Working With Solid Surface
You can complete the majority of solid surface projects using simple woodworking tools, such as a router, random orbit sander, circular saw, bar clamps, hot glue gun, adhesive dispensing gun and a straight edge/rip fence. Of course, many more expensive, professional-grade industry tools exist, but we’ve done our best to show you how to work with solid surface using basic tools. Here they are:
Circular Saw with Carbide Blade
An 18-volt cordless circular saw will cut 1/2” thick solid surface material. For anything thicker, a corded 7 1/4” circular saw is fine. For both, a thin 24 tooth carbide tipped blade will work for rough cuts and a 40 tooth for smoother edges.
A router is typically used for putting the finishing touch on edges that are to be seamed, for creating the final edge profile or creating a curved piece with a template used as a guide.
Choose a straight edge that is long enough to be clamped at each end to the material and is thick enough to easily guide the router. TIP: if you don’t have such a straight edge, you can use a long level or any other stiff, thick straight item.
Hot Melt Glue Gun
The hot melt glue gun is used to secure clamping blocks to the material during the seaming process.
Adhesives, Dispensing Gun and Tips
A color-matched adhesive, which also serves as a gap filler, is available to help make the seam invisible. The adhesive dispensing gun and tips are for applying adhesive to the material surfaces to be joined.
Random Orbit Sander and Abrasive Kits
Random orbit sanders are used for sanding the surfaces to the finish that is desired—flat through high gloss. An inline sander or belt sander will leave visible sanding marks and is not recommended for a final finish.
Solid Surface 101 is a multi-part series intended to give beginners the skills required to start working with solid surface material, including guidance on tooling, cutting, seaming, finishing, edge build-up, countertop fabrication and installation, sink-installation, and some additional advanced techniques.
- What is Solid Surface?
- Applications of Solid Surface
- Advantages of Solid Surface
- Manufacturers of Solid Surface
- Who Can Purchase Solid Surface & Where?
Solid surface is a manufactured material most commonly used for seamless countertop installations.
It can be readily cut, routed and sanded like wood and formed into countertops, shower walls, external cladding for buildings, signage and furniture where non-porosity and infrequent maintenance are highly valued. These are just a few of the many applications.
Solid surface is made of acrylic resin, polyester resin or a combination of the two that is then combined with filler, color pigments and acrylic chips. This composition is most frequently extruded or poured as ½” thick sheets that are 30” x 144” and are the same color throughout their thickness.
In addition to being workable like hard wood, it can be heated and thermoformed into curved and molded shapes. It can also be printed on using dye-sublimation techniques that deposit the ink just below the surface so the image becomes permanent.
APPLICATIONS OF SOLID SURFACE
Solid surface can be used in many ways. If you can imagine it, you can probably build it out of solid surface. Here are a few common applications:
Horizontal Surfaces: Among the many horizontal surface uses are kitchen and bath countertops, commercial food preparation areas, tables and desktops, reception desks, workstations, window sills, laboratory bench tops, bar tops, and flooring.
Vertical Surfaces: Vertical applications of solid surface include shower walls, wainscoting, wall cladding, bathroom partitions, exterior building cladding, and signs.
Industrial Product Design: Versatility and formability allow for unique creations such as custom sinks, shower pans, chairs and furniture, cabinetry, lamps and lighting, and back-lit artwork.
ADVANTAGES OF SOLID SURFACE
Stain Resistant (Most Stains can be Wiped or Scrubbed Away)
Most surfaces can be marred, sometimes permanently, by such things as grease spots, blueberries, graffiti, makeup or lipstick, hair dye, shoe polish, or permanent marking pens. On solid surface, all of these blights can be removed with water or an abrasive cleaner.
Antimicrobial (Bacteria, Mold and Mildew Resistant)
Solid surface will not support the growth of bacteria, which makes solid surface invaluable in healthcare settings like hospitals, doctors offices, gyms, hospices, and retirement homes. Not to mention kitchens and bathrooms.
NSF/ANSI Standard 51 Certified
The majority of solid surface brands carry this certification which means the material is safe for food contact for all types of food. That’s why it’s great for kitchen countertops.
Greenguard NSF Indoor Air Quality Certified
The majority of solid surface brands carry this certification, which means it does not outgas any of the roughly 300 substances that Greenguard deems harmful, and does not degrade the quality of indoor air.
SCS Certified Recycled Content (Many Brands Qualify for Leeds Points)
Using these select types of solid surface that qualify for recycled content shows that conserving natural resources is important to you and your projects.
Renewable (Easily Repair Scratches, Chips, Gouges or Cracks)
Large surfaces require seams regardless of the material used. With solid surface, the seams are either invisible or remarkably hard to detect. This is not only good for aesthetics, but it also eliminates a place for crumbs, dirt, stains, and bacterial and other pathogens to get into. Shop for abrasives and adhesives.
Sealing and Painting NOT Required
If you think about that for a minute, it’s really remarkable and unburdening. You don’t need to reseal the surface every six months and you don’t need to worry that if you don’t, the grease will leak through and permanently stain the surface.
- No-finish coat means no need for applying a finish, sanding, and applying another coat or having paint booths or drying rooms and all the assorted equipment.
- No repainting means that when the surface becomes dingy or aged it can easily be fixed with a cleaner and some wiping or scrubbing instead of repainting or resurfacing.
More Dimensionally Stable Than Wood (No Shrinkage Cracks or Raised Grain)
The grain of unfinished wood rises when it gets wet or absorbs moisture. Even finished wood can dry out and crack. Although solid surface can slightly expand and contract from temperature changes, it does not crack or absorb moisture.
Thermoformable (Heat and Bend into Curves and Shapes)
In recent years, the solid surface industry has begun to leverage solid surface’s ability to become pliable when heated to around 300-350 degrees. Once it is in this state, it resembles a thick wet lasagna noodle. When you drape the “noodle” over an object, solid surface will conform to the shape and retain that shape when it cools.
Printable (Transfer Images and Text into the Surface)
The process called dye sublimation allows for the transfer of images and text to be embedded into the surface of solid surface. The technique involves heating the solid surface and then transferring the ink to the surface under a vacuum condition. The images and text are then permanently affixed in the pores of the solid surface. It can then be thermoformed, fabricated, and cleaned or sanded lightly.
Abundance of Colors, Patterns and Designs
Solid surface is available in a vast array of colors and patterns, for example:
- Infinite solid colors
- Small multicolored particulates like grains of sand embedded in the sheets
- Larger particulates such as found in granite
- Randomly veined with particulates variegated, swirled, and veined patterns with particles that do not repeat
These patterns are often inspired by nature, but then sometimes do not at all resemble nature and are whimsical. Some have swirls of metal shavings or strands of other materials. You can also have custom colors made to fit your designs by sending a sample to be matched.
Touch and Feel
Solid surface is not stone-cold, like concrete, quartz, and granite. It is smooth and “warm” and provides a forgiving hardness; when a glass is tipped over, it may not break. However, when dropped from a distance, glass will likely break.
The lighter colors of solid surface show very little weather or UV impact after many years in outdoor applications such as signs, outdoor benches, and cladding for buildings. An added benefit of the material is that graffiti can be removed without changing the appearance of the surface.
Freezing and hot weather do not impact the material other than expansion and contraction. Over extended years, the more saturated and darker colors may show a white haze that can be washed or sanded away.
Resistant to Majority of Common Chemicals
Solid surface is not impacted by chemicals like ammonia, mild acids, and trisodium phosphates. However, nail polish remover, strong acids, and concentrated bleach will produce a hazing effect. Hazing can be removed with the use of a wet Scotchbrite® pad.