Laminate Countertop Seam Tolerances

Customers may not be aware of industry standards for laminate seams; a third opinion is sometimes helpful. November 12, 2006

I have a customer unhappy with a seam in his Wilsonart laminate countertop. The countertop was very large and constructed in one piece, but we did have to mirror the laminate seam together. It is barely noticeable, but I am having to pursue payment in small claims court. A Wilsonart representative saw the edge and deemed it okay, but will not write his review on paper. I need any documentation on standards for seam fabrication. Anybody know where to find that?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surface Forum)
From contributor F:
I believe AWI calls for not more than 1/32" gap. However, with changes in humidity, it will open up anyway. Did you use any seam-fill?

From contributor H:
A picture is worth 1000 words. Get a photo of the seam. Tell the client you need to so you can show it to another Wilsonart rep, or whoever. A seam that you cannot put your fingernail into is more than acceptable. Use this photo in court. It seems (no pun) your client is being unreasonable. Also, when you take the photo, take some seam fill along and do it if you have not. Take another photo afterward. Bring that to court also.

From the original questioner:
I have a photo. The seam really is barely noticeable. I just need to find a copy of industry standards such as seam sizes and perception angles of flaws. Can't find them after several hours of research.

From contributor R:
Try NEMA sets the base line standards for laminate industry. If I recall, there is a section on seams. I know there is a section on visual defects and scratches, among many performance properties. This governing body goes back to the days before laminate was a decorative product.

From contributor U:
All the problems in this world and she can't live with a near perfect seam. Hope she pays up. You should start getting all the money up front.

From contributor S:
You think thatís bad? This will cheer you up. I did a granite look-alike laminate from Formica some time back. It was a U shaped kitchen and I figured it would be a bad idea to seam at the sink because it would be nearly impossible to get the counter into the condo, so I seamed at the corners. I explained to the client that it would be better, as there would be less chance of getting water into the seams. She agreed.

I had a problem getting the color she wanted. My supplier got me the wrong color the first time and I had to wait one more day before the correct material arrived. I apologized to her for the delay, but she was upset and her husband got involved in the job. He gave me the usual "are you sure you know what you are doing?" insult, but I just again apologized for the extra day it would take to finish the project.

Now normally people understand that this is not your fault and things happen, but not this couple. They made a really big deal out of it and I should have stopped the job right there, but did not listen to my instincts... again. I finished the job and now it was time for her and her husband to pay me the balance. The husband, without really looking at the job closely, immediately said that he refuses to pay me because he can see the seams when he looks at the counter at an angle. Not sure what he meant, I asked for an explanation and he said that he could see a faint line where the two sheets of laminate meet when he looks at the seam at an angle. The seams are perfect, but not invisible. No fault of mine.

The husband insisted that I either repair the problem or forget about being paid. I threaten to lien and here comes the funny part. He dials 911 and asks for an officer to come out. They ask if this is an emergency and he says, yes it is. He thought I was going to clear out before the cops come, but I just waited outside the condo. Three cop cars pull up and one huge cop approaches me asking what the problem is and I explain that the homeowner is refusing to pay me for my work and he is the one who called them. They knock on the door and the husband opens the door. He takes the cop into the kitchen and asks the following. "Can you please tell me if this is an acceptable seam? I would appreciate your unbiased opinion." At this point there are three cops in the kitchen admiring the countertop "wow," says one, "that looks great Ė can I have your number because I would like to have the same done in my kitchen." The big one talking to the husband was not impressed at all with the homeowner. "Sir, did you call us out here to give you an opinion on the work this man did in your kitchen?" He was red in the face and had his hands on his hips looking down at the owner. The owner said, "Yes, youíre a public servant and I need an opinion before I pay this guy for his work."

The big cop blew a gasket, threatened to charge the husband for making a false emergency call and then told him to get his checkbook and pay me in front of him. You had to see the cop's face and his sheer size to appreciate this story better, but this guy looked mean on a good day and now he was visibly POed at the husband for calling them out for nothing.

The homeowner was now shaking and he looked very white. Had a hard time writing the check, his hands were shaking so badly. Turns out the big cop's brother is also in the cabinet business and so he was well aware of clients who donít want to pay for work. On the upside, I did the other cop's kitchen counter the next week and he ordered two vanities and a table from me too. I never heard from that couple again.

From contributor I:
We were told several years ago to use a small bead of carpenter's glue on either side of the seam. The glue would stick to the back of the laminate and wouldn't allow the joint to open. 2-3" in from the seam and a small bead - you don't want a lump.