Making a Wood Edge Flush with a Laminate Top

Flushing up the top surface of a wood-edged laminate countertop is tricky, any way you do it. Here are some suggestions. April 10, 2007

I don't do much laminate work, but I have a large L-shaped countertop to make with a solid wood edge .75" x 2.0". It’s an irregular "L", but all straight cuts, no curves. Normally I lam the top and then biscuit the wood edge on and clamp it, leaving it a bit proud of the laminate surface.
Balancing the router on the front edge of the wood with a pattern bit to make the edge flush always feels unstable. Is there a setup I can make or buy for routing from the topside without cutting into the laminate or conversely, without a lot of hand sanding because I didn't cut close enough? I've tried it a few different ways and none has seemed ideal. What is the best way (details, please) to route the edge flush?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surfacing Forum)
From contributor E:
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From the original questioner:
Thanks, Contributor E. I suppose I'll have to modify the design a bit to get the corners. This is an island and will be wood edged all the way around.

From contributor J:

Have you considered attaching your wooden edge and laminating over the top of it? Leo's router set-up works great to flush the wood edge to the edge of the substrate. Once you get the two surfaces flat, and your laminate installed, you can then flush trim, champfer, ogee or use whatever profile you want to actually trim the laminate. Bill Hylton, in a book called Router Magic, has a baseplate design that works great for flush trimming horizontally like Leo described in his diagram.

Also, if you really want the laminate to flush up to the wooden edge rather than go over it, Wilsonart has a wooden edge system that works pretty well. I don't like the gap between the wood and the laminate.

From the original questioner:
I hadn't really considered running the laminate to the edge (over the wood edge) of the counter. It seems that it would be a headache waiting for people to pick at it and the p-lam developing glue problems. Of course, now that I think of it, what's the difference between what you suggest and just laminating the counter's edge?

In either case, I want the wood to be flush with the top of the laminate surface and have that .75" transition at counter edge. I once made a sled like Leo suggests. It was a quick affair and I will definitely make a new one, and to better tolerances - maybe out of .5" acrylic or something like that, so I can see as I go. I simply didn't know if there was some magical solution that hadn't occurred to me.

From contributor J:
To the original questioner: The 3/4" transition that you mention is exactly what the Wilsonart system does. I don't think it's exactly a 3/4" reveal, maybe 5/8", it gives the wood to laminate transition that you're talking about (I think).

As for laminating over the wood, you see it here in the south all the time. I just finished a job where I did it that way. It turned out great. I posted on here about a month ago asking how best to deal with inside corners. I ended up just using a chamfer bit and routed right around the corner. It was a clean cut (although rounded in the corner) but looked just fine.

From contributor D:
I've been doing wood edged laminated tops for 25 years now and the best and safest method I've found for leveling the edge to the surface of the top after glue up is to use an air powered DA or an electric orbital sander such as a Porter Cable 330. When I do my glue up, I make it a point to clean up any squeeze out before it sets up. I hate chiseling dried glue off of laminate and it will also cause finishing problems later on.

After unclamping the work, take 1" or wider masking tape and tape the edge of the laminate where it meets the hardwood edge. Then put a second strip down next to the first strip of tape, effectively doubling the amount of laminate now covered with tape. I usually tape it back about 3 inches. Then I take an orbital sander with a 100 or 120 grit paper and sand the edge flush to the surface. You'll know when you're flush when you see the masking tape disappear at the edge of the hardwood. You have to pay attention to what you're doing though or you will burn through.
I usually peel the tape and re-tape it for a final sanding at 150 or 220 grit. Do this on a test piece first and get the feel for the sanding process.

From contributor L:
We prefer to laminate over the wood edge and then profile. This provides a better seal from moisture entering the joint. A lot of inferior decorators want the wood applied after laminating so in that case we pre-finish all the parts so the finish is flush with the top when installed. In this case you have to carefully clamp all the parts in place and wait for the glue to dry.