Bank Job (Refacing Laminate)

Thoughts about the pitfalls and difficulties involved in resurfacing a whole bankful of laminate countertops. February 23, 2008

We are looking at refacing some commercial casework. We have done several kitchens but thought this might be a little different procedure (prep)... Should we block sand with 32 grit, or would it be worth using a Festool ro150? Wash down with lacquer thinner? Considering postform laminate and standard grade for edges. Any pointers?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surfacing Forum)
From contributor A:
Take a piece of the old laminate, sand through the color layer and measure with a micrometer to get a total thickness of clear coat and color coat. Do the same with the new laminate. Warn the customer if there is a major difference between the two. We did some 23 year old dental cabs and found that the old stuff was 5 times thicker where it mattered. Consider warning the customer about service life expectancy of the new laminate. You probably already know this, but heat works really well to get the old stuff off.

From contributor M:
I refaced the laminate in a bank once. It turned into a small nightmare that seemed like it would never end. Some things you might want to keep in mind that you don't usually have to deal with in residential work are: work may have to be done at night or after regular business hours, you may have to move lots of stuff such as computers, pictures, and other equipment, and then put back at end of each night, clean up every night, try to find a good stopping place every night so as not to leave a lot of unusable counters for the next day.

If working after hours you will probably have to have someone from the company there to let you in and lock up after you leave. In my case it was the maintenance man, who I was under the impression would be removing and reinstalling some of the sensitive equipment. But as it turned out, he would have to shut down the whole computer system or alarm system, and wanted to know if I just couldn't fit the laminate around some of that stuff. Lots of commercial cabinets are covered at the factory, and then stacked and joined together on site. This makes it very difficult to sand and relaminate as a whole unit. Commercial work can also have lots of wires and cables running up through holes in countertops, as well as little mail or paper slots, some with recessed metal frames. When putting new laminate over old, you may run into old laminate that is loose or missing, and has to be fixed before the new can be put on. Some commercial jobs may also require you to park a long way from the work site. Don't forget to figure in some extra time, if the job is not on the ground floor. Not trying to scare you, but you need to consider all these things before you price the job.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I thought through a lot of that, but not all. These are banks. My concern is prep. If it's loose, we will peel it or break off loose area and bondo, edges of doors will be stripped. What p-lam grade did you use? As I mentioned, we plan on postform and standard for edges and pre-cutting most parts. How much sanding did you do? Did you use sanding block, palm, or belt, and what grit? We spray 3M Fastbond 30 and plan to use an easy up shelter in the lobby as a booth. These are about 30' runs. I figure about 2 evenings and half day Saturday and all Sunday. Am I close or crazy? And on the warranty I'm thinking one year on new; nothing if it's the old p-lam.

From contributor M:
I used standard horizontal grade laminate, supplied by customer (didn't get to make anything off material either). I sanded where I could with 36 grit on a belt sander, but it was hard to get it everywhere, so I had to sand a lot by hand. This bank also seemed to have some super hard laminate. The 36 grit would not even scratch it very deep. I had to hold the belt sander up at an angle so that just the front wheel made contact to scratch it up good. I started to use Sta-put glue, but it did not want to stick too good to the old laminate, even after sanding and cleaning with lacquer thinner. I then had to switch to that smelly solvent based brush on glue. I have not had any callbacks yet, but it has only been about 6 months.

It is hard to say about the time needed. I was working alone, and it seemed to take forever. Like I said earlier, I spent a lot of time moving stuff out of the way, putting back and cleaning up. If the bank has drive up windows, the area around the slide out drawer can take 3-4 hours, with all the angle cutting and fitting, plus this one had a manual lever that could be used as a backup that was concealed in a recessed slot beside the drawer. Also the vacuum tubes that are at a lot of drive-throughs mount to the countertop and "can't be moved with out a lot of work," or so I was told. Overall, the biggest problem I had was the teller stations. Like most banks I have seen, you have one long counter that has raised boxes sitting on top to make the little teller areas. These boxes were usually covered in a shop and then attached to the counter. It is all these pieces butting against each other that make the laminate hard to trim and file. And on top of that, on the job I did, these boxes were cubby holes from the back side, which also had to be laminated.

Something I would recommend, if at all possible, would be to remove these boxes, and either recover or even rebuild them at the shop, and put them back on after the main deck is covered. I was not able to do this because of some added woodwork on the front of the teller station that joined both parts together, as well as some small teller safes that were mounted under the tops so that you could not access the bottom side of the countertop.