How To: Make Perfect, Chip-Free Cuts in Melamine and Veneer

by Chris Gardner

How to cut melamine and MDF correctly

Melamine-coated particleboard is an amazing resource for DIY projects: it's cheaper than plywood, as strong as MDF but less prone to warping, and comes with two finished sides that look way cleaner than painted sheet goods. It comes in large 4x8' sheets, or smaller, more usable sizes often sold in the shelving section. If you're okay with the white or black finish, it's the perfect material for custom storage and organizing tools.

Later today, I'll show you how I used melamine to create a custom, IKEA hacked desk, but first, I wanted to share a few tips for creating perfectly clean edges when you cut. Since melamine is a plastic resin, it's prone to chip and splinter. Luckily, there are a few easy tricks to get perfectly clean, factory-like edges. This technique also works well when re-purposed old particle board furniture with laminate tops, such as inexpensive pieces sold at IKEA or discount stores, or the rows of furniture found in thrift stores and secondhand shops.

Note: If this means anything to you: you'll have the most luck with a zero-clearance insert, a fine-tooth blade, and a crosscut sled. If not, don't worry about it and just give it a try.

  1. First, designate your cutline, and score both sides lightly with a utility knife.

    Score with a utility knife

  2. Second, set your table saw or circular saw blade to cut about 1/4" into one surface of the melamine. Here, you're not really cutting the piece to length as much as you are creating a clean edge in one face. Most chips occur when the teeth that are not actually removing material come in contact with the surface. By cutting one side at a time, you prevent most tear out.

    Make a kerf

  3. Turn the saw off, and back the piece back behind the blade. Or, if using a circular saw, set the saw in the same position. Raise the cut depth of the blade so that the gullets are 1" above the top surface (a lot higher than you'd normally set the blade for safe cuts), and then cut the top side. Since the blade is much higher, you'll want to be extra careful with kickback. Here's where the crosscut sled really comes in handy. 
    Complete the cut


Simple. This method will produce 99% perfect cuts, with no special $150 melamine blade required.

Pretty sweet.

created at: 01/11/2011

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