Most tolex on the market is produced with a cloth mesh type of backing, and in most cases the object that you're covering will be constructed of wood -whether it be plywood, particle board, MDF, or real wood, so theoretically, any adhesive that's compatible with fabric and wood will adhere tolex to your project. However, the only practical adhesive for applying tolex is some type of contact cement. With contact adhesive the glue is applied to both surfaces to be joined, then allowed to dry, and then the when the two pieces come together there is an instant bond. When done correctly, you'll be able to wrap the tolex around the edges of a cabinet and not have to worry about trying to hold it in place while the glue dries. The only drawback to this "instant bond" is that you must have the pieces lined up exactly where they need to be before allowing them to touch, as you can't always pull it back apart and realign it.
So we've narrowed it down to Contact Adhesive
Contact Adhesives are primarily used in the the construction industry and they're most commonly used for applying laminate countertop materials to kitchen cabinets, but contact adhesives are also used in the upholstery business and is ideal for installing tolex.
Contact cements basically fall into one of two categories:
Water based (we'll refer to it as WBCC)
Solvent based (we'll refer to it as SBCC)
Opinions are sharply divided over which is best, so I'm just going to try to tell you a little about each and then let you decide.
WATER BASED GLUES:
| WBCC (Water based contact cements) will generally be labeled as "latex", "nonflammable", "solvent free" or "green label". It comes in a various size containers, such as quarts and gallons, but most DIYer's will want to opt for the quart size unless you're doing a bunch of cabinet builds. A quart should be plenty to do a an oversized 4x12 cabinet. You should note that the shelf life of this stuff is pretty short -once the can is opened it will not keep very long, so don't buy a gallon unless you're going to use it right away. Also, do not allow it to freeze! The biggest advantage to using WBCC over the SBCC is that there are no dangerous solvents in it. In fact there is very little odor to it at all, and you don't have to be careful of open flames like you do with the SBCC. Clean up is easy with a damp rag or sponge, as long as you get to it before the glue sets. Also most people say that the WBCC is more forgiving in that, at least in some cases, you can pull up the tolex and reposition if need be. You can apply it with a small paint roller for larger jobs or a throw away paint brush will also work.I've found that a couple of coats are sufficient on the cabinet, but you might need three or more on the tolex and you'll need to let it dry completely between coats. WBCC has kind of |
a milky appearance when wet, but will turn shiny and clear when it dries. You can speed up the drying time with a hair dryer if need be.
There are several different brands of WBCC on the market, and it can vary widely in price, but you can generally find something like the green label Weldwood, or DAP brands at almost any hardware store or home center for around $12.00 to $15.00 per quart. The Weldwood "green label" shown here is a popular brand and is typical of what you might find at your local hardware store or home center. There are premium brands available, like the 3M Fastbond 30NF, but cost for it will 2 to 3 times what it is for the DAP or Weldwood. The major difference is that the premium stuff is generally thicker in consistancy so you'll need fewer coats, and designed for professional laminate installer where time is an issue who don't want to have to apply several coats.
| So as long as we're talking about waterbased contact cement we should point out that the Tolex adhesive that many venders sell is really nothing more than WBCC -just thought I'd let you know before you shell out $25.00 to $30.00 + shipping for a quart of it.|
SOLVENT BASED GLUE:
|SBCC (solvent based contact cements) come in either liquid form which goes on with a brush or roller, and in handy spray cans. Either way it works similar to the latex stuff -you apply it to both surfaces -let it dry and then put the pieces together. The biggest differences between the WBCC and SBCC are in the precautions that you have to use when using it. The solvents in the SBCC are very noxious and very flammable. Follow all the precautions on the label -do not use it indoors, do not use it near open flames or sparks, and wear an appropriate mask when using it.|
The most popular form of SBCC is the spray can formula, and in fact I would avoid using SBCC in liquid form with one exception: You can use the liquid form of SBCC to coat the cabinet with a brush or roller, and then use the spray can stuff to coat the tolex. The two are both solvent based so they'll be perfectly compatable with each other. The reason that you won't want to apply the liquid form directly to the tolex is this that the solvents can actually react unfavorably with the vinyl in the tolex and cause it to shrink. Furthermore, these solvents can loosen the bond between the vinyl face of the tolex and the cloth backing. The spray can formula will normally flash off before it has time to react with the
vinyl, however it's still better to spray it on in a couple of thin coats rather than one heavy coat. And you'll also want to make sure the air temperature is high enough for it to dry quickly. Another precaution when using SBCC is that it can be very messy. Drips and spills (or overspray when using the spray stuff) must be cleaned up immediately, before it dries with paint thinner or some other type of solvent, and here again, caution must be used as these types of solvents are also flammable and carry noxious fumes, and can also react with the vinyl in the tolex, so if you have to clean up spills or overspray from the tolex itself use if very sparingly and don't rub too vigorously. Another thing about the SBCC is that the initial "grab" when the tolex comes into contact with the cabinet is pretty intense -you probably won't be able to pull the tolex back up and reposition it. This can be a good thing if you're carefull and have the tolex exactly where it needs to be, but it can be a disaster if the tolex isn't positioned correctly. I think the biggest advantage that the solvent based adhesive has over the water based stuff is time -a good tolex installer using spray adhesive can wrap a complete cabinet in the time it takes to apply the first coat of water based adhesive and get it flashed off, so if you have the proper facilities and are willing to take the proper precautions the solvent based glue might be the way to go.
As we said earlier, any glue that will stick fabric to wood will bond tolex to a cabinet, so there are certainly other adhesives that might work in specific applications.
PVA or (polyvinyl acetate glue). Titebond, or Elmers wood glue are a couple of examples. This stuff will bond tolex to wood like crazy, however, there is no "instant grab" so you'll have to figure out a way to hold or clamp the tolex down while the glue dries. For example -if you were applying tolex to a flat surface and had a way to hold it in place for a hour or so while the glue set you might have good results.
Carpet Adhesive, -the kind designed for sticking jute back carpet to wood substrates fall under our fabric to wood rule, so it will bond tolex to a cabinet. The biggest problem that you'll probably have is application. It's best to spread it is with a finely notched trowel (1/16" or less). You can use a small brush to get into the tight spots. No need to apply it to both surfaces just apply it to the cabinet itself. Just make sure to spread it smoothly and evenly with no blobs, and apply the tolex to the cabinet while the adhesive is still wet. No need to let it flash off. There is no "instant grab" like with contact cement, but it does grab rather quickly. A hair dryer will speed up the grab time and make the tolex more flexible when wrapping around the edges of a cabinet. One of the disadvantages of this stuff is that, although it grabs rather quickly, it takes forever to dry completely. It will remain gummy and tacky for several days. If opt to use this kind of adhesive, look for the latex (solvent free) variety, not the outdoor kind which is generally solvent based.
No matter which glue you decide to use here are some things to consider:
*Make sure you work area is clean and dry -even a tiny speck of sawdust trapped in the glue between the tolex and the cabinet can show as a huge bump.
*Make sure your work area is warm enough to allow the contact cement to flash off quickly.
*Make sure to apply the adhesive smooth and evenly with no blobs or lumps.
*Make sure your work area is well ventilated especially if using solvents or solvent based glue
*Don't try to apply new tolex over old. The old stuff must be removed and every trace of the old glue must be sanded off.
*Make sure the cabinet is sanded smooth -rub your hand over the surface, if you can "feel" the imperfections then they are going to show. Fill any dents
or divets with wood putty (automotive bondo works great if the dent's are large) and then sand smooth after it dries.
*Make sure and do your homework: there are dozens of tutorials and videos on the internet. Just use the search term "tolex installation", but I
should warn you, there are some very good tutorials but there are also some that aren't so good. Just use these tutorials to find out what works
for you, and your own personal situation. Don't get discouraged if your first tolex job doesn't turn out perfect -many don't, just figure out what
you did wrong and keep trying.