Introduction: Change Your Countertop and Upgrade on the Cheap!

About: I've built houses, decks, custom cabinets, furniture of all types. Ive done furniture repair and restoration, residential and commercial remodels, restaurant seating and tables and hotel furniture. Ive been a …

I recently moved into a rental house. it was completely re-done including the counter-top... the problem, is that the counter top was done so terribly that after a month of normal use it was bubbling at the corner seam pulling from the wall not completely caulked all the way.... So with the landlords dime, I requested to re-do this lousy job. He accepted and this is the process....
Note: If you were to go buy that "Generic" countertop to replace it, it would cost the same as what I paid for all my materials. To have a custom shop do this type of counter-top would cost 3-4 times out-of pocket cost. Thankfully Im equipped with the tools to do this, but it really dont take too much..

I went from "cheap and plain", "Poorly installed" To "custom and unique" and "solidly built" so this is a definite "fix it" contest entry!

Step 1: Out With the Old!

Get all your measurments and make a drawing of the old counter-top. UN-hook the sink drain and water supply hoses from the valves (make sure you turn off those valves(dont ask)). while you are under there, look to the outside edges of the sink, you should see some kind of clips you can loosen to allow the sink to lift out of the old hole

Step 2: Next Unscrew the Old Counter

grab your flashlight and probably a second pair of hands to hold it. and a cordless drill.. I didn't take any picks of this process, but basically look inside all the lower cabinets and at the top and each corner you will find a corner brace or something with a  screw going up up into the counter-top from underneath.
After you get all of the screws out, gently lift the old counter up if it snags or hangs, there is more to unscrew, so do not force it..
It should lift right off the Cabinet top. toss outside or re-purpose (in my case) into a shop counter.

Step 3: Prepare the New Countertops!

This isn't standard "run o the mill" counter I'm installing.... This is custom work. I used 2 sheets of 3/4" fiberboard (glorified particle board)
Things to note.
On the front edge of the new counter-top I am using Red Oak 1-1/2" X 3/4" oak from the local home store. So subtract the 3/4" from the original depth measurement from the old counter-top.

Cut the 3/4"fiberboard to the correct size and layout of your counter-top.
Notice the common "L shape" of most counter-tops I used two pieces and edge glued and clamped them together and then on the underside I added a long runner to join the two pieces together.
Now you need to cut some 3" strips of the 3/4" fiberboard. enough to go around the entire perimeter of the counter-top. this adds strength and a place to nail in the oak molding.
The picture taker got lazy at this point so I dont have any pictures of installing the oak strips on there, but basically after you glued and nailed or screwed the perimeter pieces in place you need to make sure the edges are flush. grab the belt sander and have at it! *** be careful on the inside corner.
After you have it flat you are ready to install the oak molding. It needs to be flush with the top of your (currently upside down) fiberboard counter-top. I used finish nails with an air gun. If you screw it in, your gonna need to plug the screw heads...
dont worry if you cant get it perfect, the nest step it to flip the counter-top right-side-up and sand the top of the oak molding AS FLAT AS POSSIBLE without going into the fiberboard. basically just hit the high spots.
You will be routing this edge later, so make sure to nail to-ward the lower edge of the face of the molding.

Step 4: Cut Your Laminate

again, sorry for the lack of pics on this as well...

Laminate comes in 4'X8' sheets. they wont cut it for you , and you have to buy the whole sheet. so plan your cuts carefully.
note** Laminate is very sturdy, but will chip very easily and will even crack when you cut an "L" shape so make sure you support those areas when moving the piece around.
now I use the current measurement of the (so far) incomplete counter-top and add 2 to 4" because when you lay the glued pieces together they instantly bond making it impossible to move around. It wont float, once the glue makes contact it is an instant strong bond. This gives a little room for error while placing the laminate onto of the counter core. we will come back to more glue info after we get the counter-top laminate cut.

you might have to make a seam somewhere on the counter-top (because the laminate sheet wasn't long enough. If possible make this seam where your sink cut-out will be. (less noticeable that way)

Once you have all of your laminate cut, lay it out on top of your counter-top to ensure proper fit and alignment.

Step 5: Glue the Counter and Laminate Together.

The glue you need is a contact cement This stuff is great.
this stuff is thick and messy so make sure you have some lacquer thinner or mineral spirits on hand for clean-up. Better yet, look on the back of the glue you buy for their recommendations for clean-up.

I start by pouring a small amount directly onto the surface of the counter-top and the underside of the laminate. I do this in small amounts all over the counter-top where needed. You need to work fast but you also need to make sure you are spreading it evenly. The best way would be to spray it on, but this wasn't an option for me. So I painted it on with rollers and brushes... Once you coat both pieces, let them dry... They should actually not be sticky to touch.
Be careful some spots are gonna dry faster than others so check it over carefully. once you are satisfied that it is dry you are ready to lay the laminate...
This is kinda tricky and for you first timers your gonna need  several "sissy sticks" these are a bunch of sticks about the same diameters to lay on top of the glued counter-top evenly and somewhat closely spaced.. This is going to allow you to lay the laminate (glue side down) on top of the counter-top (glue side up) without the two pieces touching.
Once you are comfortable with the placement, start at one end and work your way back removing a stick at a time rubbing the laminate into place... (this glue is pretty unforgiving so be careful to lay it evenly).
Once you get all the way to the other side use a roller and roll the laminate out to remove any bubbles underneath and to give a better bond. Be sure and go around the edges very thoroughly  also be careful not to roll off of the support of the counter-top core, you could crack it...

After you take a break (to let it dry further of course) you need to grab your router or trim router with a flush cut bit.
The bearing on the flush cut bit will follow the perimeter of the counter-top along while Neatly cutting the extra laminate flush to the actual counter-top. now things have taken shape.

Step 6: Shape the Profile of the Oak Trim and Backsplash.

The next step is to rout the decorative profile on the counter-top exposing the oak trim. You can do this with several different shapes here are a few to look at. I chose a "roman ogee" but  looking back I wished i had just gone with a bevel, It looks much cleaner.
While you have your router bit set up get some 3/4" X 4" Red oak boards for the back-splash and rout a profile across the top of the face of the soon to be back-splash...
Seal the boards front and back after sanding.
At the same time you are sealing up the back-splash boards go ahead and brush on the sealer on the front oak profile. Its ok if it gets on the new laminate, just wipe it off right away.

sorry for the lack of pics here as well...

Step 7: Install the New Counter-top!

Now you need to bring the counter-top inside and lay it in place. push up and down on it in the front, back, middle, sides... basically all over to check for flex. if it moves up or down or rocks in anyway, it needs to be shimmed. The reason it may do this is new "straight" counter-top on old "sagging" top cabinet rails. Either way, It needs some support under there so use some shims and fill those gaps between the bottom of the counter top and the top of the cabinet. at the same time making the counter-top perfectly level front to back and side to side. It can be tedious but ah well....

After you have it placed nice and straight as well as level, have someone sit on top while you screw in through the underside of the cabinet. MAKE SURE YOUR SCREWS ARE NOT TOO LONG OR THEY WILL GO THROUGH THE TOP! MAKE SURE THE PERSON ON TOP IS NO WHERE NEAR WHERE YOU ARE SCREWING INTO!!!

Once you have it secured nice, you need to cut out for your sink. <<< This isn't hard but I am not going to explain it very thorough.
Basicaly, find out the dimensions of your old sink (if you aren't replacing it) or using the template included in the New sink lay it out on the counter-top and using a router with a straight bit or a jig saw, cut the required blank out of the counter-top. <<< very nerve wrecking so double and tripple check your measurements...

Step 8: Install the Backsplash and Sink...

Drop the sink into the newly opened hole on the counter-top to ensure proper fit and hose/drain connection. Then remove the sink and  using plumbers putty make several 1/2" diameter worms with the putty as long as you can, to place around the "lip on the underside of the sink" When you replace the sink to tighten the sink clips, the excess putty will squeeze out all around. Just scoop it up and put it back in the jar for later use. Now you can go ahead and re-connect the sink and drain.

Time to measure for the back-splash and cut your pieces to fit. once you have your miters right and everything looks good spread "liquid nail on the back-sides of the back-splash, and press against the wall and counter-top at the same time. I shoot a few finishing nails to secure it.
Couple hours later go back and fill the nail holes and any gaps and then do some touch up with the sealer...  after its dry you can go ahead and caulk the back-splash.
I use "clear silicone" caulk for the bottom of the back-splash where it meets the counter-top, and "white latex out-door caulk" on the top side where the back-splash meets the wall...

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