Laminate Countertop Plans
No kitchen installation is complete without countertops. So here I give you plastic laminate countertop plans. Plastic laminate is a durable, inexpensive counter surface that comes in hundreds of different colors.
Probably the most commonly known brand is Formica. In fact, plastic laminate is often referred to generically as Formica. However, there are numerous other plastic laminate manufacturers out there. They include Pionite, LaminArt, Abet Laminati, Nevamar, Wilsonart, and others.
Laminate comes in three basic thicknesses: standard grade, post-form grade, and vertical grade. Until recently, standard grade laminate was used for countertops because it is the thickest of the three grades and wears better under heavy use. However, most manufacturers have moved toward only stocking post-form grade.
Post-form grade is slightly thinner than standard grade, and was originally intended for a technique called postforming. This is where the laminate is heated as it is applied to the substrate to form integral splashes, coves, and bullnose and no-drip edges.
Vertical grade laminate is the thinnest and is only suitable for low-wear vertical surfaces such as cabinet doors and finished cabinet ends.
The substrate is the foundation for a quality laminated countertop. Industrial grade particle board or even MDF can be used for dry areas such as offices and many garage cabinet installations.
Wet areas (any place that has a sink in it) such as kitchen and bathroom counters should be made with a plywood substrate. The plywood itself doesn't need to be waterproof, but it DOES need to have a surface that is clean, smooth, flat, and free from voids.
Gluing Plastic Laminate
Plastic laminate is attached to the plywood or particle board substrate using contact cement. The cement is brushed, sprayed, or rolled (make sure to read the instructions for the particular contact cement you are using) onto both the laminate AND the substrate and allowed to dry.
After the contact cement has dried, the two pieces are carefully aligned and pressed together. The laminate countertop is then rolled firmly to produce a strong bond between the two different materials.
Sizing The Laminate
The laminate should be cut about 1/2" larger than the substrate, then trimmed to fit after gluing it to the substrate. This is best accomplished with a flush trim router bit.
When trimming laminate to a wood surface, such as the top and bottom of the self-edge, I like to trim it first with a router. Then gently belt sand the edge of the plastic and the surface of the substrate at the same time. This makes a nice smooth surface for attaching the top laminate.
Belt sanders are pretty aggressive, so you need to be careful to sand lightly to prevent creating dips in the laminate countertop. Also, only sand with the belt direction moving towards the center of the top. Otherwise the sander can actually pull off the laminate self-edge.
Filing The Laminate
After the final trim of the top laminate, the edge will have small chatter marks from the router and a sharp edge. Many people simply file out the chatter marks and file the sharp edge smooth. I prefer to make a second pass over the edge with a bearing-guided bevel bit in the router. After this extra step, I only have to lightly file the chatter marks and the sharp edge.
There are even "no-file" router bits for this purpose, but I have never personally tried one. The point is to make a heavy trim pass to size the laminate, then make a lighter finish pass to "soften" the edge. It may take a little bit more effort to set up the router a second time, but the result is a professional looking laminate countertop edge.
Using the bevel bit also requires much less filing. The hard work is done by the router, with only minor hand work with the file. Incidentally, sandpaper should never be used to finish the edge of laminate. Sandpaper actually scratches the laminate, whereas a file will scrape or cut the laminate smooth.
Assembling The Sub-Top
There are many ways to assemble the substrate for a laminate countertop. At the most basic, a single piece of plywood or particle board can be laminated as-is. Traditionally, countertops are between 1 and 2 inches thick. Plywood or particle board that thick is generally pretty expensive and VERY heavy.
A single thickness of 3/4" or 1/2" could be used. However, most material this thickness will tend to warp over time. Besides, thin countertops aren't very visually appealing.
A second method that is commonly used for countertops that are laminated in place, is to nail or screw two layers of plywood or particle board (or a combination of the two) directly to the cabinets. I don't particularly care for this method because it makes a mess wherever you install the laminate countertop. It also makes it more difficult to later replace the counters if needed.
My preference is to build the laminate countertop in the shop using 3/4" substrate with a 1/2" or 3/4" built-up self-edge. The build-up can simply be 2" to 4" wide strips glued and nailed to the bottom of the substrate.
Several years ago, one of the guys I worked with showed me a great variation on this method. This is the technique I have used in these plans. It adds the extra step of gluing and nailing a trim strip wherever plastic laminate self-edge will be applied. The trim strip is the same width as the thickness of the countertop, and extends past the counter substrate 1/4" wherever the counter hits the wall.
Why The Extra Work?
First, gluing laminate to the edge of two pieces of plywood or particle board stacked on top of each other can be a bit tricky. The edges don't always line up perfectly, and sanding them can easily put them out of square. This way you always have a nice flat surface to attach your edge laminate.
After gluing the edge laminate and trimming it with the router, you can belt sand the laminate edge and the wood edge together to fit flush with the face of the substrate. You'll then have a perfect surface for attaching your top laminate.
(As a small side note, the edge laminate should always be attached before the top laminate. If done the other way around, the edge laminate will eventually peel off from things being dragged off the edge of the counter. It also looks rather unprofessional because the dark brown core of the laminate is much more visible.)
The second reason for adding the extra wood edge is to simplify installing the countertop. Very often you will find that your walls are not perfectly straight, plumb, or square. This can cause the edges of the laminate countertop to not meet the wall, leaving a visible gap. Scribing (marking and cutting) the counter to fit the wall is the typical solution, but this can be difficult and time consuming.
In this design, only the counter edges that show will actually contact the wall. Everywhere else that the counter meets the wall will have a slight gap. If the walls are perfect, then the gap will be a uniform 1/4". Otherwise it will vary according to the imperfections in the wall.
This technique should save you lots of time and headache when installing the counter, but will only work if you are applying a backsplash that will cover the gap. If you don't plan to use backsplash, then you may need to scribe the counter to fit any irregularities in the wall.
For these plans, I didn't provide any details for the backsplash other than an overall size. You can use matching laminate for the backsplash, wood, tile, stone, metal, glass, or nearly anything you want.
You will notice that I stop the splash 1/4" from the edge of the counter. This makes it easier to caulk the joint between the splash and the counter surface, a necessary step if you're installing the top in a wet area such as a kitchen or bathroom.
Well, that's quite a lot to say about building a laminate countertop. It may seem complicated, but it's definitely within the capabilities of the average woodworker.
I encourage you to dive in and give it a try by clicking on the link to the plans below. If you'd like to download a copy to your computer, right click then "save-as". Either way, you'll need the Adobe reader to view the file.