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budd's picture

formica (post #85598)

Im building formica cabients, with formica inside and out. Any tips on building them ,do i build them then put the formica on, or formica each piece then put them together.thank you for any tips..

mvflaim's picture

(post #85598, reply #1 of 21)

Most commercial made laminated/Formica cabinets are made with Melamine. It's a white paper coated type of particle board you buy at a cabinet supply house. You don't have to laminate the inside at all. Just the outside.  

The majority of the time, you laminate the outside of the cabinet after it's assembled. The only time you would want to laminate before assembly is if there are any edges of the board that will be exposed like a shelf or the edges of a bookcase.

The process of laminating is pretty simple. Just make sure you do it in a well ventilated area or outside because the glue will mess you up. Use contact cement and roll or brush it on both the wood and the laminate and wait for about 5 minutes for it to dry enough that it's tacky.

Make sure your laminate is oversized by at least 1" on each side because if you cut it too close or too small, once you lay the laminate on top of the wood, there's no chance to get it back off.

Use stickers (thin sticks or dowels) and place them on the wood about six inches apart all across the area you're laminating. Then place your laminate on top of the stickers and move your laminate around so that the entire area of wood will be covered once laid. Start in the middle by removing one sticker, then work to the outer edges removing the stickers as you go. Keep pressing from the middle out to remove any air bubbles.

Once the laminate is on the wood, use a J roller and work from the middle out rolling the laminate as flat as possible. Once fully rolled out, take a flush trim router bit and trim the excess laminate off the wood.

If you're doing adjacent corners (like a shelf) rub wax on the edge that is already laminated before you trim the top to avoid burning the edge with the router bit. Take a file and carefully file the edge smooth so that you can't feel any burrs of laminate between the edge and the top. Don't get overly aggressive with the file or you'll burn the edge of the laminate and you won't have a clean looking line running down the edge.

Hope it helps... Mike

Edited 6/25/2007 11:10 pm ET by mvflaim

kenshep's picture

(post #85598, reply #2 of 21)

I've done a little bit of formica work lately for shop cabinents.  I put it on mdf and particle board.  I found that the combo blade on my TS cut it nicely.  I'd buy a big sheet of it, attach it to a 4x8 sheet of mdf or particle board and see how you like working with it.  If it chips too much or you would rather trim laminate on the 40 edges (assumes inside and outside of top, sides, bottom and door) required to make a cabinet, knock yourself out.  I find this a dirty and unhealthy job.  I like the other poster's idea of buying melamine and fabricating from this material.

If you don't like the results, you have good material for your chop saw wings, a glue up table, a router table top or a table saw extension table.




nikkiwood's picture

(post #85598, reply #3 of 21)

Since melamine sheets are inexpensive, and available is a wide variety of colors (the less common colors have to be special ordered), I can't imagine why you would want to go the trouble and expense of using a countertop laminate.

You could use a laminate for the end of your cabinet runs, and generally, if you order from the same source you can get a laminate color that will match the melamine color you have chosen.

"It is what we learn after we think we know it all, that counts."

John Wooden 1910-

*** "It is what we learn after we think we know it all, that counts." John Wooden ,1910-2010

ring's picture

(post #85598, reply #4 of 21)

1. If you can substitute melamine then you're in a different ballgame. However, melamine doesn't have anything like the abrasion or chemical resistance that formica does.

2. If you do need to work with formica, the easiest thing is to glue up whole 4x8 sheets onto your substrate. If you need only one side formica, there is a cheap white formica used especially for gluing the "back" sides. This equilibrium is important, especially if you're using ply substrate.

3. Cut the glued up sheet to size using a scoring blade if you can. In any case, use a very sharp 80T blade, with the good side of the sheet facing up on the TS.

4. Get matching formica edgebanding, or rip it yourself from the stock and do all the edges of the parts before making the cabinet.

Nathan Barnard's picture

(post #85598, reply #5 of 21)

Start with a good laminate blade (80t), laminate router & bit.

Here's what I'd do:

  • laminate one side of sheet

  • cut the pieces & laminate edges

  • assemble cabinets with screws (back and sides) - orient the formica on interior

  • laminate the outside surfaces

P.S. You might be able to get away with laminating both sides of top/bottoms and backs sheets (before those pieces are cut), and just covering the sides after assembly.

Charge extra $$ for the extra labour.


JohnWW's picture

(post #85598, reply #6 of 21)

You might find it cheaper and faster to have a pro laminate shop produce some slightly oversized panels with the lamination work done on both faces, and then do the final cutting, assembly, and edge work yourself. 

John W.

John White Shop Manager for FWW Magazine, 1998 to 2007

Nathan Barnard's picture

(post #85598, reply #7 of 21)

Hi John,

How would you assemble the cabinets and cover the holes (if any)?


Nathan Barnard's picture

(post #85598, reply #10 of 21)

David, can you comment on how you cover your screw holds, or if not screws - how you assemble the cases? I would like to know if there is any alternative in this application.

I've used a seperate side panels, laminate on exposed ends, and biscuit the exposed cabinet side panel. Would be nice to have an alternative where you could use full pre laminated sheets and just edge the parts.

Nathan Barnard

ring's picture

(post #85598, reply #11 of 21)

A few options:

1.  We very often make cabinets with double walls - commonly 2 thicknesses of 3/4" sheets which get a 1 1/2" face frame.  In this case we join all the parts using the inner wall only, which allows screws, staples, anything you please from the outside.  Last, we add the outer wall and face frame it.  We do a lot of cabinets this way that have formica inside and veneer outside.

2.  We use dowel joints for cabinets where the above is not feasible.  We have a Mafell double-doweller which is very nice and quick, but you can do them the old-fashioned way perfectly well.  If you're using MDF substrate under the formica it takes dowelling very well IMO, better than screws.

3.  On the ouside corners of the carcase you can do mitered corners with biscuits or dowels, but only if you've got a top-notch table saw with scorer that will cut a flawless 45° crosscut.  If your saw isn't up to it, don't try this.  Better to butt joint (with dowels) and edgeband the exposed edges than to do a less-than-perfect miter.



Nathan Barnard's picture

(post #85598, reply #17 of 21)


Thanks for the great tips. I do frameless so #1 isn't an option for me.

How do you deal with glueing the dowelled joints on exposed ends (band clamps, etc.), and how long do they have to set up? Glueing seems to be a bottleneck to the process.

P.S. The portable Mafell doweller seems to be a pretty slick rig. Suprised it hasn't shown up more around here (knots).


ring's picture

(post #85598, reply #18 of 21)

I'm not sure I understand the question - "How do you deal with glueing the dowelled joints on exposed ends".

We clamp them up using anything that works. Using 6 or 8 dowels on a typical carcase joint we find that once the parts are pulled down tight they don't release. We take the clamps off 10-15 minutes after it's all together.

The problem with the Mafell doweller is (like the Domino) - the pricetag. It's a good investment if you really use it, but hard to justify for weekend WW's.

9619's picture

(post #85598, reply #19 of 21)

For dowelling, have you tried the DowelMax? It is a precision instrument. I have had one for a few years. I learned to make raised panel door frames using dowels decades ago. I was using my old Stanley doweling jig. It worked fine. It was hard to get more than two dowels lined up well with it, but I have never had a door frame fail. Then I saw the DowelMax. You can find it at:
or you can buy it on Amazon, but it comes directly from its inventor/maker.

With the DowelMax, I can make a drawer that is about five inches deep, and put the four sides together with five or six dowels in each joint, all perfectly placed and aligned. You might ask why I would use so many dowels? Just to test the limits of the system.

You might ask, as many have, Why use dowels at all? Dowels have a lot of inherent problems. Not a lot of long grain gluing surface. They expand and contract with the seasons and with time they become oval rather than round, and the joint weakens. I have read lots of "university studies" on what happens to dowels over time, and they are all bad. But that stuff is all theoretical. My experience of more than 40 years is that I have never had a dowel joint fail. So much for theory.

But I only use dowels once in a while now. I use mortise and tenon, and dovetails, all handmade. Why? because it takes longer and for me, woodworking is only a hobby, not a profession.

But if you do any doweling, I suggest that you get on the DowelMax website and give Jim Lindsay a call. He is a phenomenal engineer. The DowelMax is a joy to hold and look at as well as to use. It is absolutely precision work, and it is right out of aerospace engineering. I guess I use dowels every once in a while, just to be obstinate, and to go against the grain of the woodworking community.

Hope you enjoyed this. Hope you find that a DowelMax is a good investment. If you do, or even if you don't, please let me know.


Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

9619's picture

(post #85598, reply #8 of 21)

this is irrelevant but fun. Do you know where the term "Formica" comes from? Formica used to be called "Micarta", but the company that sold the rights to make Micarta did not sell the name Micarta. So the new owners came up with the term "Formica" which is a contraction of "formerly micarta".
That and $3 will get you a cup of coffee, but it is a fun fact.

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

joinerswork's picture

(post #85598, reply #13 of 21)


Did you know that ants communicate by depositing formic acid along theit trail?  That is why formica countertops are so attractive to ants.  My story and I'm sticking to it.


9619's picture

(post #85598, reply #14 of 21)

I agree on the ants.
Another subject.
Do you know a furniture maker named Charles Neil? He lives in your neck of the woods.

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

joinerswork's picture

(post #85598, reply #20 of 21)


I'm not personally acquainted with Charles Neil (Ownby I believe his last name is).  I've seen a piece or two of his work, at a fundraiser we both donated to, it looked pretty good.  Last I heard of him, he was trying to sell a fancy secretary by auction, after a reception with hors d'oevres etc.  I never heard how that went.

See you,


9619's picture

(post #85598, reply #21 of 21)

Thanks. As the Program Chair for the Washington Woodworkers Guild, I have met a bunch of people that I wouldn't normally have run into. Charles had given a talk to the WWG a while back, but wanted to come back and give talk on how to make cabriole legs. So he is going to do that at our July meeting. I looked at his website and saw some stuff that is very impressive to me. Then I met him at the local Woodcraft store last week. He has some new CDs out and he was selling them. I asked him if he knew you, and he said that he knew of you. Your part of Virginia grows some great woodworkers. Maybe it is something in the water. Who knows? Maybe it is something else. I hear that everyone in that part of Virginia is related. So maybe it is genetic.


Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

brucet999's picture

(post #85598, reply #15 of 21)

"Do you know where the term "Formica" comes from?"

You mean it wasn't named for a genus of ants? :)

byhammerandhand's picture

(post #85598, reply #16 of 21)

Nah, that's Formican Termites

Boy has this thread spun out of control.

JohnWW's picture

(post #85598, reply #9 of 21)

I wasn't thinking the entire process through, so if you were planning to use screws from the outside of the case to do the assembly then my suggestion won't work.

Just out of curiosity, do you have any experience with using plastic laminates?  I'm asking because the job you are proposing is labor intensive, moderately expensive for materials, and technically very challenging to do with almost no room for mistakes.  I have a fair amount of laminate experience and I would have to think twice about building a set of cabinets with all surfaces laminated in the shop.

John White, Shop Manager, Fine Woodworking Magazine

John White Shop Manager for FWW Magazine, 1998 to 2007