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DIY laminate countertop!

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by sylvestermcmonkey, Apr 11, 2008.

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  1. sylvestermcmonkey

    sylvestermcmonkey Member

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    It seems a little "painting" project has morphed into a full-blown remodeling effort. I have a small laundry room with a front loading washing machine and dryer. To the right of the washer / dryer is an ugly plastic utility basin, which has grown even uglier now that I've installed new custom cabinets, tile floor, entry door, trim, paint, etc.

    I had envisioned simply getting a new utility sink, but given the front loading washer / dryer setup I'm now in favor of fabricating a countertop and installing a more attractive drop-in sink. Unlike a stand-alone sink there are lots of options with a drop-in. The proximity of the washer / dryer also makes installing a countertop over everything an attractive option which will give the whole room a custom, "built-in" appearance. I'll also be able to hide things like the washer supply valves, drain, and bulky 220V receptacle.

    I've all but decided to install a countertop, and I want to do it myself. I'm not opposed to paying someone, but when I'm all done (a year or so from now :) ) I'll have exactly what I want and I'll have learned something too. I'm sure I'll also make lots of scrap, but education is rarely cheap.

    The countertop will span a horizontal distance of about ten feet. It will be attached to the wall at its left and right sides with vertical supports between the washer, dryer and sink (two vertical supports in addition to the walls).

    I've looked online for some DIY ideas but I have some questions:

    1. How do you cut the Formica (I'm using that as a generic name for whatever I decide to use). It seems brittle. Is it cut exactly to size and then cemented in place, or is sized approximately, then cemented and trimmed in place, and with what tools? The pieces that cover the vertical supports will be very narrow. How am I supposed to cut them? How are those tiny chamfered edges created?
    2. Do you build an entire MDF countertop and then apply the plastic laminate, or should some pieces be finished first, then the whole thing assembled?
    3. I've seen prefabricated countertops with very attractive front edge treatments. Is the plastic so flexible it can be bent around such a small radius (a couple inches), or am I limited to flat surfaces without specialized equipment? Or are the edge treatments pre-fabricated and cemented on?
    4. I don't have a table saw, but many times I've wished I had one and could use this as an excuse to get one. I've always used a cheap circular saw for long cuts with less than ideal results. Is a table saw necessary?

    Finally, have I forgotten anything else to ask?

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  2. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Interesting project. Hope this helps.

    Cut approximately to size and then trim with a laminate trimming bit in a router after it is glued in place. In tight spaces and up to walls the router will not get all the way to end or edge. There also are laminate trimmer routers, with offset bases, that can do the close work, or get as close as you can and then carefully hand file as needed. The laminate trimming bit also has the chamfer cutting edge. Once cemented in place, easy to trim.

    I would build and then apply, unless a free-standing piece. Normally want as few seams as possible.

    The rolled front edge I don't think you can do yourself. Consider wood front edging, or with a built-up 1-1/2" thick front you can apply laminate to the front edge as well. For appearance, I like to do a wood edge. Narrow strips of laminate bend quite easily around radius edges, or if you are careful you can apply a little heat from a torch to make the bend easier or sharper, but be careful.

    Use it as an excuse to get one, and then use it for something else. Table saw not needed, the router works well to cut. Support the laminate carefully, use as long/large a piece as possible to reduce seams, and get help to move into place. A large piece easily can get out of hand and bend, crack break, especially if you are using L or U shaped rough cut pieces. Inside corners tear very easily with a unwanted bend while moving in place.

    Apply glue to both services per directions; lay cardboard on top of glued MDF and set laminate on top in place, carefully and gradually pull out cardboard while pressing laminate into place (get it right, because you will not have a second chance to adjust it); then finish with a wood block and hammer to firmly seat the laminate into the glued MDF, or use one of the rollers intended for this purpose.

    Good luck. It really is not very hard to do a good job. Just be careful.
  3. sylvestermcmonkey

    sylvestermcmonkey Member

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    Good stuff. Router! Pretty sure I'll need one of them. I'll reserve the factory edges for where they matter and use a circular saw where they don't. All the pieces will be rectangular so no concern with U or L shapes. I can probably cut the laminate with a utility knife but it seems a router will be necessary for the finished edges.

    Unless I can find an attractive prefabricated front edge, I'll probably build my own as you say. A prefabricated countertop with a bullnose front edge is probably out of the question, if only for the fact I'll need to create a transition from the countertop to the sink.

    What fasteners should be used for joining MDF sections? Would a pneumatic finish nailer suffice, or should threaded fasteners be used? How about glue? I haven't done much with MDF, but the material seems to present challenges with fasteners ordinarily used for wood.
  4. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Not sure what joining you plan on doing. If it's a top MDF to another top MDF, do everything possible to eliminate any need for joining. You will have a much better result, and if you waste some MDF for the top, use it for something else. Some hardware joiners are made, I forgot what they are called, but I usually use a wood cleat underneath to bridge the two pieces, glued and screwed to each piece. Then sand the top to get a perfectly flat surface and use a filler in the seam, sand again, get it smooth. When the laminate is on, you will see or feel every imperfection in the top.

    Which reminds me to recommend carefully checking the top before applying laminate to make sure there are no bumps, etc. These will show up after the laminate is applied.
  5. sylvestermcmonkey

    sylvestermcmonkey Member

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    Basically I'll need to assemble a backsplash to the rear, as well as a small section for the front edge. Of course the vertical supports too. "Joining" was probably misleading - I don't plan to use more than one continuous piece for any particular section.
  6. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

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    I have built countertops and installed factory countertops. I used a circular saw with a fine tooth blade to cut a factory countertop. The secret is putting down tape before you cut. It keeps the countertop from chipping while cutting. As far as building a countertop, we used 3/4 plywood then just put another 3/4 plywood strips for the end. That way you had a thick front. You can use a bisquit jointer to help hold the pieces together. Just build your countertop then formica it. You may just want to buy it factory made, it looks much better, and is very inexpensive. I installed 20 some feet at our old home. Just as good as a professional, and it was my first time doing it. Good luck!
  7. sylvestermcmonkey

    sylvestermcmonkey Member

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    Hmm... I don't have a biscuit jointer and it sounds expensive. Is it? Is one necessary to attach things like backsplash and front edge? What about the vertical supports? Plywood may be a better alternative if exotic methods are required to attach pieces of MDF to one another.

    I would like to start with a factory made top but I'll have to transition from it - installed at an elevation above the W/D - to the utility sink which will be lower. I don't quite know how that will work yet.

    Now that I think of it perhaps I can use another prefabricated countertop for the sink. But I'll still have to transition between the two, somehow...
  8. loneeagle15

    loneeagle15 New Member

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    Everything you have been told will work out for you if you really want the experience and bragging rights of saying you built it yourself this is what I would do just to make it easy for explanation lets say you want the top to be 2" by 10' buy 2 sheets of 1/2" particle board if you have Lowes or home depot in your area they will cut each 1 of them 1 time at no cost then they charge fifty cents per cut after that but have them rip them both at 2feet 1 half inch and take them home. You want a 10' counter but the largest sheet you can get is 8' take and cut 28" off of the end of 2 boards make sure they are not the same width so cut 1 that is 2'1/2" and 1 that is 1' 11 1/2" you now have 2 pieces of scrap wood to rip cleats for your support so decide on the thickness of the front of your counter top and subtract 1" this will give you the height of your cleats. So if you were to use a piece of molding for the front of your counter top that was 2 1/4" high then then you would be able to rip 1" cleats out of the scrap particle board you would need 1 cleat 10' long(made up from 2 pieces 8' and 2' long) and 2 cleats 1' 11 1/2" long. If the front is 2 1/4" high measure up from the top of your washer and dryer 2 1/2" and mark attach the rear cleat at this mark making sure you are level and attached into studs now attach your side cleats lay the piece of particle board that is 8' x 2' 1/2" on top of the cleats 1 edge touching the side wall and tight against the back wall (yes there is a gap on the sides as no corners in a house are square) take the 28" piece and lay it on top of your counter (use a small scrap piece of PB and place it on the side wall cleat so the board will be level) make sure the factory edges are against the walls and from the bottom mark where you need to cut the 28" piece cut and test fit should be good to go (I would want the seam on the top to be located where th sink will go, and use as few screws as possible to hold the counter to the cleats while doing my build up. The next step is to spread carpenters glue on the other pieces of PB the ones that are only 1' 11 1/2" wide then with a helper screw to the bottom of your counter top in between the cleats (make sure your seams are on opposite ends)a piece of masking tape will keep the top from sticking to the cleats. let it set up for an hour or so and remove your counter top that is now 1 piece 10'x2'x1" apply the laminate to the top (you want 1/4-1/2" over hang around the entire top) and using a trimmer or router with a flush trim bit trim the laminate to size. cutt out your sink you could even mount it now if you want and lay the top on the cleats. You can attach the bottom to the cleats by toenailing screws or try this http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=367 I would use quarter round molding to cover any gaps between the wall and top add you molding to the front and you are done except for the plumbing
    Have fun
  9. sylvestermcmonkey

    sylvestermcmonkey Member

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    laynes, using the circular saw do you cut a factory countertop from the top or the bottom? Seems cutting from the top isn't an option due to the cove backsplash, but cutting from the bottom will chip the laminate, no?

    One end of the countertop will be against a wall, the other will have to be a clean since it will be exposed. I'll cut the wall end, which isn't completely square anyway, and cover up any imperfections with moulding.

    I'd like to use a factory countertop for the longest section, then laminate my own sections with the drop-in sink.

    Thanks for the Rockler info jd. They have exactly the hardware I'm going to need.
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