Everything you wanted to know about laminated ply and hopefully more
Ply Laminate or Laminated Ply is a sandwich of one ply sheet and two sheets of High Pressure Laminate (HPL). The lamination process is done using a high tonnage press and PU glue to leave a small glue gap and to ensure the glue joint cannot be compromised by moisture. The sheets have a raw and ragged edge after lamination which is modified when we make the smaller top size.
High Pressure Laminate is a thick (normally 1mm) finishing product used to cover a given core - in this case poplar ply. HPL is produced by saturating multiple layers of kraft paper with phenolic resin. A layer of printed décor paper is placed on top of the kraft paper before pressing. The resulting sandwich is fused together under heat and pressure (more than 1,000 PSI). Because phenolic and melamine resins are thermoset plastics, the curing process transforms the resin into plastic by a cross linking process that converts the paper sheets into a single, rigid laminated sheet. Thermo-setting creates strong, irreversible bonds that contribute to HPL’s durability.
High pressure laminate is considered one of the most durable decorative surface materials. It performs well in both horizontal and vertical applications, appearing in furniture, cabinetry, flooring and wall treatments. It is more impact resistant than melamine faced chipboard and also more durable.
In terms of the Poplar ply core this is made from fast growing Poplar trees which are grown sustainably in Europe. The sheets from which the ply is made are cut from the trunk and then layered with glue before being pressed into what is recognisable as plywood. Using Poplar provides lightness, stability, surface quality and machinability with the added benefit that the edges have a light, bright almost Scandanavian look to them.
The Ply is 19mm thick. The laminate is 1.5mm thick. The total thickness of the board is 22mm.
Once the laminated ply sheet is delivered to our Gostand factory we have to cut it to standard sizes. To do this we use a CNC router with polycrystaline diamond cutters to cut the bigger sheet into small desk-tops. This process is highly repeatable and well controlled to a tolerance of +/-0.1mm.
Once this process is finished we are left with a board the correct size however the edges still need some extra treatment to bring them up to furniture grade.
When we receive laminated ply sheets the core is made up from the actual ply material. As a natural material this has some inconsistencies the main one being small holes where the trunk the ply has been cut from has a deformation (for example where a branch existed). So the first job we undertake is to fill these holes with a high grade plastic wood. After this we have to sand the edges which has the effect of rendering them smooth but also normalises the colour.
The next step is up to the client. As standard we do not treat the edges as we understand that some clients like the very light Scandanavian look of the poplar ply. However we can also oil the edges for the client using a low sheen furniture oil. This will help seal the edges however it does make them slightly darker as can be seen from the below images.
HPL desk-tops are easy to maintain. They can be cleaned with normal, everyday detergent sprays you would use in your kitchen. Other than that there is nothing to do. In terms of durability they will not wear through. The only danger is dropping something on the desk-top. The overlay and melamine resin is hard and thus the surface can be cracked and penetrated. However it would take a heavy sharp object being dropped for 50cm or so to do damage.
For the edges they may need to be re-treated with furniture oil from time to time but that depends on the environment that the desk is in.
As with most questions the answer is not simple as the top is made from two components.
Ply Core - Not only does this come from a sustainable source but it can be 100% re-cycled on end of life. It can be chipped and used to make various forms of particle boards. So on this measure alone it is extremely environmentally friendly.
HPL Layer - At end of life this will be chipped with the top and will be found inside chipboard and other particle board products. So it scores well at end of life. During manufacture it is not as friendly as it is not possible to use 100% recycled materials in the manufacture. There will be a 20% recycled content. There is a balance to be had between the quality of the finish to the top and the recycled content and this a limiting factor in using recycled content.
Taken as a whole however laminated ply is a very green material when the ply comes from sustainable sources. It is more ecologically friendly than unmanaged or slow grown solid wood and substantially moreso than MDF which uses urea-formaldehyde during processing and which can out-gas in situ after manufactiure.
Both our suppliers are ISO14001 certified and have complex arrangements for wood sourcing and recycling. Both are acutely environmentally aware and thankfully have the financial resources to put in place world class systems to minimise environmental impact.