Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Fixing up melamine cabinetry: relaminating and more

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

Melamine is one of the most popular choices for cabinet construction and for good reason. It's inexpensive, strong (under the right circumstances), uniform and blemish-free. Like most inexpensive materials, though, it's not without some drawbacks. To understand these drawbacks, it helps to know a bit more about the material itself. Melamine consists of a particle-board core that has a resin-saturated paper-based finish (or laminate) thermally bonded to it. This finish is easy to clean and resists water well, but edges, nicks and drilled holes can let in moisture, at which point the product gets unsightly fast.

If you've got failing, delaminating or just ordinary, ugly, melamine cabinetry, you have some options available for fixing it up without fully refacing or replacing.

Before you start

Working with melamine requires a little bit more attention than plywood or hardwood. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Melamine doesn't take screws or nails well, which is why you see all of that interesting hardware at the joints. Most anything you try to screw or nail into melamine can sag or become loose over time because of the particle board core.
  • It scratches, and the scratches won't sand out. Be careful when handling boards in the garage or anywhere else an errant pebble could dig a groove into the laminate. Old towels or rags work great as soft buffers.
  • Cutting it is tricky. To prevent chipping the best way to cut melamine board is with a perfectly aligned scoring blade in front of the main blade on your table saw. You can buy a scoring blade attachment, but perfect alignment is tricky. You might be able to use only a negative tooth blade and your steady hand, but it can be pretty difficult to avoid chipping -- so don't test your skills on a visible piece.

Fixing peeling melamine

One of the most common issues with aging melamine cabinetry is peeling laminate. It's easiest to fix this problem with the offending board removed. Start by removing or covering hardware and taking out the board in question. Here's what to do next:

  • Glue. Make sure you get the right stuff. Glue with too much moisture can only make the problem worse. Look for melamine-specific adhesives. Try to get as much glue as far back under the peeling edge as possible without making the problem worse or breaking the loose chunk off altogether. A tiny paint brush works well for this.
  • Clamp gently. Use cloth towels as a buffer between the clamp and the material to prevent scratches. For good measure, leave the clamps on a bit longer than the glue directions suggest.
  • Assess and prevent. Check out your handiwork, and replace the repaired board. If the problem started because of roughed up edges, consider a thicker/harder border to prevent further peeling.

Working with melamine isn't easy. If you feel like you're in over your head, call in a professional instead of ruining perfectly good materials.

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