This is the second part of the article “Types of Boards in Woodworking,” the ultimate guide to DIY and woodworking boards and materials. Here you’ll find the first part:
6- Laminate Flooring:
This kind of flooring is laid on the sub-floor, you don’t have to fasten it down. There are two main types of flooring, the first one being wooden flooring. It’s made by gluing cheap layers of wood in opposite directions, with a final 5mm thick layer made with fine wood, which will be exposed and on which we will walk. The manufacturing process is similar to that of plywood. In fact, there is a variant of this type of flooring made from birch plywood.
The second type of flooring, known as laminate flooring, is made in a similar way to MDF. First, the wood is reduced to flakes, washed of impurities, and put in a machine that turns the flakes into wood fibers. The fibers are mixed with urea-formaldehyde and placed on plates, then they are subjected to high pressure and heat to form them into a board. The difference between this type of flooring and MDF is that the flakes are subjected to higher pressure, making the resulting board denser and stiffer than MDF. A set of machines cut the board into planks or rows, which are the laminate flooring that you can find on the market. They come with tongue and groove edges allowing the planks to be joined to one another.
A melamine backing is also added during the manufacturing process, and the visible layer is made with decorative paper imitating all kinds of wood or textures, covered with a high pressure melamine compound. The above video shows the manufacturing process of laminate flooring step by step.
Manufacturers carry out extreme hardness tests on laminate flooring. They repeatedly run an automated sandpaper roll on the flooring. Depending on the number of passes needed to wear out the protective layer of melamine and the decorative paper, the flooring is given one of these ratings:
- AC-1 (over 1,000 passes)
- AC-2 (over 2,000 passes)
- AC-3 (over 2,600 passes)
- AC-4 (over 4,000 passes)
- AC-5 (over 6,500 passes)
Laminate flooring is usually sold in boxes of 8 planks. Each individual plank can be of various sizes depending on the brand and model, but a common set of measurements is 120cm long, 20cm wide and 8mm thick. A plank this size weighs around 1.5kg. The price depends largely on the quality and hardness of the flooring. You can find AC1 at €6 per sq/m up to AC5 at €40 per sq/m.
These are some of the kinds of laminate flooring you can find in carpentry stores:
1- Two varieties of cheap, synthetic AC2 laminate flooring. The decorative paper imitates stained wood.
2- Good quality synthetic laminate flooring; this one is an AC5. The decorative paper imitates stained oak wood, and its texture imitates saw cuts.
3- Good quality wood flooring with a hard plywood base, on top of which there’s a 5mm thick chestnut wood layer. Once installed, it needs to be varnished. You can buy them prevarnished.
4- An example of underlayment or insulation.
Uses of Laminate Flooring:
The main purpose of wood or laminate flooring is to cover floors in houses and other kinds of buildings. It can also be used to cover walls, but this is less common.
In this series of pictures you can see a small reform where I used laminate flooring. In the fourth picture you can see another possible use for it, to cover uneven parts of floors and walls.
But this is not the only use we can make of flooring when it comes to home-made tools and DIY. It’s a sturdy and highly versatile material, with a tough, smooth and slippery surface, perfect for use as a table top of homemade tools or to make small pieces that need to be hard and accurate.
I’ve also used pieces of flooring to cover kitchen doors, cooker hoods, and, in general, any element you want to give a new look to.
Processing of Laminate Flooring:
Cutting laminate flooring is not too dissimilar from cutting MDF, especially the MDF that has melamine on both sides. The difference is that flooring is a little harder, both its core and the outer melamine faces.
This means it’ll wear our discs and router bits out faster than MDF.Just like with MDF, we should be careful when cutting flooring with a saw, as the outer melamine layers will chip easily.
This is not a serious problem in most cases, because the side that’s cut will be hidden by the skirting board. To prevent this, we should try using finer discs with lots of teeth, or a jig saw with fine teeth.
In the first picture, I’m cutting some flooring with a laminate cutter. The advantages of using a cutter are that you won’t need as many power tools to lay the flooring, it doesn’t make as much noise or produce dust, but it chips the melamine even more than a jig saw.
On some occasions you won’t be able to use a cutter, such as in the second picture, where I’m cutting a plank by hand with a jig saw to put under a door.
In the third and fourth picture you can see other useful, affordable tools to make laying flooring easier, namely a tapping block to hit the flooring without damaging it (picture 3) and a pull bar to make installing the last plank easier (picture 4).
7- HPL Board or High Pressure Laminate:
HPL stands for “high pressure laminate.” In my opinion, it’s an incredibly versatile material. After I became familiar with it, I started using it in many projects.
You could say it’s the extreme version of MDF. It’s made by impregnating several layers of kraft paper with phenolic resins and subjecting them to high pressure and temperatures during the manufacturing process. Don’t be fooled by the name “paper,” the resulting material is quite hard and heavy, looks somewhat like plastic and is dark brown.
Usually, decorative layers are put on both of the outer sides, usually made with decorative paper coated with melamine resins. It can also be a wooden or metal layer. The core of the board can be colored for use in projects where the edge is visible.
HPL comes in many sizes and thicknesses. The most common of the latter are 3, 5, 8, 10 and 15 mm. The boards are usually 250 x 125cm, although other sizes are available. A board that size that’s 15mm thick weighs around 60kg. There’s a kind of HPL that’s marked “G” that can be used outdoors, and another one that’s marked “C”, for indoor use.
It’s a fairly expensive material. I find small discarded scraps of it in the waste skips of factories that make furniture for pools, hospitals, etc.
In Europe, a kind of laminate sheet, commonly referred to as “Formica” (a name given to it by the company that marketed it) is widely used. These sheets are usually 1mm thick. Factories often glue them to the sides of any board, but you can also find it in rolls that you can use in your workshop to customize your boards. Normally, it has a decorative laminate impregnated with resins on its outer face, while the other face is rough to improve its adherence when gluing it on a board or other materials.
These are some of the HPL boards you can find in a carpentry store:
1- 6mm thick HPL panel with a decorative dark grey sheet impregnated with melamine resin on both sides.
2- 15mm thick HPL panel with a decorative light grey sheet impregnated with melamine resin on both sides.
3- 8mm thick HPL panel with a decorative faux concrete sheet impregnated with melamine resin on both sides and with a black-tinted core.
4- 8mm thick HPL panel without a decorative sheet, black-tinted core.
5- 1mm thick HPL sheet with a faux wood decorative laminate, impregnated with melamine resin. You can also see its other side, with a rough surface to improve adherence when gluing it.
Uses of HPL Board:
Since this material has low porosity, is hypoallergenic, resistant to high temperatures and moisture, as well as stains and scuff marks, it’s the ideal material for intense use, such as lockers, dressing rooms or restrooms in public pools or sports centers.
It’s also suitable for furniture in humid areas such as bathrooms or kitchens. HPL that’s marked “G” is suitable for outdoor use and is ideal to build playgrounds, outdoor furniture and facade lining in construction.
Next time you’re having a coffee at the terrace of your favorite café, take a close look at the table. It’ll most likely be HPL.
Besides its usual purposes, I’ve used HPL in many other ways. Since its surfaces are so smooth and stiff, I used it as table for many homemade tools. An example is my home-made edge belt sander in the first picture.
A few months ago I also used HPL to renovate the blade guides of my homemade band saw, and also to improve its table, as you can see in the second picture.
HPL panels are also perfect to make small pieces for tools that require firmness and precision, like a plunge base for a Dremel-type rotary tool. You can see it in the third picture.
Another similar case is in picture 4, where you can see me building a jig to hold knives and sharpen them safely with my homemade knife sharpening jig.
I’ve also used HPL laminate sheets in some of my projects, especially to reinforce the tables of some of the tools I built. In the first picture I’m cutting a sheet that I’ll later glue to my bandsaw’s table, you can see the results in the second picture. I always use contact glue for laminate sheets, but ideally, a hot plate press should be used.
I did the same with the table of my thickness sander, as you can see in the third picture.
And last but not least, I should mention the work of a good friend of mine, who uses HPL panels to make surfboard fins. Since they’re machine-relieved, you can see the paper layers that make up HPL in the picture; they kind of look like wood grain. If you want to see more of his projects, check out his website.
Processing of HPL Board:
As you have read in this article, HPL panels are a highly versatile material, not least because you can work with them using woodworking tools and thread them the way you would aluminum, although they’re considerably heavier.
But although it’s possible to process it using woodworking tools, it’s much harder to cut and route than wood. When the tool allows it, it’s advisable to lower its speed to a medium range, both for cutting discs and router bits, and proceed slowly.
In the first picture I’m cutting a 10mm thick HPL panel screwed to a hard plywood panel, using a disc with lots of teeth, with great ease. In the second picture I’m sanding the edges of a small piece with the disc sander. HPL usually gets lots of marks around the edges after being cut with a disc.
In the third picture I’m drilling a hole with a 20mm bit in a 15mm thick HPL piece. I lowered the speed to a medium value and proceed slowly to avoid burning the bit and the HPL.
In the fourth picture I’m threading a piece of HPL with a thread tap, predrilled with a bit 0.75mm less wide than the screw. As you can see in the picture, I also sanded down the melamine on both sides of the HPL and polished the entire piece with a polishing disc and polishing compound.
8- Methacrylates – PVC – Polycarbonate – Teflon:
All of these products have something in common –they’re polymers, a substance made up of large molecules also known as macromolecules. Normally, they’re synthesized from oil-derived chemicals, the most affordable method nowadays, but, to a lesser extent, they are also synthesized from renewable sources, such as corn starch and cellulose. Without a doubt, it would be great if advancements in science made it possible to make synthesizing them from renewable sources cheaper. Besides polymers, they’re also known as acrylics or, more broadly, plastics.
Almost all of these products can be transparent, colored, matte or glossy. To color the material, dyes are used in the manufacturing process. Before processing them, these products are mainly found in two forms: in rice-like granules or liquid. They can be processed in two ways:
The extrusion process starts by melting the acrylic granules and then feeding them to extruding machines, which force and press the acrylic between rolls as it cools until it turns into a polymer. With this process, very long boards of various thicknesses can be made. You can see the manufacturing process in the video above. Besides making boards, this is the usual process to make all kinds of profiles and pipes.
The advantages of extrusion are that it allows for the manufacturing of more precise and uniform lengths and thicknesses than casting, as well as its high transparency and good impact resistance.
This manufacturing process is slightly slower than extrusion. Only one smaller board is produced at a time by pouring liquid acrylic between two pieces of glass that make up a mold. Then, the acrylic polymerizes, that is to say, it hardens through the gradual heating and subsequent cooling process. Besides boards, this process is normally used to produce pieces with irregular shapes repeatedly with molds.
Cast products are usually easier to machine and mold. They have a higher transformation potential through thermoforming, as well as a higher heat, UV and weather resistance. They’re also highly resistant to impacts.
Methacrylate or acrylic made through a casting process (PMMA).
Methacrylate or acrylic made through extrusion (PMMA XT).
Polycarbonate (PC) is very similar to methacrylate, but it’s more durable and some varieties can be bent at room temperature.
PVC or polyvinyl chloride is the result of polymerizing the of vinyl chloride and it’s one of the most versatile plastic by-products. It can be produced in many ways, and depending on how it’s made it can be rigid or flexible.
Polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE), better known by its commercial name Teflon. It’s a practically inert substance that doesn’t react to almost any other substance, making its toxicity practically null. It’s also one of the materials with the lowest friction coefficient. It comes in many colors.
Polyethylene is one of the most common polymers or plastics thanks to its low price and ease of production. It can be bought as foam, rigid or flexible.
These are some of the polymer boards on the market:
1- White “opal” cast methacrylate (PMMA), 10mm thick.
2- Transparent glass cast methacrylate (PMMA), 20mm thick.
3- Black “smoked” extruded methacrylate (PMMA XT), 10mm thick.
4- White teflon.
5- Transparent glass extruded polycarbonate (PC), 6mm thick.
6- Green extruded polyethylene (PE), 20mm thick.
7- Black polyethylene foam (PE), 20mm thick.
Uses of polymers and acrylics:
It’s not the material I use most in my workshop, but I think it has a few neat applications. For starters, I like 4mm thick opal white methacrylate for making zero clearances for my homemade tools.
In the first picture you can see it in my homemade band saw, in the second one it’s in my Portable Workshop and in the third one you can see the methacrylate in my scroll saw.
It’s also a material worth considering when you need a sturdy, transparent panel, such as the cover for the workbench vise in the fourth picture.
By the way, in the first picture you can see the blade guides in my band saw, made from black teflon. Since this is a material with a very low friction coefficient, I initially thought it would be ideal to make the guides, but they ended up warping too much, so I made them again with HPL.
Almost all of these materials are hypoallergenic and moisture-resistant, so they’re perfect for making furniture for public spaces or for kitchens and bathrooms. For example, teflon is widely used to make cutting boards for kitchens.
The foam versions of polyethylene are perfect for packaging or heat protection for plumbing pipes. They’re also used to make custom inserts for boxes and drawers so that you can safely store your tools.
Processing polymers or acrylics:
These plastic materials can be processed with woodworking tools, with some considerations. Cast plastics are much easier to cut and route. Extruded polymers tend to chip or splinter more easily.
In the first picture I’m cutting a 4mm thick piece of “opal” cast methacrylate. To cut this kind of material, it’s always best to reduce the speed of the disc to a medium setting if possible, and use a fine disc with lots of teeth.
These materials are easy to sand and polish. In the second picture I’m sanding a piece of methcrylate into shape with a belt sander. Acrylics tend to get lots of scratches on the edges after being cut with a disc, so you’ll almost always have to sand them down to remove the scratches.
They’re also easy to drill with wood or metal drill bits. Just like when cutting them, we must try to set our drill to a medium speed.
In my opinion, out of all these plastic materials, teflon and polyethylene are the most versatile. Thanks to their low friction coefficient, they’re easy to machine, barely chip and can be routed very easily, allowing us to make pieces that require precision and stability. They’re also easy to thread firmly and safely. In the fourth picture you can see a teflon attachment for a clamp I made with a CNC, to clamp down the frets of a guitar.
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