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I hear the term laminate often and my first question is always, what type of laminate? Laminate is simply a term used to describe surfaces with layers fixed together to form a hard, flat, or flexible surface. In the furniture world the word laminate can mean two things, 1) a Formica or plastic material laminated over wood or imitation wood or 2) Wood Veneer, a thin layer of wood, over wood or imitation wood. When it comes to painting or staining furniture, the prep for these surfaces are totally different. I’ll explain each below.
Formica or plastic material
Staining – In order to stain a piece of furniture with a formica or plastic material on the surface you WILL NOT beable to use a regular penetrating stain like Fusion Stain & Finishing Oil. You will need to use a Gel Stain. Prep is minimal and all that is required is a good cleaning of the surface with TSP (a degreaser), filling holes with wood filler if needed and you’re ready to apply. See Gel Stain application below. For Formica you’ll want to use the Brush on method in order to get full coverage.
Painting – In order to Paint a piece of furniture with a formica or plastic material on the surface you will need to take these two steps before beginning to paint
- Clean well with Fusion TSP
- Apply a thin layer of Fusion Ultra Grip and allow it to dry for 12 hours before painting. Ultra Grip is a bonding primer that helps paint stick to non-porous surfaces. I apply with a brush to ensure I have a thin coat.
Staining – Since Wood Veneer is essentially a thin layer of wood you have two choices in products that can be used to stain the surface. First we’ll discuss a Penetrating Stain like Fusion Stain & Finishing Oil. Secondly, we’ll discuss Gel Stain. Both are great options but prep is very different.
- Sanding -You can sand the surface carefully using a sander, starting with 80 grit and gradually moving up to 220. Sand with the grain using very little pressure. Just let the sander do the work. Sand CAREFULLY because you do not want to go through the thin layer of Veneer and expose the particle board or wood type surface under the Veneer. You do not want to use any higher than a 220 grit or it will close the grain of the wood and make it hard for stain to penetrate the surface. You will need to sand to raw wood. If you’d prefer to use Stripper to accomplish this move to the next step.
- Stripper – Use a Chemical Stripper like Blue Bear which may require several coats to remove the finish depending on how many layers of stain, paint or sealer are on the surface. After all of the existing finish is removed sand with a 220 grit, with the wood grain, to smooth the surface and clean with Mineral Spirits or Fusion Odorless Solvent.
- Wood Conditioner – In order to get an even stained finish I always use a wood conditioner on the surface before staining. I recommend this ONE.
- Application – I use a lint free rag to wipe on Penetrating Stain making sure to wipe off excess. Wiping across the surface in long strokes to remove any excess will insure an even stained surface.
- Clean with Fusion TSP and you’re ready to apply Gel Stain. No sanding or wood conditioner are needed. Gel Stain is self leveling and is very good at covering small scratches and defects in the surface. If you have chips in the surface those can be filled with wood filler before you apply the Gel Stain. Gel Stain can be applied with a brush like paint or applied to raw wood by brushing or wiping on and wiping off excess. I recommend doing a test area to see which method is right for your project. Brushing on definitely gives a more opaque finish which hides flaws. Wiping back you will see more wood grain. I recommend using an inexpensive Chip Brush that you can throw away or clean with mineral spirits or Fusion Odorless Solvent after use. I prefer this brand of Gel Stain which comes in a variety of colors-> Gel Stain
I hope this post clears up some of the confusion about what laminate and wood veneer are and helps you to better understand what type of laminate you are working with and what your options are for finishing it.
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