Creating Formica Countertop in home office

Hello,
We're converting our garage into a family room, and with this I hope to convert a small 10x7 closet into a home office. Instead of finding bulky furniture for the room, I'd like to cut counters and place on two walls in an L shape, and top the counters with formica.
Two questions... what material is best to use for the counter tops under the formica? I've seen people do this before, but I never questioned what material they used. And second, how do i get the formica to stick to the unfinished counter? I've heard of people heating it, but i'd assume glue would be best.
I tried to find a few How-Tos or DIY articles on this online, but had no luck.
Thanks,
Alex
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2 layers of 3/4" mdf as a base, glued together. use contact cement. there's a brochure you can get at home depot in the same place as the formica that tells you how to do this. you can also order premade custom sized countertops there for cheaper than buying the materials to make them.
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Alex wrote:

Formica is an art unto itself and although it is not hard to do, it requires some special skills that you may not want to have to acquire while learning on a small project.
I would go with the other responders suggestion to get post formed countertops and just build the support to set them on. Check the corner for squareness and then get two mitered pieces to fit the two walls. All you have to do is cut them to length, lay them in place, install the bolts to pull the miters together, and screw them down from underneath.
No fumes, no routing, no fuss, no muss.
--
Robert Allison
Rimshot, Inc.
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I considered this approach too. However, I really wanted to round one of the corners are it was hopeless trying to find a ready-made piece.
So I decided to do it myself. I was easily able to make the pieces to a pretty decent standard. I did buy a small palm router (the Bosch Colt) and found it pretty easy to use with a flush-trim bit, despite the fact I had never used any kind of router before. I was a little nervous on the first piece but, after that, it was a walk in the park.
Here's a shot of part of that project:
http://www.malch.com/DSC_4757.jpg
The shelves are 3/4in ply with laminate on the top and front edges. Poly on ply undersides. The countertop/desk was built in exactly the same manner.
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| Malcolm Hoar "The more I practice, the luckier I get". |
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I recently finished building some shelves and a countertop- style desk in a childs bedroom and everyone is well pleased with the results.
I used 3/4in oak ply. I just sanded and poly'ed the oak surface for the undersides. The top surfaces and exposed edges were all done with Wilsonart laminate (just another brand of Formica).
It's probably more common to use particle board. It's cheap and doesn't warp. But it's not as strong as ply and it really hates water. Depending on the expected loading and the size of your unsupported spans, you'll likely need more than 3/4in thickness.
In my case, I felt I'd be able to do a better job of cutting some required curves with plywood. And I wanted to hold the thickness down to 3/4in.
The top surface laminate was fixed with contact cement -- that's the standard for laminates. But I fixed the edge banding laminate with epoxy -- I really wanted to be sure it would stay put.
You'll find contact cement in two main flavors -- solvent or water based. The former probably sticks better but is highly inflammable and smelly until dry. The water based is safer and (a little) less smelly.
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Alex wrote:

For desktop use, assuming cabinets or desk-like structure underneath so there's support every 2-3', 3/4" ply is sufficient. If you don't have that much support, you'll need more stiffness--how much more then depends on the distance between supports and load, obviously.
Typically, one cuts a narrow piece and glues/screws it to the underside along the front edge to give the appearance of a thicker top if going to edge the front w/ laminate as well rather than a solid banding.
As for the job, it's relatively straightforward if you buy material of sufficient length to not have to make a cut joint match -- if you arrange your L appropriately you can use factory edges. What I typically do for something simple like this is make the one piece into a short-legged "ell" so the edge isn't right at the corner itself, but off a couple of inches or so, the exact dimension depending on the counter width and the width of the material, accounting, of course, for the front edge-banding if laminate.
As others say, the adhesive is contact cement and it will be plenty strong to keep the front banding in place -- no epoxy needed. The biggest trick in a closet may be simply the logistics of getting the pieces in place. The trick in laying the tops is to make sure to use sufficient spacers to prevent an inadvertent "early touch" of the sheet until you have it lined up where it needs to go--once it sticks, it can't be moved. I use dowels or similar, others have various favorites.
As for cost, if you're in a place of any size there's bound to be an "unclaimed freight" or similar place with overstocks, seconds, etc., that will have a bunch of ends and so on you can sort through. Unless you're terribly picky, you can probably find something that will do for half or third of what even the cheapest will be at the box stores. (And, having used it on occasion, I personally would suggest avoiding Wilsonart like the plague as a newbie -- it chips very easily and is much more brittle than Formica).
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I've used Formica on a couple of recent projects and Wilsonart on one. I do agree that Formica seems to be significantly better. I was quite surprised since I expected them to be pretty much equivalent. I shall stick to Formica for any new projects since it does appear to be tougher and more durable.
I don't think the Wilsonart is quite as terrible as you have portrayed but it sure ain't Formica.
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Malcolm Hoar wrote:

I said to OP "as a newbie"...
For a novice I would repeat the advice -- for more experienced, unless you're really cash-strapped, I'd still advise against it. Besides being harder to work with, it doesn't wear nearly as well, either.
--


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strong to keep the front banding in place -- no epoxy needed. <<<
The only thing I would add is that when you apply the contact cement, you apply it to both the laminate and the plywood (or whatever you decide to use), wait until they look sorta "dull" and not sticky to the touch. Time for that to happen depends on temp, usually 15-20 minutes. Also, when you apply the glue to the edges and the laminate pieces, let them dry, and then apply a SECOND coat of the glue and let it dry before sticking it. That will insure it holds much better. Also, you do the edges first, trim it to size with the flush trim bit, and then, depending on the bit, you usually have to use a file or sand to actually get it flush because most "flush trimming" laminate bits leave just a little edge. If they didn't, the when you tried to trim the top in the second phase (after the edge was complete), the "flush" trim bit would tear up the edge you just completed. So, after you trim the top, you need to file it "flush". Some folks like to file it at a 45 degree angle instead of a 90 degree angle..
John
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