Veneered and melamine faced wood sheets have revolutionised the flat pack furniture
industry, making very affordable, but great looking furniture. The interior board
can be made of various materials, but would normally be either chipboard or MDF.
The melamine coating, which is a thermosetting plastic resin would be applied to
the sheet material. The melamine surface is heated to cure or harden the resin. It
contains formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogenic substance.
Melamine face chipboard is used predominantly
is furniture building MFC can also be used to
build vivariums or reptile tanks. The decorative
wood finishes create a great look, and the
waterproof finish all in one that is needed
for the vivarium.
Melamine is available in different sizes and
thicknesses, as well as a large number of
colours and patterns. Wood effects can still be
created to give a natural look. Oak, mahogany,
maple, pine, ash coloured boards can be
produced, rather than plain colours such as
white which would normally be used in kitchen
carcasses. Some colours such as red or black
can be hard to source. The sheets are heavy and difficult to work with, as the resin
is prone to chipping when being cut with conventional table saws so it is best to
leave cutting to a professional.
Manufacturing companies generally use very large and expensive CNC machines, controlled
by CAD programs, which often have multiple cutter heads using router bits designed
for these machines. The cutter heads are automatically changed for the process being
done. This is not for the DIY enthusiast. The accuracy and speed in which these machines
cut out parts is unbelievable. A single machine can position the sheet, cut all the
parts, drill whatever holes are needed, cut rabits and dados, with repeatability
that is perfect from one sheet to the next. We now have a superb manufacturing line.
The use of the particle board, and manufacturing speed is what creates a cheap finished
Smaller commercial shops will generally use saws equipped with a second blade, known
as a scoring blade. This blade is smaller in diameter, and is positioned just in
front of the main blade. This scoring blade turns the opposite direction as the main
blade and scores the bottom edge of the sheet which prevents the main blade from
chipping the melamine surface, and ensuring a clean cut. This blade can be run from
the same motor using a belt drive, or a separate smaller motor that is often a direct
Another method used is to cut the parts 1/4" over sized and trim all four side by
1/8" using either a jointer or router table. While this does add considerably to
the labour it is effective in resulting in chip free cuts.
Another option is to use a Melamine saw blade, which I have found you don’t get a
perfect cut. It’s the chipping of the melamine that is the problem. These blades
are referred to as ATB, or alternating top bevel. They claim to be effective when
sharp, and when using a zero clearance insert. There are a number of blades manufacturers
that have blades for this purpose.
Often when purchased from both wholesalers and retailers, the edges are not trimmed,
and the hardened resin makes handling the material quite dangerous. Gloves are a
must, as the hard melamine is extremely thin and brittle, making it sharp on occasions.
Sheets that are trimmed can still be sharp so be cautious. Edges should be sealed
to prevent formaldehyde from escaping into the air. Exposed edges and edge banded
or have solid wood edges applied, much like plywood. Use a glue specifically for
melamine, as the standard white and yellow PVA glues will not hold on the smooth
Specialty hardware is used with melamine due to the properties of the material. Fasteners
are designed to maximize the holding power into the edges of the material. They are
used with a special drill bit, also designed with the material in mind.
Knock down fasteners, designed to permit parts to be connected with a screwdriver
or Allen wrench, are used to make assembly quick and easy, along with wooden dowels,
which position the parts. These fasteners consist of two parts, one is a stud which
is screwed into the edge of the melamine, and the other is a cam type part, inserted
into a hole drilled part way through the piece.
The cam is turned and
pulls the two parts
together and locks
Them into place. The procedure is reversible, so if desired the furniture can be
dismantled. This is brilliant for joining worktop sheets. On the finished surface
you should not be able to see or feel the joint, if it is done professionally.