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I'm preparing to install a new laminate counter top in my kitchen; as this is the first I have installed by myself, I would like to know if there are any tip/tricks or things to look out for while doing it?

Specifically, what is the best saw and technique to use when trimming the counter top to length? The counter top has a back splash attached, and I'm not quite sure how to handle cutting it.

What are the best tools and techniques for cutting the hole for the sink, are there any tricky bits to watch out for while doing it?

I know this is a lot to ask for a single question, but I'm looking for the ultimate step by step guide to installing a laminate counter top. Also this counter will be in the shape of an "L", so it would be nice to cover attaching the two pieces and any gotchas associated with that.

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Cutting the countertop to length:

Try making a custom circular saw jig to cut your countertop to size. 3/4" plywood placed together at right angles with a cleat for guiding your saw should give you a straight cut. Assemble the jig with extra material, then cut it to size with your saw for a perfect fit.

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Use a saw blade with a high tooth count and cut the counter upside down. That way, the blade teeth are traveling down (but really up) into the counter surface, minimizing chances for chipping out. Start by cutting the backsplash first, with the rest of the counter pointing towards the floor. Then stop and rotate the countertop so it's upside down and finish the cut. Be sure to support the cutoff material so it doesn't break off a chunk of the laminate near the end of the cut.

As @auujay points out, masking tape can also help reduce the likelihood of chipping.

Source: woodworkingtips.com

Cutting the sink hole:

I crawled several forums looking for advice on this one. Some suggested techniques (in the order that I would try them) were:

  • Use a jigsaw with a down-stroke blade to cut out the sink hole. By cutting on the top surface, you have a more accurate picture where your sink hole will be, and the downstroke blade will eliminate chip-out. Start each rounded corner with a 1/2" spade bit.
  • Use a jigsaw with a metal cutting upstroke blade. The finer teeth will make for slower work, but have less of a chance of chipping.
  • Use a circular saw to cut straight sides from underneath the countertop. Flip over and finish the rounded corners with a downstroke jigsaw blade.

Once again, use masking tape for both cut line visibility and to reduce the chance of chipping the laminate. Also remember to support the cutout section to avoid tearing the laminate near the end of the cut.

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I have also seen people use masking tape to help reduce chipping of the laminate. –  auujay Mar 22 '11 at 17:35
    
@auujay: Good tip, I added that to my answer. –  Doresoom Mar 22 '11 at 17:49
    
Do you just set the saw blade to 3 1/2" + the thickness of the plywood and cut through the back splash, or do you "turn the corner" with the saw to cut the back splash? So is it run the saw horizontally deep, or run the saw horizontally, then vertically (to cut the back)? –  Tester101 Mar 22 '11 at 17:58
    
@Tester101: The site I got the idea from suggests cutting the backsplash first, then stopping and rotating the counter ("turning the corner") to finish the cut. I've only used jigs similar to this for regular cuts on plywood (no tricky backsplash corners), so it's somewhat uncharted territory for me too. Also, you need to make sure that your cleat is perfectly straight. If you can't find a perfectly straight 1x2 or somesuch dimensional lumber, you could try the factory edge of a plywood sheet. –  Doresoom Mar 22 '11 at 18:05
    
Did not think to cut the back first, that makes more sense. Thanks. –  Tester101 Mar 22 '11 at 18:13
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When I cut my countertop I flipped it upside down.

  • Take a 1/2 in piece of a straight board.
  • Tape the good side of the laminate with blue painters tape
  • On the side of the countertop thats to be installed, with countertop upside down, put your saw on cut line
  • Start on front edge not backsplash
  • Slide board up to edge of guide on saw
  • Mark it, measure in middle and other end
  • Secure board with 1 inch screws
  • Cut all the way across (I used a plywood 140 tooth throw away saw blade, as it was cheap, then I took a real good hand saw to cut the back splash)
  • Belt sand edge (have a person support cut off edge so it won't chip when it falls off)
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Tried to make it readable - the lack of punctuation was confusing so if I have muddled up some steps, I apologise. –  Rory Alsop Mar 21 at 12:26
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I have fabricated custom counter tops for customers, and have also installed the preformed counter tops with the attached back-splash. The main issue of concern, when cutting laminated counter tops, is the tendency for the laminate to chip or break in an undesirable way, which may ruin the results of your efforts. However, there are simple tricks that can be used to minimize or prevent chipping. Understanding how your cutting tool of choice functions is important, as the actual cutting direction of the blade should always be such that the teeth contact the laminate first, then continue into the wood. This can be accomplished by cutting from the underside of the counter top, thus allowing the brittle laminate to be adequately supported as the saw teeth remove the material being cut. If the counter top is cut from the top side (laminate side) the saw teeth tend to lift and separate the unsupported laminate from the wood, and being brittle; it chips in an uncontrolled fashion.

The saw blade of choice should have small teeth designed for cutting hard materials. Do not use a wood ripping blade, with large teeth, as this stresses the laminate by removing too much material with each cut.

If the counter top is attached to cabinets and cannot be removed for cutting, there may be no option but to cut from the top (laminated) side. The best way to do this, is to use a circular saw with a very fine-toothed blade, and a straight-edge guide to insure an accurate cut. Do not attempt to cut the laminate and the wood substrate of the counter in one single cut. Rather, set the saw depth so that the blade barely contacts the laminate. Carefully follow the guide with the saw, allowing the blade teeth to merely "score" the surface of the laminate. Then, set the blade depth a fraction lower, and repeat the guided cut. Continue this "incremental cut" approach until the laminate thickness is fully cut, and the blade teeth are contacting the wood below it. Now that the brittle laminate has been carefully cut (without chipping) the remaining wood can be cut with a single pass. However, it is a good idea to use more than one pass to cut the wood also, if you have the time and patience to do so. The wood can be safely cut with 3/8" depth increments, for perfect results. It is important to support the counter top on "both" sides of the intended cut line, to prevent the laminate from damage due to movement of the scrap piece before the cut has been completed. If you do not have a fine-toothed saw blade for your circular saw (and prefer not to purchase one either) it is possible to perform the initial incremental cutting of the laminate with a large toothed "rip" saw blade, by removing the blade and turning it around, and installing it backwards in the saw. In this way, the teeth are unable to "grab" the laminate in an aggressive fashion, and score the laminate instead. Again, small increments are required, for satisfactory results. Once the laminate has been severed, return the blade to its correct position, and proceed to cut the wood. If cutting a preformed counter top with attached back-splash, from the top (laminated side) the back-splash will pose a problem, as the saw will not have sufficient cutting depth for the 90 degree angle of the back-splash. Therefore, use the circular saw to perform as much of the intended cut as possible (using a guide fashioned and clamped to the "good surface" of the counter, not the scrap side). Be sure to include a guide for the back-splash as well, and the two guides must be carefully aligned with each other to prevent "mis-matched" cutting lines and an unwanted notch in the final project. Once the laminate has been cut with the circular saw (as far as possible) proceed to cut the remaining laminate section with a Dremel Tool; using great care to follow the line. If your hands are not steady, or you are not skilled with a Dremel Tool, modify your guide with shim boards to prevent the Dremel cut from straying into the "good side" of laminate. Once the laminate has been cut down to the wood surface, the finishing wood-cut can be made with a fine-toothed hand saw and close, careful attention to avoid nicking the laminate edge. I hope this helps those who may not be able to afford expensive tools for their intended project, but are willing to take the time to achieve good results anyway. Good luck!

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The advise you got about cutting are good. be very careful, use a sharp 60 or 80 tooth blade on a good saw. let's talk about your 45 degree angle now. I sure hope you are buying pre-form counter tops that are precut to the 45 degree angle. Trust me, you cannot do that in the field with any success. There are seven easy steps to jointing a good 45 degree counter top.

Step 1: once stagged in place, apply an even coat of good water proof wood glue (Titebond 2 is ok) over the entire edge of both 45 ends. You want the glue to squeeze out along the entire seem as you tighten in the next steps. this is ABSOLUTELY necessary to keep water from seeping in and delaminating your counters.

Step 2: Install the special spanner bolts into the pre-routed holes under the counter top. Tighten them until the glue just starts to ooze out of the seems.

Step 3: Install a couple of plywood strips (4in X 6in) under the counter top with screws shorter than the thickness of the top. (for obvious reasons) Attach to one section (side) of counter top only.

Step 4: Tighten the bolts until snug and counters meet cleanly. Do not over tighten.

Step 5: Screw the other side of the plywood strips to the underside of the counter top. This will assure a good flush fit.

Step 6: Clean off excessive glue with a damp cloth.

Step 7: Let the glue cure for 24 hours.....Enjoy!

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Great answer! You covered everything I didn't know how to do (and subsequently left out of my answer) - the hard part. –  Doresoom Mar 23 '11 at 14:27
    
@Doresoom: TY lol that is what I do for a living!!! –  shirlock homes Mar 24 '11 at 23:10
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