Laminate Countertops

Let's be honest: generally speaking, Americans are highly suggestable.
The American marketplace and its millions of eager consumers are dependent upon each other, and the mutual understanding of each other's deep desire not to be considered disposable, cheap, irrelevant, or - God forbid - out-dated, or out-of-style, or otherwise not fashionable.
Because - again, if we were honest - the self-professed enthusiasts of mid-century modernism, and owners of 1940s, 50s, and 60s tract ranch homes who have any appreciation for them at all - and who consider these structures to be anything besides old houses - would have to admit: if they really love this period and its style so much, if they were really purists, then their kitchen would not have granite countertops. No travertine, no butcher block, no slate, no soapstone, and no cement. Those are contemporary concepts.
That A-line, butterfly, or flat-roof rancher would have laminate countertops - as it likely did, the day it was completed - whether Formica, Wilsonart, GE Textolite, or a host of other, lesser-known, brand names, some of whom are still in the business, and going strong.
Quartz may look cool in a midcentury house, but it's a new millenium product - with a new millenium price tag. Laminates are not only period accurate, they're enormously versatile, they wear like iron - think about all the 60-year-old working kitchens that have been ripped out because they were "dated" - and they're a fraction of the cost.
Which makes updating, the next time fashion whims dictate, a lot less painful.
Post-formed plastic laminate
"Postformed" (or literally "formed after being laminated" to the substrate) high pressure laminate countertop, often referred to as "plastic laminate countertop" is a material made more of wood product than plastic. The composition is of kraft paper, decorative papers, and melamine resins, bonded through high heat and pressure. This product is sometimes referred to as "Formica" or "Arborite," but these are trade names of a manufactured high pressure laminate, of which there are many manufacturers.
The postform countertop is typically a high volume factory-produced product, which accounts for the economy of the product. The material composition consists of a single thin sheet of laminate (typically .030" - .040" in thickness) that gets bonded to a 45# density particle board substrate (or other similar base material such as MDF - medium density fiberboard, or plywood), with a PVA adhesive (poly vinyl acetate - a water-based adhesive). Traditionally postform countertops were manufactured with a solvent-based contact cement (a highly flammable, volatile organic compound - VOC). However, in today's marketplace PVA adhesives have taken over for reasons of environmental responsibility (no VOC's), safety (non-combustible), economy, and strength of the glue line.
A typical system consists of the following:
  1. An automated infeed system for sequencing the particle board into production.

  2. The CorFab Machine, an automated feed-through machine that cuts to size, cuts and bonds build down sticks with a hot melt adhesive to the under side of the substrate, and shapes the edge detail, all in a single motion.

  3. An automated laminating system that applies the adhesive to both the substrate and laminate.

  4. An indexing unit that aligns the laminate to the substrate with the proper overhang.

  5. A Pinch Roller that makes the bond between the laminate and substrate.

  6. The Postforming Machine, that not only heats and forms the laminate around the substrate, but also cuts away the backsplash (when the top is to be used against a wall) from the main deck, all in a feed-through motion machine.

  7. The AutoCove Machine, which heats and forms the backsplash upward 90 degrees, locking it into place with what is referred to as a cove stick, utilizing hot melt adhesive technology to hold it all together.

  8. The final stage of the system usually consists of a trim saw that cuts the countertops to rough lengths, typically 8', 10' and 12', ready for distribution.

Once manufactured, the tops need only to be cut to length, mitered, fitted for assembly, and end-capped (only if it is a visible finished end).

A very specific machine for cutting the postform countertop is manufactured by only a few companies. It is commonly called a Cutting Station, Top Swan, or simply Miter Saw. This machine accurately cuts the countertop to field dimensions, making it easy for the installer to make the final scribe cuts on-site to complete the work. Sink cut-outs can be made either in the field or at the installer's shop.

Overall, the postform countertop is the most economical countertop on the market, and has the broadest selection of surface material to choose from. Surfaces can be either a solid color, or a pattern, and textures range from a satin funiture finish to a heavily textured stone or pebbled appearance to a high gloss resolution. Because of this diversity, the postform countertop can satisfy a wide variety of design applications, and due to its economy, it can be easily replaced to provide a fresh appearance in any room.

Self edge or wood edge laminate

Self or wood edge plastic laminate countertops are also very popular for those who chose to have few or no surface seams.
In this style, the top shop uses substrate for the countertop out of MDF, or particle board, and then glue sheets of laminate to the substrate using contact cement. The laminate is then trimmed using a router.
This method can't reproduce the curved contours of post-formed countertopping, but can be made to easily conform to a much-wider range of floor plans with fewer seams.
Check out RetroRenovation (www.retrorenovation.com) for a wealth of period design and renovation resources, and the links below, for articles specific to laminate countertops:

http://retrorenovation.com/2015/03/11/40-historic-designs-glitter-laminate/

http://retrorenovation.com/2016/01/12/boomerang-laminates-retro-renovation/

http://retrorenovation.com/2013/06/04/how-laminate-is-made/

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