Dozens of major manufacturers make plastic laminate for use on cabinets and countertops. Arborite is a Canadian company that offers a full line of laminate products. All laminates share common characteristics in their makeup and the way they respond to tools. The tool used for cutting depends on the step you are working on in the multistage installation process. Rough-cut laminate first, then seam or trim it and, finally, finish the edge.
Most craftsmen like to cut laminate pieces about 1/2 inch larger all around than the install face. This provides room for alignment once the contact cement is ready. The best and fastest tool for the job is a table with a fine tooth blade. Set the depth to about 1 inch, so that more of the teeth are in contact with your material than at a deeper setting. This provides a smoother cut with less chipping. The next best way is the low-tech method of using a utility knife and straight edge to score the laminate's back, then snapping it off along a table edge.
In some cases, you must cut a piece to match up to another surface directly. This is the case when refitting an existing counter top along the back edge. Use a router with a flush cut bit to make this cut. Clamp a straight-edged board, or metal straight edge underneath the laminate for the bearing to ride along and cut the edge from right to left. Small seams can be made by scoring with a utility knife and breaking. This only works well for cuts in pieces narrower than 12 inches, as chipping along the edge is common when snapping scored laminate.
Once you have applied the contact cement and your laminate is in place, cut the excess off flush with the mounting material, or substrate. Use a router with a flush-cut bearing bit for best results. Set the depth to 1/4 inch, so that the bearing will ride just under the bottom of the laminate against the edge of the substrate. Move the router counterclockwise around the face. Use a file to remove this edge, but be aware it is very time-consuming and results will not be as good. Run the file vertically, with one edge cutting the laminate as the face of the file rides against the edge of the substrate.
Typical countertop installations will have an edge piece, with the top installed above it. This seam requires a finish cut to smooth out the edge and prevent it from being snagged and pulled loose. You can use a laminate trimmer, which is essentially a small router with a specialized base and guide fence, with a small cove bit to round this edge over. This arrangement requires a brand new or freshly sharpened bit, and a very careful alignment of the guide fence to get good results. The best method is to use a mill bastard file set at a 45 degree angle to the edge, with its top angled 45 degrees to the right. Run the file from left to right with light pressure to trim the edge and bevel it in one cut.
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