Choosing working surfaces

Working surfaces must be hard wearing, easily cleaned and hygienic. Plastic has now become almost universal, and the only real question is how to apply it.

Plastics are available in self-adhesive sheets, as coatings to plywood or other boards, or as prepared thin sheets for sticking down. There are also plastic paints which are very tough indeed.

Plastic is a general name. Not all plastics are by any means the same, so it is not enough just to apply the first variety that comes to hand on to a surface where hot pans are likely to be placed.

For general use, where wear is not hard, such as an easy-to-clean surface for shelves, self-adhesive sheet has much to commend it. Properly applied to a smooth dry surface it will last for years. The colours and patterns now obtainable are similar to those of the very much more expensive solid sheeting. In planning a kitchen, for instance, it is a sensible measure to choose patterns which are duplicated both in self-adhesive rolls and in the tough sheets. In this way you can match up shelf surfaces, door fronts, hard wearing work-tops for cabinets and so on without being forced to buy the dearest sheets for everywhere.

Solid sheeting like Formica, which is almost indestructible and remains attractive virtually for ever, is applied to any smooth, solid surface, such as blockboard, by Contact Adhesive. You should guide it into place exactly in the way for the contact glueing of backs.

Ready-surfaced boards are useful for doors, especially the outer faces of framed double-skin doors.

There is one disadvantage with all these very tough surfaces that is not immediately obvious. This is simply their permanence! It is very important to choose the right colours at the start, as you are going to be stuck with them for years. If you apply a bright red Formica to all your kitchen work tops, you are going to find it difficult to make any great change in your kitchen colour scheme. It is best to choose neutral shades, black and white mottle, white, grey texture and so on, for the long-life surfaces. These will blend happily with any colour alterations you may want to make later.

By far the cheapest way to get tough working surfaces is to use paint, using one of the special Polyurethane based plastic paints, carefully sandpapered down between coats. Give sheet blockboard several coats of this and you will have a gay, extremely tough and easy-to-clean surface at a very low price. Moreover, it can be as bright as you like because it can always be repainted later. But you must be prepared to work at the finishing. Repeated sanding between coats will be called for.

To sum up, paint is versatile, tough and cheap. Self-adhesive rolls of plastic are satisfactory where wear is not great, but if you choose a matching sheet plastic such as Formica to use on those parts that do take rough usage, you will have mode the best of both worlds.

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