Formica is a popular countertop choice made of a plastic laminate material. It is durable and comes in a variety of styles and colors, making it an ideal choice when improving your kitchen. While the material may look nice, I understand how it can be a struggle deciding how best to cut it and get it applied on your own. There are a lot of different methods for cutting, and a number of tools that are needed to get the job done.
With tools found around the workshop, you can learn how to cut formica. The process may seem lengthy, but it is worth it to have that hard, durable material sitting atop your countertops and on your cupboard doors, enhancing their look and appeal. I have the items required and steps to do so here.
Required Items for Cutting Formica:
- Formica Sheets
- Tape Measure, Pencil, and Masking Tape
- Circular Saw
- Contact Cement
- Belt Sander
- Small Metal File
1. Formica Sheets
Choosing the formica sheets needs to be done carefully. It is important that you find yourself a larger sheet than what is actually needed. This ensures there is plenty to work with, and enough to cut.
If you choose a piece that you believe will fit exactly in, it may end up being too small for the surface once the trimming is completed. It also does not leave you any extra in case there are creases that need to be covered. This is especially true if you are working on a corner section or need some for a backsplash.
Many come in 1/32 inch thickness, or a 1/16 inch thickness. They typically measure 3, 4, and 5 feet wide by 8, 10, or 12 feet long. Some stores will have smaller scrap pieces available so you can handle smaller projects. Others may have thicker material for a customized style.
It is best to choose a color and style that you will enjoy for years to come, as this process is time consuming. It will take several hours at the least to get it all completed. Some places allow you to pick up swatch samples so you can take them home and match the right color and style to your decor.
This is good to do so you are 100 percent sure you are picking the formica sheet that is right for you. Removing it will be a difficult process if you realize later on you chose the wrong style.
2. Tape Measure, Pencil, and Masking Tape
A tape measure is needed so you can measure out an appropriate size piece of formica that will fit better into the designated space. Measure the dimensions of the space where the formica is being placed, and then copy those measurements onto the formica piece.
After measurements are taken, a pencil should be used to help mark lines. Masking tape is then placed on top of that to help the lines stand out better, and make it more easily visible while you are making the necessary cuts.
Extra tape is needed at the edge of the piece where the saw will begin to cut. This ensures the cut begins in the right direction, and the table underneath is not cut. It is also wise to use masking tape to ensure your piece of formica does not end up with cracked or splitting ends. It essentially holds it in place and keeps it together while the cuts are being made.
A router is an alternative option. If you are going this route, you will need to leave the formica approximately ⅛ of an inch larger than you actually need. This ensures there is plenty for the machine to work with, and only the excess gets cut off by it.
3. Circular Saw
A circular saw does well to cut through formica. It should not be used to make circular shapes or fine adjustments. Instead, a circular saw is simply used to cut out the initial shape.
Additional adjustments should be left for a finer blade once the piece is laid on the designated surface. The saw will run along the length of the formica where the tape is located to cut the first dimension. It will then run along the width to cut the second dimension. You will be left with the appropriate sized formica sheet for your countertop.
Laminate shears are an alternative option. These are essentially heavy duty scissors that allow you to cut through laminate, formica, and similar plastic material. They are at an angle, and allow you to cut along the lines you have taped off easily.
This option works if it is all you have, but takes much longer to accomplish as it is all done by hand. The circular saw will have the cutting done quickly. You can purchase a pair of these for fairly cheap though, especially compared to a saw. That may be your best bet if you do not have the saw in your possession.
A utility knife is also another alternative. Using a straight edge, you can line up the mark appropriately and make your cuts all the way down the length of the formica.
Repeat this for the width of the material. This is an even more time consuming method, but if it is the only method you have to cut, then it will work fine for you. A utility knife is an even cheaper option than shears. You need to find a good pair that is durable, or it will be a tough task to get the small blade through the material.
4. Contact Cement
Contact cement is needed to help seal the formica to the surface you want it on. This is included in the cutting process because there is additional cutting and finishing that needs to be completed once the formica is set in its proper place.
With the cement added to both the formica sheet and the countertop or surface, you can place the piece down and have it sealed before the edges get trimmed. This ensures your piece is properly set and maintained.
Breathing protection should be used during this process. The smell of contact cement can be strong, and it is not ideal to breathe it into your lungs. A simple face mask will work fine to protect you during this time.
A full respirator is also a possible choice. You may also want to open the windows so you can air out the home. This will eliminate much of the smell and allow you to breathe easier.
A jigsaw works to trim the edges and make rounded cuts once the formica is installed in its right place. Fine blades are required so that the saw gets into all the necessary places and cuts the remaining material so the piece sets in properly.
A trim router with a laminate cutting bit is an alternative solution to the jigsaw. This type of router works to cut down the formica to exact size. The masking tape left on after the original cuts needs to be removed before this process can work properly.
6. Belt Sander
The jigsaw may be able to cut rounded edges, but it cannot leave them sanded smooth. That job is intended for a belt sander. There are hand-held belt sanders that you can hold in order to get a precise cut.
The sander should use a 100-grit belt to ensure the work is done effectively. The sander may be heavy to hold, so it will take a lot of slow work, patience, and a few breaks in between to get it all accomplished.
A small metal file can be used in place of the belt sander. Otherwise, both can be used to ensure an absolutely smooth finish around the edges. The metal file is used to smooth out all edges and make sure the corners are rounded out as necessary. This is done by hand, so it can be a lengthy task.
How to Cut Formica – Step by Step
Step 1. Measure Out Your Piece of Formica
Once you know what materials and tools are needed, and understand how they will be used during the step-by-step process, it is time to begin.
The first step is to measure out the piece of formica precisely. Take measurements of the countertop that the material will be placed on, and find the exact length and width you will need for your surface.
Once you have your piece measured according to your countertop dimensions, mark all lines with a pencil. Make sure it is dark enough so you can see it well, even when covered with tape. If pen is preferred, that is fine to use as well. Masking tape should then be placed over the cutting lines to help pinpoint precisely where it is you need to make your cuts.
Step 2. Cut Along the Measured Lines
Lay your taped formica on a durable surface that will not be cut by the saw. A piece of plywood can be put between the material and the table to help keep your surface free from scratches.
A circular saw is needed to cut along the cutting lines designated by the pencil and masking tape. It should only be used to cut the initial large piece, leaving the finer cutting to another device.
Step 3. Install the Formica on the Designated Surface
Before making any more cuts, the cut-out formica shape you already have should be set on the designated surface and properly installed. Contact cement is typically used for this. Place the formica face down on any surface, and cover the back with contact cement. A large paint brush helps spread it out evenly.
The contact cement should also be placed on the countertop or area where you will be placing the formica. It is then best to use dowels between the formica sheet and the cemented area. This allows you to get the sheet to sit correctly above the countertop before attempting to set it down.
Remove one dowel at a time and press down on the formica until is sealed to the space. You can use a mallet to help push down the formica and ensure it is properly bonded.
Step 4. Trim the Edges
Once your shape is properly installed and glued down, it is time to use the jigsaw to trim up the edges. A fine blade is needed on your jigsaw to ensure the job is done correctly. You need to go slowly around each edge to ensure just the right amount of the formica is taken off. You should not be making large cuts, but simply trimming up the edges so they fit right inside the space.
Step 5. Finish the Edges
Both a belt sander and a small metal file can be used to finish the edges once the formica is cut and set. The belt sander will be harder to hold as it weighs more, but the process will go faster. You may choose to use the belt sander around the edges once, and then go over them again with a small metal file to ensure no spots were missed. With the edges sanded or filed down, the formica is now set and properly completed.
Step 6. Admire Your Work
With the edges finished and the formica set, it is time to admire your work. The job is officially done, and you made it through cutting a formica sheet on your own. Congratulate yourself.
Tips from the Professionals
1. Wear Safety Glasses
While you may think you are making simple cuts and safety precautions are unnecessary, even the professionals say that safety glasses are needed.
Any time you work with cutting machines and are finishing materials, safety glasses should be worn to prevent any debris and excess pieces from getting into your eyes. Even one miniscule piece of dust from the act of cutting can get into your eye and cause damage, or at the very least, irritation.
2. Set Your Blade Appropriately
You cannot simply set your blade any way you see fit. There is a certain measurement you should stick to in order to make the process go smoothly. When setting your blade before cutting, make sure it is approximately ⅛ inch deeper than the thickest part of the counter or surface that you are working on. It is also best to have the blade ready at full speed before any cuts are made.
3. Use Downstrokes When Sanding
It is not wise to sand in any direction. The sander may pull up on the laminate you just laid. Instead, professionals say it is best to use downstrokes. This will sand the edges while keeping the material in its place.
This may be difficult to do with a larger sander, so many suggest using a simple metal file instead. It is more time consuming, but will leave the edges looking nice and neat, with all formica kept in place as you originally set it.
Let’s Get Cutting!
Did you enjoy the tutorial? I hope this answered your question of how to cut formica using tools found around the workshop. The job may be lengthy, but if I was able to get it done, so can you. A couple different saws will help you get the job done easy. Laminate shears also work wonders to cut through formica, as long as you find a good pair.