Re-Laminate Your Countertops
Laminate countertops are attractive affordable and you can install the material yourself.
A popular and economical choice for kitchen countertops is plastic laminate, available in many attractive colors and designs. Laminate countertops (often called Formica, although that is actually the name of only one manufacturer) come in just about every color and pattern imaginable. From contemporary patterns to styles that mimic popular stone looks, laminate is durable, affordable, and you can install it yourself.
During the course of a recent kitchen remodel, I recovered a laminate countertop with newer, more brightly colored laminate sheeting with a granite-type pattern. This kitchen had three separate countertops, at various heights and locations around the kitchen. So I bought three new 4-by-8-foot sheets of laminate and went to work. Here’s how to do it.
Prepping and Planning
If you’re installing over existing laminate, the old countertop surface should be thoroughly sanded and cleaned to remove all debris and contaminants. The sanding helps to remove any existing glossy coating and roughs up the surface for better bonding with the countertop adhesive. I used a random orbital power sander over all existing countertop surfaces before cleaning.
Next, measure the dimensions of the countertop and sketch a diagram of the countertop shape that you’re going to have to cut out of the sheet laminate. The edges of these sheets are very straight, so you should plan for the edges to line the rear of the cabinet against the wall, when possible. Take one countertop at a time and sketch its shape. As you sketch your designs, the sheet cutouts should roughly mirror the shape of the final countertop, but add a few extra inches so the sheet edges will overhang the edges of the countertop. You’ll go back later with a router and trim the edges flush with the counter.
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With your plan sketched out, transfer those dimensions to the sheet laminate, marking the appropriate cutlines on the material.
Cutting the Laminate
You have a couple of options for cutting laminate. There are special blades that allow you to use a utility knife to cut sheet laminate. If using a utility knife, also use a straightedge to guide the knife for a smooth and even cut. You can also cut plastic laminate with a circular saw, jig saw or table saw with a fine-tooth blade. Place a strip of masking tape where the cut is to be made to prevent chipping and make the line easier to see. When using a power circ saw or jigsaw, cut from the back side of the laminate. These blades cut on the upstroke, and cutting from the back will help prevent chipping.
Here’s another tip, and also how I cut the laminate for this project: I used a fine-tooth blade installed backwards in a table saw. Now, let me emphasize that you should NEVER cut anything else with the blade on backwards other than sheet laminate. But I was told of this trick by a professional cabinet maker, and thought I’d give it a shot. And I was pleased to find that this method works like a charm. The rip guide of the table saw helps to control a straight cut, and although the cutting process takes longer with the blade on backwards, the cut was perfect. In fact, the blade simply peels away a strip of the material in a ribbon that’s as wide as the kerf of the blade, and the cuts are perfectly smooth. Granted, you’ll need to set up both outfeed and lateral supports to work with the big 4-by-8 sheets, but I found this to be a great way to make accurate cuts. Once you’re finished rough cutting the sheets to shape, immediately change the blade back around to its normal cutting direction.