Installing Laminate Countertops

It is quite possible to install a plastic laminate countertop of good quality using only a chisel, file, saw and block plane tool, but a few simple tools added to this can make the job much easier and quicker.

A knife with a carbide tip blade makes a great tool for cutting laminate countertop sheets. Here’s how:

  • Lay a long straightedge on the plastic laminate sheet where you want to trim it. The straightedge should lay on the side of the sheet you want to keep, so if the knife runs off line it won’t ruin the sheet
  • Use the carbide blade knife to score the laminate along the straightedge. You don’t necessarily need to score the whole length with one stroke; depending on length of the cut, it may take a few strokes
  • Snap along the score line by bending the sheet, keeping the good side of the sheet flat with the straightedge

If you need to cut through holes for sinks or faucets taps, you can also do that with these knives, although you will need to cut some practice holes in a scrap laminate piece to get the hang of it, since carbide tip blades don’t control very well, particularly on starts and stops.

There is another tool available which looks like a tile cutter, except it has opposing angle brackets attached to the upper and lower jaws, and has spring loaded pins between the two brackets. The upper bracket over hangs the lower slightly, so that when the jaws are squeezed, the brackets shear off a section of laminate.

The best way to use these shears is trimming the sheet to the exact size needed after the laminate sheet is installed on the counter surface. Use the knife and straightedge to cut the sheets to approximate size needed, leaving about ½ inch over hanging the countertop edge. Cement the sheet in place, then use the shears to fine tune the edge. A file is then used to get rid of the sharp edge. This method is more precise than using a router for the edges, which will always leave places you need to chisel away by hand.

Edges

Edging strips should be installed before the top sheet. You can buy 1 ½ inch width strips of plastic laminate premade for edging, or you can make your own with the carbide tip knife and straightedge, or using a table with a plywood cutting blade.

Edging should be put on flush with the top of the surface onto which the plastic laminate will be installed. You can cheat on this by cutting a strip so that it has some overhang at the top, then trimming with the shears or knife. Fine tine the edge to be flush with the top by using a file.

If your counter edge is curved or has rounded corners, here is a little tip. On large radius curves, the edging strips will bend around them no problem, but on smaller radius curves and corners, you need to soften the laminate strips up a little first so they take the shape without snapping. You will need to use some heat from a hot plate or stovetop.

Take a sample length of edging strip and test it by holding it a few inches from the heat, and with your watch’s second hand, time how long it takes to pop into a deformed condition. You’ll know what I mean when it happens.

Then take your real edging strip and heat it until just before that time passes. It should now bend around the curve and stay in that formed shape. Now it is ready to bond in place. Do Not pre-apply glue or cement to the edging before heating, as some adhesives are flammable.


Cementing

kitchen butcher block countertopCement the laminate sheets in place using good quality contact cement. The adhesive fumes are strong, so keep the windows open or use a face mask when using it; it’s not toxic, but you’ll get light headed if you don’t watch out.

Coat the underside of the sheets and the top of the counter surface with the cement. The simplest and best way to apply contact cement is with a small width paint roller brush. Smaller sheets of laminate can be positioned fairly easily, but with larger sheets and multiple sheets you’ll need this trick:

Put 1/4 inch wide strips of thin wood, spaced 12 inches apart, on the top surface to keep the cement-coated laminate sheets from touching the cement-coated counter top while you position them. If you have some spare aluminum or vinyl venetian blind strips, they’ll work even better.

Put one strip on each side of the seam between two sheets. After you’ve got the laminate sheets positioned perfectly, slide out the strips at the seam first, ensuring the seam fits well. Then slide out the strips farthest from the seam, then the next, working your way toward the seam. As the sheets flatten, the seams will close to a good tight fit.

Now take a 6 inch rubber roller and press the sheets in place to get all the air out and create a good bond. Be sure the go over the entire surface, again, working toward the seams. If you don’t have a rubber roller you can use a block of wood and a little more elbow grease.

See Also: Painting Laminate Counter Tops

photo by Chris Darling / CreativeCommons