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BigJim 12-12-2012 03:55 PM

How To Build A Laminate Countertop
Building a Laminate CounterTop

The surface where the hpl is to be applied should be thoroughly sanded and cleaned. Any paint or varnish should be removed before the laminated plastic is applied. Plywood and fiber board or particle board can be used as a substrate, but fiber board and particle board will swell very easy if allowed to get wet.

Cutting Laminated Plastic

Plastic laminate material can be cut with a regular circular saw, table saw or you can use a carbon tipped scoring tool. If you use a circular saw, always cut from the back side of the laminated sheet, if using a table saw cut with the good side up. Important: Always cut the sheets of laminated plastic slightly oversize to allow for trimming, I usually allow 1/2 inch or more.

Special laminate cutting blades are available for cutting laminated plastic such as the carbon tip scoring tool. A straight edge or a steel square can be used to guide the knife for a smooth and even cut. After the sheet of laminated plastic has been scored, it can be snapped on the scored line by lifting the shorter end and applying a slight amount of pressure, be very careful, hpl usually has a razor sharp edge when broken or cut.


If it is necessary to make a seam, a clean joint can be made by overlapping the two sheets by approximately 3/4". Cut completely through the thickness of both sheets at this point of overlap.This must be done when dry fitting the hpl before any glue is applied. Be sure to clamp the hpl so it won't move while cutting.

Applying HPL Edging

If you wish to apply a self edge, the edging should be applied before the top hpl is applied. The top hpl should overlap the edging even if you wish to have a wooden edging. If you have a radius corner on the top you will need to heat the hpl at the point of the radius and secure it in a radius fashion and allow it to cool, once cool it should hold the radius shape. You can also sand the back of the edging at the radius, with a belt sander, to make the hpl thinner and make it easier to apply around the radius. Be careful not to sand too thin or the hpl could crack or break.

You will need to apply two or three coats of contact cement to the edge of the substrate, and the back of the hpl.. Let the glue dry to the touch, about 15-20 minutes, (depending on the temperature) on the substrate and the back of the hpl before applying to edge of substrate. Do not allow to let dry too long or the glue will not hold.

Be sure to have the hpl exactly where you want it, when the glued hpl touches the substrate it is there, no moving it around. Let the top edge of the hpl stick up above the top surface of the substrate by 1/8 inch or so, this is important, as you will need to sand the top edge back down flush with the top of the substrate. If you are unfamiliar with this process I recommend making pencil marks on the top of the substrate from the edging back about two or three inches all the way around where the edging is being glued. The reason for this is when sanding the edging with a belt sander it is much easier to see the pencil marks disappear when sanded enough. Once the pencil marks are sanded off, do not sand that area any more or you will not have a professional looking top.

Another tip for sanding the edging, hold the belt sander where the sander doesn't pull the edging loose, sand away from the edge with the sander pulling back onto the top, be careful not to dig in with the sander also. I use a 80 grit belt, anything finer will clog too quickly.

Applying Wooden Edging

Fasten the wood you chose to the front edge of the top, I usually use 3/4X 1 inch wood edging. Install the hpl so it over laps the wood edging. When cutting the profile on the wood edging the hpl will be cut at the same time. Be sure to file or sand the edge of the hpl as it is sharp.

Applying The Top HPL

Use coarse sandpaper (80 grit) to roughen the surface to be covered.

Brush the contact cement onto the counter surface after it is sanded. Also apply a smooth and even layer of contact cement to the back of the clean laminate sheet which is to be applied to the cemented area. Let both surfaces dry for approximately 15 -20 minutes before attempting to install the laminated sheet.

Usually one coat of cement on both the surface to be covered and the back of the laminated sheet is usually adequate for flat surface application.

A regular paint brush can normally be used for applying the contact cement to both the back of the laminated sheet and the flat surfaces. However, in some cases a hand-made paddle of wood may be more desirable for spreading the cement. If a large area is to be covered I use a solvent resistant paint roller.

After the 15-20 minute drying period, you are ready to place the laminated sheets into position. However, you must keep the laminated sheet and the cemented substrate apart, don't let them touch until they are correctly positioned.

Narrow strips of wood can usually be used to keep the two glued surfaces apart, Lay the strips of wood across the top, from front to back, about 15 inches or so apart leaving enough of the wooden strips hanging out the front to be able to remove them. Once the hpl is properly positioned on the sticks and with enough of the hpl overhanging all edges to allow for trimming, the sticks can be removed. Start in the middle, remove the first stick and press the hpl down onto the substrate from front to back. Continue removing the sticks one at a time and pressing the hpl from the middle toward the ends keeping all air from being trapped causing air pockets.

Once all the sticks are removed and the hpl is pressed into place, you can use a roller made for hpl, or you can use a rolling pen, or you can use a piece of wood and mallet to make sure you have no air pockets under the hpl.


After the hpl is pressed in place with all the air pockets removed, the edges must be trimmed. You can use a router with a flush cutting bit with a bearing on the end of the cutter. You can use a full size router or a small trim router, either will work. If you chose to use a router bit for hpl without a bearing, you must be very careful to not allow the bit to get hot as it will damage the edging. With this type bit it is recommended to use some type of petroleum jelly applied where the bit will ride against the hpl edging, even then be very careful not to let the bit heat up.

Once again, be careful the hpl edges will be very sharp. Using a good file, (preferably an hpl file) file the edges holding the file almost straight up but back about 10 or 15, hold at about 45 from side to side, confused. OK hold the file flat against the front of the edging so the file is standing straight up. Now lean the file to the right to about 45, now lean the file back on toward the top about 10 or 15. that is about the compound angle that works best for me. Be sure the File is cutting on the down stroke not upward. Keep watching the glue right at the very edge where the top hpl meets the edging. When filing and you see the glue is removed by filing at that edge, that area is done, don't file that spot any more or you will file through the finish of the hpl and it will look really bad.

Clean up

Acetone or lacquer thinner works best for me. I would suggest using gloves as this solvent will dry out your skin especially in the winter. Do not flood the hpl with solvent as it could get under the hpl to the glue and loosen the glue up.


r0ckstarr 02-01-2013 06:39 AM

I'm planning to do this in April. I have been reading as much as possible, and watching how-to videos on Youtube. It seems pretty straightforward. I'll be using a trim router to cut the laminate.

My question is, which type of plywood should I choose, and how thick? HomeDepot has Sanded Pine plywood and I was thinking about using that, assuming that it would have a flat and level surface to apply the laminate to.

I'll be using Wilsonart laminate with bevel edge trim along the sides.

BigJim 02-01-2013 10:34 AM

I wouldn't go any lower than sanded plywood, the decking grade is not good enough. 3/4 inch is standard. You can go with the fiber core but be aware if it gets wet it will swell like crazy, that is the reason I stay away from it and the edges soak up the glue badly.

I always add a strip to the front and back of the 3/4 inch to make the edges 1 1/2 inch thick so you will need to strip out the rest so the top will sit level.

r0ckstarr 02-01-2013 04:33 PM

Thanks. I will have a dishwasher sitting under one end of it. What would you recommend to keep the steam and moisture off of the wood? Polyurethane Primer?

BigJim 02-01-2013 05:01 PM


Originally Posted by r0ckstarr (Post 1107447)
Thanks. I will have a dishwasher sitting under one end of it. What would you recommend to keep the steam and moisture off of the wood? Polyurethane Primer?

That is what I do, but only on the under side, the poly and HPL glue don't get along to well.

r0ckstarr 02-01-2013 05:08 PM


Originally Posted by BigJim (Post 1107469)
That is what I do, but only on the under side, the poly and HPL glue don't get along to well.

As far as them not getting along well, should I put the poly on first and let it dry completely, or do the laminate side first?

r0ckstarr 03-26-2013 06:57 PM


Originally Posted by BigJim (Post 1107144)
I wouldn't go any lower than sanded plywood, the decking grade is not good enough.

Is there anything better to use than sanded plywood?

Also, I went to get some polyurethane sealer, and accidentally got Spar Urethane. Should I return it for actual Poly, or will this do?

I was reading on the differences between the 2, and from my understanding, Spar is more for outdoor use in wet environments. I would think that it would be fine on the underside of a countertop, to protect it from the dishwasher, but felt it was better to ask first.

BigJim 03-26-2013 09:10 PM

AC plywood or BC would be really good, I stay away from the big boxes plywood, it will separate most times. I use to us import birch or a paint grade birch is a good plywood also.

I think you will be fine to use that as a sealer.

r0ckstarr 03-26-2013 09:49 PM

There's a small lumber yard nearby that sells birch, red oak, and maple cabinet grade plywood. I do not know if it is AC, but your info definately helps. I didn't know what AC plywood was until now (just googled it). Thanks!

SmithTitos 04-03-2013 04:52 AM

can any body tell me what is the age of laminated countertops?

BigJim 04-03-2013 05:21 AM

HPL was thought about back in the 1800s but didn't really hit it big until around 1920 when a couple of engineers for Westinghouse invented the plastic and started their own company named Formica, the rest is history.

framer52 04-03-2013 07:12 AM

Jim, you don't use temblem under your laminate?

BigJim 04-03-2013 08:00 AM


Originally Posted by framer52 (Post 1151439)
Jim, you don't use temblem under your laminate?

I am not familiar with that, is that a new product on the market?

framer52 04-03-2013 08:13 AM


Originally Posted by BigJim (Post 1151458)
I am not familiar with that, is that a new product on the market?

No, but it is the recommended product to install laminate on.

it is a high density particle board which is specked as the proper underlayment for laminate counters.:thumbsup:

BigJim 04-03-2013 12:31 PM

I know particle board is a lot better today than it use to be but I personally wouldn't use it because of the way it was in the past, get it wet and it is history. I guess old habits are hard to break.

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