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In this article we’ll discuss the merits of using different tools for cutting melamine-faced board (MFC) / furniture board, how to achieve the perfect cut, and offer some tips and tricks for avoiding ‘chipping / chip-out’ – the splintering of the laminate surface material when cutting MFC. Chipping is similar to cutting cross grain on a piece of wood and there are a number of techniques you can use to minimise this. As this article is aimed at the general DIYer, we have only discussed tools that the average DIYer may own and how to get the best results with these when cutting MFC.
All of Wardrobe Doors Direct's interiors, strike plates, liners and end panels are engineered from commercial grade melamine-faced chipboard (or as it is usually referred to, ‘MFC’) and the long edges of all items are finished with 1mm thick ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) edging tape. If you would like to know more about MFC itself please see our article What is melamine-faced chipboard?
Usually, all MFC components will be supplied at a larger size than your specified dimensions, so there will likely be a requirement to cut the pieces down to the correct size. If you only have doors and a framing kit ie. strike plates and liners, then there will be a minimal amount of cutting required and any cuts made only one side would be visible. However, the cuts required for interior elements such as shelves etc. both sides could be visible and so will require a little advance thought / preparation to achieve a professional finish.
Whichever type of saw is used to cut melamine-faced board, the following procedures will ensure the best finished results are achieved:
If a panel will only be visible from one side, eg. a strike plate which will be attached to a wall, it is not as important to prevent the laminate from chipping on the side that will not be seen. However, if you are cutting an internal component such as a shelf where both faces will be on view, then it is preferable to minimise the 'chipping’ on both faces for the best finished appearance.
A number of different types of saw can be used to cut MFC. Below is a discussion of the pros and cons of the various different tools:
For best results when cutting MFC use a traditional saw. The teeth on the cutting blade of a hand saw should be hard point with approximately 15 teeth per inch. Saws with wider spaced and/or larger teeth are more suited to cutting rough sawn timber. Using a hand saw is probably the easiest way to cut MFC as you can manage the speed of the cut. The cut is only on the downward stroke so chipping is kept to a minimum and also kept to the underside of the work piece.
MFC can be cut with a jigsaw but as a jigsaw works using a reciprocating saw action ie. the blade has an up and down action, it has greater potential to cause chipping on both sides of the panel. To minimise this we recommend using a blade specifically designed for cutting MFC. These are usually fine tooth blades and only have a cutting action when on the down-stroke, not on the up-stroke. Although not a specific recommendation the Bosch T101BR is designed for cutting MFC and only cuts on the down-stroke: the ‘R’ in the product code refers to its ‘reversed’ teeth.
It is also possible to fit an anti-splinter insert on to a jigsaw – a small piece of clear plastic which allows you to see your cut line. This will help to minimise the amount of chipping when the cut is being made.
If your jigsaw has a pendulum option, make sure this is turned off.
If using a jigsaw also use a straight edge / guide rail on the work piece to prevent the blade from wandering, as this is another cause of chipping – see our Guide rails / straight edge hack below.
A circular saw gives slightly better results than a jigsaw as the cutting action is in one direction so you should only encounter chip-out on the underside of the panel. It is also easier to achieve a longer, straight cut (either with or without using a straight edge / guide) with a circular saw. Use a blade specifically designed for cutting laminate as it is has triple chip (angled teeth) which score the laminate before actually cutting through it.
If you use a circular saw use a straight edge / guide rail on the work piece to prevent the blade from wandering as this is another cause of chip out – see our Guide rails / straight edge hack below
A chop saw (a circular cutting blade mounted on a pivoted arm) is a quick and easy way of making similar short section cuts across a long, narrow piece of material. It is therefore ideally suited to cutting liners and strike plates to length, but is practically no use for making continuous straight cuts to long sections of MFC.
A multi-tool is designed specially for making detailed cuts eg. cutting to the shape of a skirting board rather than cutting out a section of the skirting board. Although a multi-tool works on a reciprocating action the amount of chipping will be minimal because the up-down action of the blade is very small. The blades have very fine teeth and the speed of the cut will also be a lot slower than any of the other cutting methods.
We recommend a fine toothed wood saw blade. There are also a number of branded blades available specifically for cutting MFC.
To achieve the best cut possible always use a new saw blade or router bit. If you are going to be cutting a large number of pieces the blades need replacing relatively frequently as the resin in the MFC will dull the blade. Always use a good quality, branded blade / router bit as they will last longer and therefore produce the best cuts.
Having spoken to a number of professional fitters to find out what they use to cut MFC the overriding answer was a circular saw / plunge saw with a track rail and always with a new, good quality blade fitted. For cutting out sections of skirting board a multi-tool was the preferred tool.
Whichever tool you use to cut your MFC panels to size, the quality of the finished appearance of the cut edges in the laminate facing can be improved by employing the following procedures and tips.
For cutting with a jigsaw or circular saw or using a router to clean up the cut edge we use an easy ‘hack’ method to clamp the straight edge to the work piece. This method can be used when needing to make a long, straight cut along a panel of MFC or for finishing an already cut edge by planing/routing it to a smooth, perfectly flat finish – see Cleaning up the cut edges below.
First, position the straight edge (this could be an off-cut of the MFC with the ABS edging) along the line that you want to cut (or finish) on the work piece. If you are cutting, make sure to allow for any offset the cutting blade itself may have, eg. a jigsaw blade with a guide plate attached. Stick masking tape in a number of corresponding positions along the length of the straight edge and also along the length of the piece to be cut – see Fig 2a.
Then, place a dab of superglue on each piece of masking tape on the work piece and replace the straight edge on top of this so that the corresponding pieces of masking tape are in contact – hold the pieces together for a few seconds until the glue dries – see Fig 2b.
The straight edge and the work piece should now be ‘clamped’ together strongly enough for you to be able to run a jigsaw / circular saw along the length of the straight edge to make the cut (or to run a router along it as a depth guide if finishing a cut edge) – see Fig 2c.
When you have completed the cut (or the routing), the two pieces can be separated by carefully pulling the straight edge away from the work piece, leaving the back-to-back masking tape pieces stuck together – see Fig 2d. These pieces can then be removed.
Even if you have achieved a satisfactory clean-edged cut on one or both sides of your MFC panel, it is still possible to improve the final appearance by cleaning up the cut edges using a router, planer or belt sander.
Planing wood to the final dimensions is a technique used in traditional woodworking for softwood. A similar technique can be use with MFC. Make the cut close to the scored line (as described above) and then, using a power plane / electric sander, remove the remaining strip of material to achieve a perfectly finished cut. We would also recommend this technique when fitting an end panel up to a wall or ceiling when the mating surface is not perfectly straight.
Although not a tool the average DIY-er may have in their arsenal, if you do own one or can borrow one, a router can achieve the cleanest of cut finishes. After cutting the work piece to within 1-2mm of its finished width/length (ie. within 1-2mm of your pre-scored line in the face of the MFC panel – see Fig. 1d above) by using any of the tools discussed above, you will need to use a straight edge, clamped to the work piece, to guide the router (see our Guide rails / straight edge hack above). If you do not have an actual straight edge tool you can also use the edge of a liner as a guide, but you will need to clamp the liner to your workpiece (eg. using adjustable G-clamps) to enable the guide edge of the router to run along it – see image opposite.
If you want to plane / sand the edge of a board (eg. for fitting an end panel to a wall) first remove the ABS edging strip as both planers and sanders struggle to remove the soft ABS quickly. To do this, place a Stanley knife blade between the edge of the chipboard and the ABS strip that is stuck to it and gently rock the blade back and forth. This should separate a short section of the ABS edging from the chipboard. You can then use pliers to grip this and pull the edging fully off – see the images opposite.
When working with moving saw blades and with the potential for bits of cut material to fly off from the saw blade, we strongly recommend the following items of protective workwear are used:
Always use eye protection such as safety glasses or a full face shield as a defence against potential damaging projectiles and dust.
Always wear suitable protective gloves when working with rotating circular or reciprocating saw blades. The cut edges of MFC can also be quite sharp so wearing suitable gloves can aid material handling and protect against cuts and scratches.
Use ear plugs or ear muffs when using a hand held tool producing more than 85dB.
Always use a respirator when working in an environment where fine dust or sawdust is produced from the cutting process.
Steel toe caps protect against injury when dropping anything on your feet and safety boots also offer a mid-sole plate to protect against puncture from below.
Hopefully you found this article useful. As with most DIY jobs there are a number of different ways a job can be tackled, each with particular advantages and disadvantages. If you would like to discuss your own project with us please phone us on 0800 035 1730.
The information provided herein is intended as a guide to good practice. Wardrobe Doors Direct cannot be held responsible or liable for any damage, wear or malfunction caused to components due to inadequate or improper installation.
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