Covering a Formica Table With Wood
If you've got an an older Formica table that's seen some serious use, or just grown tired of the dated patterns, breath new life into that table with a wood top. Customize the look with hardwood plywood, or go the extra step with genuine hardwood. You don't need excessive woodworking talent to cut and cover a laminated tabletop. You can do it with a few ordinary tools.
Hardwood plywood is the most convenient way to cover laminated tabletops. It's extremely flat, won't crack or split, easy to cut and shape, and looks great. Lots of tabletops are made from scratch with plywood. Use 3/4-inch plywood for a substantial, heavy cover. Use 1/2-inch or 1/4-inch plywood for affordability. Cut the plywood to size on any table saw. If you chose to use 3/4-inch plywood, drill pilot holes through the top of the table from the bottom and screw it on. Use contact cement for 1/2-inch or 1/4-inch-thick plywood. Brush the cement on the back of the plywood and the top of the table. Allow the cement to dry to the touch and carefully place the plywood on the table. Contact cement bonds on contact, make sure it's positioned right before placing it. If you're not comfortable using contact cement, use construction adhesive. Finish it with stain and lacquer and you're ready to use it.
The best alternative to plywood is composites. Composites look exactly like plywood, but have a dense chipboard core. They're just as flat as plywood, heavier, and very stable. Composites have a hardwood veneer surface, and if you can't see the edge, you can't distinguish them from plywood. Composites are used all the time to build tables from scratch. The thicknesses range from 1/4 to 3/4 inch. Cut it with a table saw, screw on the 3/4-inch and glue on 1/2- or 1/4-inch just as you would plywood. If the table is very light or top heavy, 3/4-inch-thick composites might be too heavy, but thinner composites should be fine. Finish composites just like plywood with stain and lacquer.
Cutting plywood or composites exposes a raw edge. Sand it smooth and it finishes out OK, but you can still see the layers in plywood, or the core on composites. If this bothers you edge band it. The best plywood or composite tabletops have edge band, which is a solid piece of hardwood pin nailed to the edge. Cut pieces of hardwood 1/4 inch thick by 3/4 inch wide. Apply glue to the edge of the plywood or composite and pin nail the hardwood strips onto the edge using 1-inch pin nails. Putty the holes with wood putty and the top looks like a solid piece of hardwood. Edge banding only works on 3/4- or 1/2-inch-thick material. Quarter-inch material is too thin to edge band, and sanding only has to suffice for 1/4-inch board. Edge-band before or after you place the material on the table. It's easier to do it before you place it on the table. For a woodworking flair, use hardwood moldings or a solid piece of 3/4-by-1 1/2-inch hardwood as an edge-band border.
If you don't mind small grooves running across the top, use tongue-and-groove flooring to cover Formica tabletops. Attach each pieces one-by-one using construction adhesive, or even place small screws through the bottom of the table into each piece. Hardwood lumber can also be used, but unless the hardwood is glued into a panel before it's attached, small glue lines between pieces are unavoidable. Hardwood lumber is also prone to cracks and splits when glued together in wider pieces. The edges of solid hardwood or tongue-and-groove do not need edge bands, but you will need to cut the lip and tongue from flooring with a table saw to provide a smooth, clean edge before attaching the pieces on both sides.