Bruce W. Maki,
Installing a pre-formed laminate kitchen counter, the type with
the backsplash already attached, can be a simple job or a difficult
job. The task is easy if it's a single piece, straight counter that
does not need to be shoe-horned into a space between two walls. But
the work is much more challenging, as this articles shows, when the
counter has to be assembled and fit into a tight space.
First I used a framing square to check the straightness of
the walls. They weren't.
I placed the long section of counter on top of the cabinets
to see how badly the fit would be. With the counter pushed
against the wall, there was a 3/8" gap at the mitered
The poor fit was caused by a bulge in the exterior wall, possibly
caused by sloppy framing or just by the natural tendency of lumber
to warp and twist over time. Truly good framing carpenters would
have checked their work and planed off the excess material. Now that
the drywall is installed, that option is out of the question.
This photo shows the bulge that caused me so much trouble.
The other problem with this kitchen is that the kitchen
designer specified an arrangement of cabinets that fit exactly
into the room dimensions on the blue prints.
The trouble is, as anybody with an ounce of construction
experience knows, Nothing Ever Goes As Planned. The
natural and unavoidable inaccuracy in the framing
process mean that you cannot rely on cabinets fitting exactly
into the dimensions on the blue print.
Over the years I have learned that finish carpentry involves many
techniques to work around the all-too-common situations where walls
are not plumb, rooms are not square, and floors are not level. But
when the designer of a project does not appreciate these realities,
they assume that the cabinet installer can fit their 108" of
cabinets into the 108" that the blue print says is available.
But, like I said earlier, Nothing Ever Goes As Planned.
When I saw the plan for this kitchen I immediately measured the
room... and amazingly, it was exactly 108" wide, and
the diagonal measurements were within 1/8" of each other.
"Good", I exclaimed to the homeowner, "maybe we will
be able to fit the counter tops and the stove into the 108"
wall." Then I discovered the bulge in the wall.
Correcting The Problem
Normally I use a power sander, such as a portable belt sander, to
remove some of the backsplash. If only 1/8" is removed, or
less, then the homeowner will probably not notice the narrow spot. In
this kitchen I consulted the homeowner, who was very understanding,
and we agreed that the best approach was to cut the drywall away so
the counter would fit into a notch. But this still shows up as a
narrow spot on the 1" deep backsplash.
But First... The Kitchen Sink
The first step in cutting the sink hole is to lay out the
location of the sink. I put a piece of masking tape on the
counter to mark the center line. The front-to-back position
has to be carefully checked:
- If the hole is too far forward, the front panel
of the cabinet will interfere with the sink installation.
- If the hole is too far to the back, the edge of
the sink will hit the backsplash.
Stainless steel sinks have a channel welded to the
underside, at the edges, where special screw-fasteners grab and
clamp to the counter top. The outer edge of the channel defines the
size of the hole in the counter top.
Once the sink position has been determined, I use a pencil
to mark where the edge of the basin will be.
Then I apply a piece of tape and measure inwards a small
distance, 5/16" in this case, and make a mark. This is
the edge of the hole.
At each corner, I apply a strip of masking tape,
and measure in 1-1/4" from the cut lines. This is half
the diameter of my 2-1/2" hole saw. I mark the center of
Using my most powerful electric drill, I cut the
The plug almost always gets stuck in these things. The
fastest and easiest way to remove the plug is to drive in a
screw and yank it out.
The layout and hole cutting are done with the counter sitting in
it's proper position on top of the base cabinets.
The cutting of the hole, with a jig saw, was done in another
room. I placed the counter upside down on several small stacks
of 2x4 blocks, high enough to keep the backsplash off the floor.
I draw lines to connect the edges of the corner holes. I
used a scrap of wood to keep the jig saw level while cutting
along the step.
A photo showing the four holes.
The cutting is done from the back side, always. A normal
jig saw blade cuts only on the up stroke, which means that the blade
teeth are pulling the laminate into the wood backing. This
solid support causes the laminate to shear away in clean little
fragments. Cutting from the top side will make the laminate
splinter badly, and the base of the saw might scratch the surface.
Notice the position of some of the support
blocks. This arrangement supports the off-cut so it does not
fall away and rip the laminate.
Connecting The Mitered Countertop Sections:
The first step was to lay out the counter sections, upside
down, on a sturdy work surface. I used several cabinet boxes.
There is a big piece of plywood under the joint, to provide a
The connector hardware that holds the counter joint
With the two sections placed close together, I applied a liberal
coating of carpenter's glue to each edge. Then I installed the
connectors and tightened them snug, but not too tight.
The following procedure took some time. I had to make sure the
corners were aligned properly and that the seam was smooth (i.e.
both sections at the same height). After the initial fitting, I
removed the piece of plywood underneath so I could feel the seam.
I used a hammer to tap one section into alignment. When the
seam was smooth I tightened the connectors, a little at a
time. I also used a wet cloth to wipe the glue from the
When the connectors were tight, I wiped away the excess
glue and let the joint dry for a half hour. Overnight drying
would be ideal.
Once the two sections were joined and the glue had time to set,
the counter was carefully placed back on top of the cabinets. I am
very cautious about lifting counter tops after the sink hole is cut,
because there is very little structure left around the hole. I have
not broken a counter yet. In this case I had a helper assist me with
moving the counter.
With the counter positioned as close to the wall as
possible, I drilled holes in the triangular brackets at the
corners of the cabinets.
Then I installed drywall screws to fasten the counter to
the cabinets. I made careful measurements to make sure the
screws did not pierce the top surface.
Inside the Lazy Susan, I drove a couple of screws up
and into the counter top.
The completed counter, one of two for this kitchen.
The other counter was much easier. It had no sink cut-outs, and
did not have to be shoe-horned in between two walls.
The other counter went in without a
Next: Follow the story as the wall
cabinets are installed.
- Cordless Drill/Driver
- Framing Square
- Jig Saw
- Electric Drill & Hole
- Adjustable Wrenches
- Pre-Cut Laminate Counter
- Counter Corner Bolts
- Carpenter's Glue
- Deck Screws
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