Countertops are a huge part of any kitchen, both as an efficient work surface and as an aesthetic statement. Plastic laminates, such as products from Formica, Wilsonart and other manufacturers, have been a popular selection of kitchen and bath counters for many years, combining good looks and easy maintenance with affordable pricing.

Laminates can wear out over time, and certainly your tastes can change. So if you’re thinking that it’s time for a laminate counter makeover, you have a couple of options for how to proceed.

CUSTOM-MADE TOPS

The easiest solution to your outdated counters is to simply have some new ones made. You have two basic choices open to you here: pre-made, or made-in-place. Both have some advantages.

A countertop shop creates pre-made counters for you. They will come out to your house and carefully measure your existing kitchen, and then create new tops in their shop. Depending on the size and layout of your kitchen, the tops may be a single piece, or they may be made up in several sections. Backsplash will also be made to fit the needs of the room.

When the tops are ready, installers will come to your home and remove the old tops and install the new ones, all within one day. Since the tops are pre-measured and made to fit, final installation only requires minor scribing and fitting, plus fitting and gluing of the backsplash. Range and sink openings are precut as well, and while the installers will not typically remove and replace appliances or fixtures, the holes are in place and accurately sized to make the changeover pretty quick as well. If you want to save a few bucks, you can also have the tops made-to-fit and do the installation yourself.

Pre-made tops also offer the advantage of more choices in edge treatments. One of the most popular edge treatments today is called a beveled edge, which fits two pieces of laminate together on the front edge of the counter and the top edge of the splash. Bevel-edge counters eliminate the black line where the top and edge laminates meet, something that was often seen on older, square-edge tops.

Made-in-place tops are done by first removing the old tops, then installing a new base of high-density particleboard on top of the cabinets, which is carefully cut and fit to the layout of the kitchen. After these base sheets are installed, a front-edge of either laminate or hardwood is fit in place.

Next, large sheets of laminate are adhered to the base sheets using contact cement. Then the sheets are cut using a small laminate-trimming router. The router follows the layout of the front edge, and trims both the laminate sheet and the edge at the same time for a clean, smooth front edge. The router is also used to cut out openings for the sink, range, and cook top. A backsplash of matching wood or laminate, or even ceramic tile, is used to finish off the installation.

Made-in-place tops take a little longer to install, and there is a bit of noise and mess to put up with during the process. The advantage is that the large sheets eliminate some of the seaming needed with pre-made tops, resulting in fewer joints. Done correctly by experienced professionals, either method produces a clean, smooth countertop installation.

DO-IT-YOURSELF

So where’s the fun in leaving all this to the pros? If you have patience and a love of do-it-yourself projects–and you’re looking to save some money–you can undertake this project yourself. One option is to purchase the particleboard, laminate, and adhesive and do your own made-in-place tops, but this takes some skill and experience to do right.

A better choice would be to purchase pre-made tops from a local home center. Pre-made tops typically come in 2-foot increments, usually ranging from four to 12 feet long, with a standard curved or beveled-front edge. If you have corners to turn, pre-mitered counters are also available; a special adhesive is used at the joint, and connector bolts that fit into pre-cut slots under the counter draw the two pieces together and secure the joint.

You’ll need to do your own cutouts, which are made using a jigsaw that is fit with a down-cutting blade (the teeth are set to cut on the downward motion of the blade to avoid chipping out the laminate). A belt sander is typically used to sand and scribe the back edges of the counter to the wall, and the joint is covered with wood, laminate, or tile splash.

If you choose to give this method a try, all of the parts and complete instructions are available at most larger home centers and some lumberyards, either in stock or by special order.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.

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