resting sander on plywood. Belt rotation should pull laminate toward wood

Photo: 6. Set cement-covered top on sticks over cement-covered plywood, align, and then remove sticks one by one to adhere top to wood

Photo: 7. Secure bond between laminate and plywood by tapping with rubber mallet, or press with roller, or pound scrap block on surface with hammer

Photo: 8. Rout top edges with laminate bit present when strip corners were trimmed. Move router counter-clockwise clockwise around top when cutting

Photo: 9. File all edges with fine bastard file so no burrs or sharp edges remain. Push file into stock with a downward motion only, at a slight angle
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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