Applying laminates

Decorative laminates are made in a wide range of colours and designs. They provide durable, mostly stain-resistant and easily cleaned surfaces. In addition to plain colours, there is a range of simulated wood and marbled effects, tile patterns and random designs.

Decorative laminates are made from several sheets of compressed paper with a core of heavy brown kraft paper applied to a decorative surface paper. The material is resin-bonded under pressure and heat to produce a sheet of dense hard material. Uses. In the bathroom, laminates can be used for splashbacks, bath panels, hand-basin surrounds, shower cubicle lining, bathroom cupboards and in vanitory units. In the kitchen, they can be used for working surfaces, cupboard linings and facings, sink and cooker splashbacks. Kickboards, shelves and window sills. In other rooms, laminates can be used for shelves, window sills, bedroom furniture, table and desk tops, cupboards and on wardrobe doors. Caution: Some household cleaners (e.g. bleach) may stain laminates. Avoid placing very hot objects on a laminated surface.

Sizes. Laminate sheets are produced in varying widths and two thicknesses — 1.5 mm for hard-wearing surfaces and 1 mm for “balancing” use (i.e. for lining shelves and laminating the insides of cupboard doors).

Laminate can be bought cut to size but this usually costs around 50 per cent extra on the basic cost. Offcuts can often be bought cheaply for smaller jobs.

Storing. Always store laminate flat and clear of damp surfaces. Keep it indoors for 48 hours before use to adjust it to the room temperature.

Under-surfaces. Before applying laminate, ensure that the surface on to which it is to go is clean, dry, free from grease and rigid. Paint and varnish should be taken back to bare wood. Blockboard, plywood and chipboard are the best surfaces for laminating, since these provide a continuous surface without joints which could pull away with humidity fluctuations. Surfaces such as insides of cupboard doors should be given either two coats of paint or lined with balancing laminate to prevent the surface from warping.

Tools. Various tools cut laminate: a cutting knife (a handyman’s knife fitted with a laminate cutting blade); a piece of sharpened steel file; a laminate cutter (a tungsten-tipped tool which can cut deep lines in the laminate); a fine-toothed tenon or veneer saw — although extensive cutting will blunt saw teeth. A power jig saw can also be used and enables shapes or circles to be cut. Use a notched spreader to distribute adhesive over the surface. A felt-tipped pen makes a suitable marker.

Preparation. Lay the laminate sheet, decorative side upwards, on a flat surface, and allow an extra 3 mm all round for trimming. Use a template former or a card template to mark out awkward shapes.

Cutting. Laminate should be cut face side up.

1. Place a straight edge firmly along the cutting line and steady this with one hand.

2. Score gently from one end of the sheet to the other.

3. Repeat the process with increasing pressure until the under surface of the laminate shows in a clean, unbroken line.

4. You can either score completely or partly through the surface and then bend the laminate gently upwards to snap off the waste piece.

Sawing. The laminate should be placed on a firm surface, with the marked cut line projecting slightly over the edge. Clamp long sheets.

1. Score the surface with a knife. Use the saw at an angle not greater than 20 deg; any greater angle may cause vibration and edge-flaking.

2. Saw gently and, when you have nearly reached the end of the sheet, hold the off-cut piece as you complete sawing and, at the same time, straighten the saw angle.

3. Edges can be trimmed with a file or a sharp, finely set block plane or metal scraper. Use firm, sweeping strokes, working from the outside to the middle, when using the block plane. Adhesives. Three types of adhesive are suitable: contact adhesives, epoxy-based resins and synthetic resins. Ordinary contact adhesives require precise placing, as there is an instant bond between surfaces.

However, there are now types of contact adhesive which allow setting latitude and permit adjustments.

Contact adhesives demand quick and accurate work. Coat both mating surfaces and allow the adhesive to become touch dry. Use the spreader to apply the adhesive evenly on to both mating surfaces Ensure that there are no damp patches before bringing the surfaces together. As these may not adhere.

Synthetic resins allow adequate setting time.

1. Distribute adhesive over the surface until it runs out at the edges when under pressure.

2. Apply constant pressure to the entire surface until the edge droplets dry. These can then be trimmed off.

Epoxy resins are waterproof two-part adhesives, using a base and a hardener.

These should be brought firmly together under pressure and held until dry. Edgings. A laminate strip should be cut slightly over size to provide edgings. Stick these on in the same way as sheets. They can later be bevelled to produce a neat, dark line of the laminate core paper. Use a block plane at an angle to achieve this. If edgings are fixed first, less of the brown-paper core shows and there is less chance that the edge veneer may pull away.

In most situations when you are using non-contact adhesive, edgings can be held in place with adhesive tape while setting.

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