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What is a Formica® Countertop?

Formica® was developed as a replacement for mica electrical insulation, which is how they derived the new product’s name.
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  • Written By: Katharine Swan
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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A Formica® countertop is a type off plastic laminate countertop that became quite popular during the 1950s. However, Formica® actually was invented much earlier — originally as electrical insulation. The Formica® countertop became popular later on because it was heat resistant and spill resistant, making it a durable material for in the kitchen.

Because a Formica® countertop is a type of laminate countertop, this upgrade is a reasonably inexpensive remodel to an existing kitchen. Although laminate countertops can also be purchased premade at most home improvement stores, a Formica® countertop can also be made using a preformed countertop, including the one that is already in your kitchen. This makes it an inexpensive do-it-yourself project that can quickly add to your home’s value.

When making your own Formica® countertop, a preformed countertop is recommended, because this makes the project fast and easy. Formica® comes in sheets, which must be cut to fit the countertop. The countertop also needs to be prepared by removing any paint or varnish and sanding the surface to make the cement stick better. The Formica® is then put down using contact cement.

A Formica® countertop can also be easily changed, either by removing the old laminate and installing new laminate, or by painting its surface. In order to paint Formica®, the surface must be thoroughly cleaned and sanded. Then apply primer, several layers of oil-based paint, and a polyurethane topcoat, giving each new coat sufficient time to dry before applying the next.

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Although the Formica® countertop is considered an icon of the 1950s, when it was most popular, the history of Formica® actually began much earlier. In 1912, two employees of Westinghouse, an electrical engineering company, invented Formica® as a replacement for mica electrical insulation, which is how they derived the new product’s name. The following year they both left Westinghouse and started a new company manufacturing and selling Formica.

In its early years, Formica® was used for many different things. Laminate came into use in the 1930s, and by 1937 the Formica® countertop had already been installed in some people’s homes. Other uses of Formica® in the company’s early years include airplane propellers used during World War II. By the 1970s, though, the company had shut down other manufacturing operations to concentrate solely on Formica® laminates.

Believe it or not, Formica® laminate is actually made of paper. A piece of high-quality decorate paper forms the top layer, and the rest of the layers are brown paper soaked in resin. Everything is then compressed by hydraulic rams, with a layer of melamine over the very top to protect the Formica®. The combination of the resins and the top layer of melamine is what makes a Formica® countertop so durable.

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