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Installing a laminated Countertop

by Lorenz Prem on February 21 2011 8:59 pm
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The cheapest and fastest to install countertop is a laminated countertop. These countertops are a reasonable alternative to higher quality options like granite or tile. Maybe you'd like something nicer in your kitchen, but in a laundry room laminate will often be a good option. Available at most home centers, a laminate countertop can be installed in afternoon. Let's take a look at what it takes.

Cutting to length

Pre-made countertops can be cut with a circular saw or a track saw. A high quality blade will leave no chip out. Countertops with a pre-installed backslash are much harder to cut. The backsplash cannot be cut along with the top in a single cut. Make two cuts, one in the table top, the other in the backsplash. Finish with a handsaw. A sliding table saw is the ideal tool for this job. Make this complicated cut in the shop is a good idea.

More important than how the cut is made, is where the cut is located. As a rule, try to cut on the end of the countertop that is not joined to another piece. Often this end butts up to wall or is covered by the backsplash. Any slight imperfections in the cut will not be visible. The edge that connects to another piece of the countertop will shop even slight defects.

Connecting Pieces

Countertop pieces can be joined using draw bolts(sometimes called a counter top bolt). These bolts are installed on the underside of the countertop. A H-shaped channel is routed into the underside and the bolt is inserted. A plate on each side of the joint are pulled together by a bolt. The shape of the H channel varies slightly between bolt manufacturers.

The advantage of draw bolts is the that the joint can be disassembled. No glue is needed. Two bolts must be used at each joint.

As mentioned before the bolt channel is routed into the underside of the counter top. A router with a dado bit is used for this. A straightedge and a couple of clamps are enough to guide the router. A template is only necessary if you plan to cut a lot of these joints. A router edge guide can also be useful.

The dimensions of the channel don't have to be exact. The important thing to get right are the two channels the plates are placed in. These channels must be parallel to the counter top's edge for the bolts to work perfectly.

Covering exposed edges

Premade countertops do not come with laminate applied to the edges. This would interfere with countertop joints. Edge banding has to be applied manually.

Begin by cutting a piece of matching laminate slightly smaller than the area you want to cover. Leave 1/4"-1/2" of overhang on all sides of the counter top. It's not important to be consistent.

The glue of choice for laminate is contact cement. It creates a strong bond at room temperature. Wood glue can also be used, but pressure is required to create a successful bond. Only use wood glue when you can clamp the entire area you want to cover.

Apply the contact cementas indicated on the label. Both surface of the joint must be covered. After letting the glue set for 20 minutes press the two pieces against each other. Apply pressure as indicated on the label.

Trim the laminate with a router and a flush cut bit. Set the depth of the bit to only cut the excess laminate. Any router will do, but a laminate router will make the operation easier. Heavy 3hp units are not as nimble as the little laminate routers. A quality cut can be made with either.

The joint is not done yet. Most installer will run a chamfer bit the length of the joint. The bit is set to take off only a tiny bit of laminate (1/16" or less). This creates a more pleasant looking corner. If you do not have a chamfer bit, you can use a sharp utility knife or even a chisel. A steady hand is required to get a good result. The routed corner is much easier to perfect.

Installation

Installation is the easy part. Install the counter top bolts with the piece upside down. Turn the countertop around and push it in place. If necessary level the countertop with shims between it and the cabinet. Secure the countertop in place with counter sunk screws through the top of the cabinet into the underside of the counter top. One screw in each corner is often enough. On longer pieces add a screw every 2-3ft.

Backsplash

Some countertops come with built in backsplashes. If you want a backslash these types are the way to go. Not only are these countertops faster to install, the integrated backsplashes have a curved joint instead of a square one. This makes the joint area much easier to clean. Dirt cannot accumulate as easily as in a square joint.

If you cannot use the countertops with integrated backsplash, you can make a backsplash from fiber board and laminate. Cut the fiber board to size and apply the laminate with contact cement just like you would apply edge banding. This takes longer to do, but yields comparable results.

Summary

Pre-made laminated countertops are easy to install. In the pictures you can see a cabinet in my storage room. I removed parts of the backsplash where I will place a countertop cabinet. Since I only needed to apply a tiny strip of edge banding, fabrication and installation took just over 2 hours. Laminate countertops are within reach of the DIY inclined homeowner.

About the Author
"Lorenz is the founder of Hingmy. When he is not reviewing power tools or improving the site, he is building things in his workshop or playing hockey."
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