Solid Surface as a Shelf Nosing

An architect's query sets off a spirited discussion of using solid surface material for shelf nosings. Appropriate adhesives, durability, and movement rates are issues (and yes, it has been done before). June 10, 2006

I'm an architect working on a school renovation where I've called for 3/4" x 1/2" solid surface nosing on 3/4" p-lamed plywood core bookshelves, and a 3/4"x 1-1/2" face on countertops. The millworker says it can't be done, that the plastic will fall off, etc. He did a sample with a simple butt joint and hot glue, but indeed, they did fall off with very little provocation.

We took the sample home and biscuit joined it with polyurethane glue and it seems very strong. I have not been able to break it apart. I'm thinking of rejecting the millworker's submittal and insist on a splined joint similar to a wood nosing using whatever adhesive the solid surface manufacturer recommends. It's worth noting the solid surface manufacturers are not very helpful, like they don't want to be blamed for anything. Also the AWI did not have anything to recommend, although they welcomed a submittal to add to their book, once we answer this question. We do have some fear that different expansion rates between the wood and the solid surface material may cause a problem down the line. Can anyone say with comfort whether this has been done before and how it held up?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surfacing Forum)
From contributor A:
I havenít done that particular edge treatment although I like the hot melt poly idea - however that glue will not do anything with the biscuits. Biscuits require a water based glue to expand and do their thing.

From contributor C:
Do not use wood biscuits. There is too much contraction and expansion.

From contributor D:
Contact your local Wilsonart Solid Surface Distributor. Our seam adhesive can be used to bond solid surface to wood. You may have to change the substrate or put a piece of hardwood on the edge. Itís tough to bond to the edges of plywood. We've been using solid surface edges on countertops for quite a few years now.

From contributor E:
I have done this before. In fact I had to repair a situation where someone used biscuits.
First, run the edge of the plywood over a joiner for a flat surface. Then rub the edge with baking soda. This will fill any pores and set the pH for the adhesive. Clamp the solid surface (I used Corian) in place. Use a Wicking CA (must have surfactant) applied to top and bottom of joint. Adhesive will wick in 3/4" to 1". Allow to cure for 24 hours. CA sets in seconds but continues to cure for 24 hours if not given any sharp impacts. A sharp impact will stop the chemical reaction.

Yes, there is a difference in expansion rates. Corian expands and contracts with temperature and wood with moisture. By finishing the wood on all sides, you will all but eliminate the wood movement though the joint will hold regardless. This has been tested outdoors, under pressure for 8 years in a marine application.

From contributor F:
The first thing that comes to mind when reading the post is this is a school project. What a gross misuse of funds to try and use solid surface edging on a bookcase. 3mm PVC edge band would be a more effective treatment, it would cost less, and would perform to the level of the shelf. As for the counter edging solid surface is a 1/2" product (scant 1/2") and 3/4" is a special order - why waste public money on something that doesn't serve a purpose? Solid surface edging for counters is available from several suppliers, Wilsonart being one of them. These edges have a tongue on them and are installed in a routed grove with adhesive. That said, the SS edge doesn't make it a better counter, it just costs more. Getting the edge flush with the p-lam is difficult without scratching the finished layer of the p-lam. Laminate on a plywood core leads to glue line failures because the plywood expands and contracts at a different rate than the p-lam. You are asking for a failed product. Are you taking the risk or are you expecting the fabricator to take it?

From contributor G:
I agree - why bother? It serves no meaningful purpose. I do not mean this too be arrogant or difficult. I've been doing Corian for 27 years and have made just about everything you could imagine. I even made a complete bath tub! It really serves no real advantage. I do appreciate your inventive side of thought.

From contributor E:
I respectfully disagree. You live in a world of Solid Surface used as utilitarian - albeit high end Ė work surfaces. I sell Corian for everything from industrial wear surfacing and racing skid plates to extremely fine art and bulletproofing. Corian in this application gives the end user a tough renewable edge treatment for the area that takes the most beating. On a work surface such as a countertop, the beating is taken by the top. On reception area tops and high use/high end shelving, it is the edge. For high end, the rubberized or other edgebanding just doesn't cut it. They are ugly on the first day and go downhill from there. When used properly in this way it can be less expensive than wood.

From contributor F:
Fine art is OK but this is a school project. 3mm edge band doesn't go down hill from day one. Have you ever used the stuff? It is not T-band and makes a very nice edge for shelving. Applying SS to a shelf edge does not make it a better product or a more durable one. Even if it is hard set the expansion differential will cause it to come off in time. Yes it can be done Ė just like you can get to Hawaii in a row boat. For the trouble of putting SS edge on a p-lam counter I would make the counter out of SS in the first place, at least then you have something. I don't think striving for a look-a-like makes for class in any style.

From contributor H:
I think anything to dress up a laminate top and to bring a little solid surface into the picture is a great idea - a little form and function. As far as the fabricator taking a risk, most of us do everyday, and itís up to the fabricator to determine if he's up to the challenge. Iíd try it in a heartbeat and if it failed, I learned something. I appreciate the posts on how it can be done and will refer back to those when I try it.

From contributor I:
It's interesting that people have such strong feelings about an architect's selection. We're working on a local high school that rivals the finest corporate offices. Other schools meet space needs with cheap portable classrooms. If the local taxpayers are willing to pay for it, do the job well.

Solid surface edging is quite common, and the techniques are not difficult. Expansion and contraction are not reasons to worry about in a climate controlled environment, because the conditions are stable. Change the specs to 1/2" though, because 3/4" is available in a very limited color selection.

From contributor J:
Thank you all for your advice. It's impressive to see how many concerned people are out there. I talked with our millworker and I believe worked out a compromise swapping out some of the SS for vinyl, improving the detail on the SS we are using, and changing the 3/4" plywood for 15/16" MDF.

From contributor K:
We just installed a bunch of counter tops and bookshelves with solid surface nosing last summer in a North Syracuse middle school. They looked great and appeared to be very strong. Ours came from TMI.