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Winter 2013-2014

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Working with Melamine

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Working with Melamine

It's dirt cheap, it's practical, and best of all, there's no sanding and finishing!

by Dave Munkittrick

Melamine is the professional cabinetmaker’s best friend. Build a cabinet with it and you have a complete, durable interior that requires no sanding (yes!) and no finishing (oh, yeah!). Pros often build whole kitchens out of melamine and then dress the boxes with plywood end panels and solid-wood fronts. The bright melamine cabinet interiors are easy to search, stain resistant and tough as nails. Entertainment centers and home office, laundry-room or mudroom cabinets are also made with melamine. Most home centers carry melamine shelving with the edge banding already on. Just buy or make shelf supports and you’re in business.

Melamine has found a home in many a woodshop. The durable, slick surface is perfect for jigs, fences, outfeed tables and router tables. I use it in my shop as an assembly table cover. Glue drips pop right off and the slick surface makes it easy to slide around heavy assemblies. It’s not as durable as plastic laminate for high-wear surfaces such as countertop and desktops, but it’s plenty tough for shop use.

Still not sold on melamine? How about saving money? It’s about half the cost of birch plywood. Not only that, but you get better yield from a sheet of melamine than from veneer sheet stock. That’s because you don’t have to worry about grain direction. Better yield at a lower cost—you save both ways.

Here are some tips on how to make this staple material of the modern cabinetmaker work perfectly for you!


Go Beyond Basic White

White melamine is by far the most common, but basic colors, like black, almond and wood grain, can be special-ordered from most home centers or lumberyards that carry the white. Melamine comes in a wide range of thicknesses. Home centers not only carry 3/4-in. and 5/8-in. sheets for cabinet construction and shelving, but they often have 1/2-in. for drawer parts and 1/4-in. stock for backs and drawer bottoms.




Wear Gloves!

Gloves are a must when handling large sheets of melamine. We recommend a pair of Kevlar® gloves. Kevlar is designed to protect the user from slicing cuts. Surprisingly, they’re inexpensive ($5) and the rubber dots or stripes help you get a grip on the slippery melamine surface.




Stop the Chip-Out Monster

Chip-out on the bottom edge is a common problem when you use a general-purpose blade to cut melamine. Sometimes one rough edge doesn’t matter, but when you need a perfectly clean edge on both sides, you have a couple options. The first is to make a 1/16-in.-deep scoring cut on the bottom of the piece (see photo, below). Turn the saw off and crank up the blade to finish the cut. The result is a perfectly clean cut on both surfaces.

The second solution is a laminate-cutting blade (above), which gives you perfectly clean edges on both sides, without a scoring cut. If you cut a lot of melamine, these blades are well worth the investment.





Use Your Router To Drill Holes

Drilling for adjustable shelves can be a problem in melamine. A sharp brad-point bit will make a clean hole, but the melamine is hard on the cutting edges and a typical bit will quickly dull. Production shops use special carbide-tipped bits that are expensive and hard to find.

For the weekend builder, the best way to drill holes in melamine is to use a router. A simple jig and a plunge router with a 5/8-in. guide bushing is the way to go. Use a 1/4-in. carbide down-spiral bit for flawless holes.

The jig is simply a piece of 1/2-in. plywood with a series of 5/8-in. holes spaced at 2-in. intervals. Clamp the jig flush with the case side, set the bushing in the first hole and plunge. Repeat the process until all the holes are drilled.




A Tongue Makes Dado Joints Easier

Routers are great for cutting dadoes in melamine, because it assures a chip-free cut. Unfortunately, melamine is about 1/128-in. over 3/4-in. As a result, if you try to use a 3/4-in. router bit to cut a dado, it’ll be slightly undersized—not a pretty picture come assembly time. You can get around this by making a 1/2-in. dado and creating a 1/2-in. tongue on the ends of the shelf with a rabbeting bit.




Reinforce Joints with Melamine Glue

Typical wood glue won’t bond at all to melamine’s slick surface. That leaves you with a weakened glue joint where melamine meets particleboard. Fortunately, you can buy specialized glue that will bond melamine to a porous surface like particleboard. This is especially critical on more delicate joints, for instance, those used to construct a drawer.




Cover Unsightly Holes

The easiest way to cover exposed screw heads is with Fast Cap self-stick caps. These discs come in typical melamine colors and they’re a cinch to apply--just peel and stick.




Throw Away Your Iron

Melamine needs to be edged for a finished look. You can use iron-on edging, but self-stick edging is faster, easier and incredibly strong. Just peel, stick and give it a pass with a wood block or roller to push the adhesive into the particleboard. Maximum strength is obtained in a week.One swipe with a double-sided edge trimmer cuts the tape flush.




Flush-Fit Caps Appear Invisible

A flush-fit screw cap looks a whole lot better than the surface-applied caps. Plus, they are less prone to getting knocked off. The FlushMount carbide drill bit cuts a shallow 9/16-in.-dia. countersink for the self-stick cap. An adjustable brad-point bit protruding through the center of the carbide bit drills the pilot hole. Both bits can be adjusted for depth of cut. Just drill, screw and cover. The caps are almost invisible. The same system can be used on wood-veneered sheet stock.




Repair, Don’t Despair

Small nicks and gouges are easy to fix using SeamFil. It works just like wood filler but it’s designed for plastic. Just work a little into the wound and scrape it flush using a putty knife. After the filler dries, use a utility razor to remove any excess. It makes a quick, easy repair that’s only noticeable at close range.















Sources

(Note: Source information may have changed since the original publication date.)

All Safety Equipment & Supplies, AllSafetySupplies.com, 888-739-1080,  Kevlar gloves, #SS-GLK600PD2, $5. 

Woodworker’s Supply, woodworker.com, 800-645-9292,  Freud LU97 double-sided laminate blade, #117-386, $90. 

MLCS, mlcswoodworking.com, 800-533-9298, 1/4-in. spiral down-cut bit, # 5177, $14. 

Woodworker’s Hardware, wwhardware.com, 800-383-0130,  8 oz. RooClear melamine glue, #R8012, $4; 16 oz. Titebond Melamine Glue, #F4014, $7; 50-ft. roll of white 15/16-in. self-stick tape, #FCFESP 1516 50WH, $14; Double-sided hand edge trimmer, #VIAU 93, $13; SeamFil, 1-oz. squeeze tube:  white #K901, black #K914, almond #K941, $4 ea.

McFeely’s, mcfeelys.com, 800-443-7937, 52 white PVC peel and stick caps, #FCS-6100, $2;  FlushMount carbide drill bit, #FCS-6050, $40; 52 white PVC peel and stick caps, #FCS-6100, $2.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2004, issue #109.



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Comments

Ricky Johnson wrote re: Using Melamine
on 03-15-2009 8:31 AM

Don't forget; When cutting malamine always wear a dust mask.

MikeH wrote re: Using Melamine
on 04-11-2009 8:49 AM

I'm building a typical narrow bedroom closet tower using oak pattern 3/4 mel over particleboard not MDF. I want simple method to join sides with top, bottom and middle fixed shelves.

clothing rods will run from outer sides of tower to wall. Prefer KD assembly.  What KD fixture do you recommend ? Any instructional sources you can point me to ?

Thanks

wcmbjm wrote re: Using Melamine
on 04-14-2009 11:01 PM

I can't find a supplier in my area.....Melbourne, FL...

Is there anyone in my area that can help, send e-mail to me at bandb@cfl.rr.com.

hbratton wrote re: Using Melamine
on 04-28-2009 5:39 AM

working with melamine is tricky.n im no expert at that.im used to making wood kitchen n doors..but malamine is gaining popularity here in manila.can u please share w/ me tips on what screw other methods they used in joining melamine n jigs for making they joining set-up.edge banding and me boards are available here in manila....thanks you....chavezeric48@yahoo.com

yves castonguay wrote re: Using Melamine
on 06-30-2009 5:02 PM

I tried the 1/16-in. scoring thecnique but it does not

always give 100% perfect results and I wasted some

material.So next large project I will get a laminate cutting blade.( I used a crosscut blade that was re-

cently sharpened and yes the guide on my table is

perfectly parallele to the blade.)

yves castonguay wrote re: Using Melamine
on 06-30-2009 5:02 PM

I tried the 1/16-in. scoring thecnique but it does not

always give 100% perfect results and I wasted some

material.So next large project I will get a laminate cutting blade.( I used a crosscut blade that was re-

cently sharpened and yes the guide on my table is

perfectly parallele to the blade.)

ghostcreek wrote re: Using Melamine
on 09-10-2009 10:08 AM

The only way to get clean cuts is use a blade made for Melamine. I struggled with my usual blades, but once I got the Laminate cutting blade, WOW my cuts are perfect. Remember, wear a dust mask and eye protection (cutting melamine produces lots of little chips that fly everywhere. For quick touch up's on white melamine, try "white-out". It matches good, and can cover small nicks and scratches. Gorilla glue is great for edge gluing, I have a sample glue-up piece that has lasted 8 years!

Milo George wrote re: Using Melamine
on 11-06-2009 1:48 PM

I did some revamping on some standard closets and made sports lockers for my grandsons. I used biscuits to join the pieces. The blade made a great joint and it looked good.

closetsnbeyond wrote re: Working with Melamine
on 01-18-2011 12:33 AM

The information found here is very helpful. <a href="http://www.closetsnbeyond.com">Cabinets NJ</a> or other wood working projects can be built following the instructions provided here. Nice work!

Bob Brennan wrote re: Working with Melamine
on 04-29-2011 7:56 AM

Don't like the stuff had to many problems with it sagging, screws not holding over time if moved around to much and trying to remove wood glue after it sets is another chore to rekon with if your not careful. If it gets wet it can be a disasterious nightmare but that's probably just a fluke that I ran into, maybe you will have better luck!