Cutting Formica Countertops

cutting formica outdoorsFormica is the brand name for high pressure thermosetting plastic laminate containing melamine resin. It is widely used for kitchen surfaces, as it is heat-resistant and wipe-clean. Surfaces which may need to change length, due to new, wider refrigerators or stoves being installed. Which is why we get so many people asking us how to cut formica countertops.

First of all, cutting formica countertops is much easier if you are able to temporarily move the countertop away from the adjacent walls. However, considering the fact that moving the countertop usually means unhooking a sink’s plumbing and disconnecting fasteners holding the countertop in place, plus the tendency of some countertops to be both glued and screwed down, moving your may be out of the scope of your timeline, skill level or patience.

Tools Needed

You need two power saws to make the actual cut. These are a circular saw with a thin kerf (cut slot width) carbide blade of at least 40 teeth, and a jig saw. The circular saw is for cutting the bulk off the counter up to the wall; your jig saw will finish up neatly without damaging the wall.

You can actually use a jig saw for the whole cut, but a jigsaw’s blade tends to drift off course easily, and you can end up with a sloppy looking line. Circular saws will give a cleaner cut. You’ll want to have a pair of safety goggles, ametal file and a sanding block or belt sander with some 220 grit sandpaper on hand as well.

Step 1- Lay down the Line

Lay a strip of masking tape over your cutting line, to protect the laminate surface and help avoid chipping and splintering the plastic. You should also lay down additional strips of tape where the saw base will run along on the countertop, to prevent the saw from scratching your countertop.

Step 2- First Cut

It is recommended to use the rip fence that came with your circular saw for guiding your cut. Use care in following your cut line. If you do waver off the line a little into the side of your cut that you’ll be throwing away, then you will be able to square it up later with a belt sander.

Adjust saw blade depth to cuts through the thickest part of the countertop by about an 1/8 inch. Keeping your eye on the saw base and cutting line, cut slowly with a steady movement. If you are cutting away more than an inch wide of countertop, you may want to do a practice cut of 1/2 inch in order to get the feel of sawing laminate.

Step 3- Final Cut

Cutting all the way to the wall with the circular saw is precluded by the saw’s base. Your cut should be finished off with an electric jig saw with a specialized laminate cutting blade. The cut nearest the wall is usually difficult to do perfectly. Try to cut slightly to the outside of the line so there is a bit more to remove.

Then you can use a belt sander with fine grit carbide belt of around 120 to grind the laminate off to your cutting line. Warning: hold the sander so the belt is running downward, forcing the laminate down against it’s backing. If you don’t, your plastic may chip and lift away from it’s substrate.

Step 4- Cleanup

For any required cleanup work, use a rough metal file to do, filing in a downward direction. Again, you want to not lift the laminate away from the substrate. Then use 220 grit sandpaper along the cut edge of the laminate at a 45 degree angle, to smooth it and give a slight round to it. That’s it- now you can slide in that new shiny stove and it’ll fit perfectly.

photo by Chris Darling / CreativeCommons