When working with plywood, one of the main things is that you will always try to find a way to protect the wood. One of the best ways to do this is applying a laminate, but can you do that with epoxy rather than some of the specialized laminates on the market?
To laminate with epoxy, you need to tape off the area where you want to apply the epoxy, mixing the epoxy as the bottle recommends. Apply the epoxy in thin layers and then brush across the piece, using a heat gun or blowtorch across the surface to draw out the bubbles, removing the tape once it is dry.
The process of applying epoxy is always simple when you first read about it, but it is not always so easy, especially if you are applying epoxy on oddly shaped pieces. Several things will affect how you apply the epoxy, along with a few basic tools you need to have at the ready to laminate.
What Are The Tools Needed To Laminate With Epoxy?
Despite what many think, you need quite a few basic tools to work with epoxy in any capacity, each of which will help you get the best possible final finish. We have worked with epoxy in the past, which means we always do a basic check for a few tools and equipment before we just start mixing.
We recommend that you have six things before you open the lid of your epoxy and start mixing. Each one will help you get the best possible laminate finish for your plywood; if used properly and with the right steps, you can get a plywood epoxy laminate that is nearly seamless.
- Epoxy: The type of epoxy you are using will determine how you can apply the epoxy. Most epoxy will be in two parts, requiring that you mix them to start the activation process; if mixed wrongly, it may not dry or heat up excessively.
- Mixing Cups: You need plastic mixing cups to mix epoxy; whatever you are using will be disposed of afterward. Paper alternatives have hit the market, but we always recommend not using the Tupperware from the kitchen when doing this.
- Mixing Sticks: Mixing sticks look like tongue depressors that your doctor uses to hold your tongue down. Having several on hand will help you mix each batch of epoxy on its own without cross-contamination; make sure to wrap it in a paper towel before binning.
- Paint Brushes: Laminating plywood means that you are not pouring over a ton of epoxy on your piece and leaving it to dry, forming a complete layer of epoxy. Instead, once spread onto your plywood, you will brush the epoxy out to create a thin layer across the piece.
- Heat Gun: Even with the thinnest layers of epoxy, there will be air bubbles in the epoxy; using a heat gun or blow torch, you can lift the bubbles to the surface. This is the best way to ensure that your epoxy laminate has no air bubbles and feels smooth to the touch.
- Masking Tape: We recommend working on each part of the plywood piece by piece, ensuring no drips along the side. Masking tape over areas you are not working on will ensure that you don’t have unwanted epoxy drips along with your plywood.
What Are The Steps To Laminate Plywood With Epoxy?
Once you have the basic tools to start applying the epoxy, we can move on to the steps you should take to laminate the plywood. Unlike most projects that use epoxy, you will not be applying a large, thick layer of the stuff across your entire plywood piece.
Instead, we need to apply a thin layer that causes the natural grains of the plywood to pop while also ensuring that the layer is thick enough to protect the wood. Overall, this usually means that the epoxy needs to be just above 2mm in thickness, causing it to protect the wood but not be too thick.
Preparing The Plywood Surface
The first thing you need to do is prepare the plywood surface you are laminating, which usually just means cleaning it. Plywood will already be smooth to the touch, and epoxy does not need such a rough surface to stick onto; the plywood will absorb some of the epoxies once applied.
However, when laminating the plywood sides, the side where you can see the layering, you will need to lightly sand it. The plywood sides will require more epoxy to be applied, the grooves absorb more epoxy, and it can be challenging to create a thick enough layer.
Taping Off Areas That Should Not Be Laminated
Before you start applying the epoxy, you need to tape off the areas that are not laminated right now, with the tape sticking a few millimeters above the work area. This ensures that if there is an epoxy pooling up, it won’t drip down the side and cause unwanted stains.
We recommend masking tape because most other tapes get stuck to the epoxy, causing headaches when everything is dry, and you have to remove it. Masking tape is easy to remove and, even when stuck, can just be scratched off with a chisel or some light sandpaper.
Mixing The Epoxy
Most epoxy will require a one-to-one mixture; however, this is not always true, and some of the more specialized epoxies have different mixing ratios. Using your mixing cups, measure out exactly how much epoxy you will be mixing, remembering that the process starts instantly once mixed.
Epoxy only has a limited time with which you can work with it, with fast-drying epoxy giving you even less time to properly laminate your plywood. It is important to remember that you will not be able to smooth everything out when the epoxy has already started to harden.
Spreading Epoxy With Brush Or Cards
If you are only creating a thin layer of epoxy across your plywood, you can use a paintbrush to paint the epoxy onto the plywood. This creates a smooth layer of epoxy across the plywood that will spread to every crevice, leaving the plywood flat to smoothen naturally.
If you want a thicker layer of epoxy on the plywood, you should pour the epoxy onto the piece and then use plastic spreader cards to smooth it out. You can buy these cards in the same shop or section where you bought the epoxy; they are the most often used tool when using epoxy.
Using Heat Gun To Remove Bubbles
Once you have your first layer of epoxy on your plywood, you need to ensure that there are no bubbles, something that will happen even if you brush the epoxy on. Fortunately, removing the bubbles from epoxy is one of the easiest things to do in the entire process.
Using a heat gun or blow torch, just lightly heat the surface of the epoxy, ensuring that you are not lingering on any spot for more than half a second. If you have a thin layer applied, you can move quickly; if you are applying a thicker piece, you will see the bubbles start popping as you heat the epoxy.
Applying Epoxy With Layers
If you are going to apply several layers of epoxy, you do not need the epoxy to fully dry; instead, wait around four to six hours. Once the epoxy has become dry to the touch, you can apply your second, third, or fourth layers, ensuring that you are not too rough when moving around the piece.
When brushing, we recommend applying at least two layers to ensure a proper seal has been created. If applying thicker layers, you can apply only one layer of epoxy to properly seal everything, as the epoxy will automatically self-level if enough has been added to the plywood.
Leaving To Dry Fully
We always recommend leaving the epoxy for at least 12 hours to ensure that it has properly dried out before you start removing the tape and sanding anything. This will ensure that you can easily and comfortably do whatever you want to the epoxy without causing damage to the bonds.
If you have just brushed on the epoxy, you will be done laminating this part of the plywood; you can remove the tape and start on the next part. Using epoxy to laminate anything is a good way to protect it but will require that you wait a long time for the epoxy to cure fully.
What Are The Types Of Ways You Can Laminate Plywood With Epoxy?
There are three ways to laminate any wood using epoxy; all three require slightly different know-how and wait times. The thicker a piece of epoxy is, the more time it requires to fully dry, with most artisans preferring to simply use thin layers rather than thick layers.
This allows them to apply several coatings of epoxy without losing time that could be used to prepare their next project. We always recommend using the laminate style that best fits the project you are working with, thin laminate for a temporary structure, fiberglass for waterproof projects, and layers for furniture.
Layers Of Epoxy
This is the most common type of epoxy laminate that you will find simply because it has become a popular way to create glass-like pieces. The easiest way to see this being used is when creating tables out of two pieces of wood, using the epoxy to connect and laminate the wood.
However, the layering process is the trickiest out of the ways you can laminate with epoxy, as the mixture might be wrong or not enough. Further, the thicker a layer of epoxy is, the more likely bubbles will become trapped, even if you are using a heat gun or blow torch to remove the initial bubbles.
Applying Fiberglass And Epoxy
Most often used on canoes and other wooden boats, fiberglass, and epoxy create a strong waterproof laminate structure. The fiberglass turns completely invisible once the epoxy has been applied, creating a structure that is several times stronger than just the wood on its own.
We recommend using this if you create a structure or tool that will need to be weatherproof and lightweight. If done correctly, you will be able to create a strong piece that is lightweight, waterproof, and easily capable of holding a lot of weight and pressure.
A Thin Layer Of Epoxy
This is most often used when creating temporary structures for stage plays or just for something temporary. Brushing the epoxy onto a piece does nothing other than creating a thin seal that protects the wood from basic damage; it does; however, it becomes damaged over time.
Everyone has seen a laminated piece of wood where the laminate has started breaking off into little pieces; this is usually epoxy. We recommend only using this type of lamination for temporary projects or something that does not receive a lot of pressure throughout its lifetime.
Why Does Epoxy On Plywood Not Last Forever?
The simple answer is that epoxy becomes extremely brittle; this is specifically because it is so hard. Usually, when applying epoxy, you would have to create a thick layer of epoxy or strengthen it with fiberglass or even carbon fiber and Kevlar sheets.
However, when used on its own to create a laminate on plywood, the epoxy strengthens the plywood and makes it waterproof. The downside is that once the plywood is flexed in any way, the epoxy is damaged, and it starts breaking apart from the surface of the wood.
This is why you should only use epoxy to laminate a piece when you know it won’t be used for a long time. When you need something to last for a long time with the epoxy laminate, we recommend strengthening it with other materials to create a permanently strong laminate.
Using epoxy to laminate plywood is one of the most popular ways to strengthen and protect the wood from the elements and any stressors. We always recommend that you think about how a piece will be used and how laminating it in a certain way will affect the overall durability of the piece.
Whatever you do, please don’t try to apply five layers of epoxy within 20 minutes!