Plastic laminate is used to cover countertops and cabinet panels, including door fronts and drawer faces. Once adhered to the substrate, laminate makes a rugged, long-lasting surface. Its stiff nature and minimal thickness --- typically 1/16 inch --- make laminate brittle, and care must be taken to prevent chipping and cracks when cutting. Laminate comes in 4-foot by 8-foot sheets that are typically cut down to slightly oversized panels, which are then applied with contact cement before the excess is routered off for smooth edges.
Measure all of the panels you will be applying laminate to. Sketch out your laminate sheet on paper and draw in the pieces you intend to cut from a single sheet. Draw all pieces at least ½ inch larger in all directions than is actually needed. Place identical pieces next to each other, and allow pieces that are close in size to share edges as well, cutting them a little larger if needed to make the fewest cuts possible. Try to arrange the pieces so that large blocks can be cut and then separated into individual pieces.
Set your table saw fence to the width of the largest block of pieces. Cut your laminate panel widthways first to make it easier to handle. If your saw table is wide enough, set the fence so that the larger section of the laminate passes between the fence and blade to minimise the chance of the piece kicking back due to the drag of the offcut piece. Set the blade to a depth of 1 inch. Setting the blade deeper will increase chipping.
Start the saw and feed the sheet over the blade, with the end firmly against the face of the fence and the sheet pressed down on the table. Keep the sheet moving forward at a steady pace, working to keep the leading edge --- or front edge of the offcut piece --- even with the rest of the sheet. Do not allow the front corner of the fence end to come off the fence. If the fence end comes off the fence it will cause the blade to grab, pulling the sheet on top of the blade and skipping it backward in what is known as a kickback. Turn the saw off at the first sign of difficulty by pressing the stop switch.
Make your remaining cuts, working it into smaller blocks and then cutting apart the individual pieces, working from largest to smallest.
Cut edges that will butt up to each other with a router and flush cut bearing bit. Install the bit and set the depth so that the bearing will ride on the edge of a ¾-inch-thick piece of hardwood.
Measure and mark the laminate where the seam will be. Use C clamps to attach a straightedged piece of hardwood long enough to protrude on either side of the laminate to the underside of the laminate, perfectly aligned with the seam line you drew.
Start the router and run left to right, with the bearing of the bit against the face of the ¾-inch-thick straightedge. Keep the router moving steadily to complete the cut in one fluid motion.
Repeat this process with the laminate for the other side of the seam for a perfectly straight seam.
Clamp a strip of 1/8-inch-thick hardboard to the table with one edge against the saw fence to prevent the laminate from slipping under the edge of the fence.
Tips and warnings
- Clamp a strip of 1/8-inch-thick hardboard to the table with one edge against the saw fence to prevent the laminate from slipping under the edge of the fence.