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4 Weekend Kitchen Upgrades

Four weekend kitchen upgrades—a new sink and faucet, a stainless steel backsplash, classy track lighting and open shelves. Each one will make your kitchen feel brighter and fresher, especially if you have a small kitchen. And you save a ton when you do it yourself.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

  • TIME
  • TimeTimeTimeTime Multi-day
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    Each of these projects takes less than 8 hours, although some of the time may be spread over several days.

  • COMPLEXITY
  • ComplexityComplexityComplexity Moderate
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    You should have simple plumbing and electrical experience. Other techniques don't require special skills.

  • COST
  • CostCostCostCost Over $500
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    The new sink and faucet cost $750. The low voltage track lighting system cost $2000. The stainless steel backsplash and utensil rack cost about $560. Open shelving costs less than $100 for materials. Prices vary widely on all high-price items.

Project 1: New sink and faucet

We'll start by showing you how to replace your worn-out sink and faucet. The stainless steel sink we purchased has an extra-large bowl to accommodate big pots and is made of heavy 18-gauge stainless steel with a well-engineered clamping system. This deluxe sink was expensive, but top-quality sinks with fewer features are available for much less.

While the sink is out, it's an easy job to replace the faucet. We replaced our old faucet with one of the popular new pullout-spout models. Installing a new sink and faucet is easier than ever thanks to the simple-to-cut- and-assemble white plastic (PVC) drain parts (Photo 7) and nearly foolproof flexible water supply tubes (Photo 6). Some plumbing experience would be helpful, but even without it you can replace your sink and faucet in less than a day using a few basic tools that you probably already own. You'll need a large slip-joint pliers for the drain fittings (Photo 1), a fine-tooth saw to cut the plastic pipe, a set of open-end wrenches or two adjustable wrenches to loosen and tighten the supply tubes, and hex head nut drivers for the sink clips and the clamp on the dishwasher drain. If you have a plastic laminate countertop and need to enlarge the hole for the new sink, you'll also need a jigsaw.

The key to simplicity: Buy a new sink the same size as the old
Measure your old sink. The standard size is 33 x 22 in. and about 7 in. deep. If yours is this size, you'll have no problem finding a new one to fit the same hole. If you want to install a sink that's larger or deeper than your current one, first check the cabinet width below to make sure it'll fit. Then decide how to enlarge the hole. If your countertop is stone, tile, solid surface (Corian, for example) or metal, you may have to hire a pro to enlarge the hole. If it's wood or plastic laminate, enlarge the hole yourself with a jigsaw.

New sink: Take out the old sink and set the new one

Getting the old sink out is usually harder than putting the new one in. Old plumbing parts are likely to be corroded, and the sink may be glued to the counter with caulk or caked-on gunk. Sinks are mounted in several ways, but here are a few general tips for removing yours:

  • Place a bucket under the trap to catch wastewater while you loosen the slip-joint nuts.
  • Remove the disposer (Photo 1).
  • Use a pair of pipe wrenches to separate drain parts that won't yield to large slip-joint pliers. Don't worry about damaging the pipes; you'll be replacing them with new plastic parts anyway.
  • Add shutoff valves if your hot and cold water supply pipes don't have them.
  • Working carefully, slice the caulk around the sink with a utility knife, then slip a stiff putty knife under the sink's lip and gently pry up to loosen it. On some old sinks, you must remove the mounting clips from under the sink before you lift it out.
  • Get help lifting out a cast iron sink.

Installing the new sink
Follow the steps in Photos 2 – 3 to assemble and set your new sink and faucet. Some sinks, like the stainless steel sink we're installing, require clips tightened from below to hold them in place (Photo 3). Most cast iron sinks are held in place by their own weight and a bead of caulk. Follow the mounting instructions provided with your sink.

Sink and faucet parts and supplies

  • Plumber's putty
  • Tub-and-tile caulk
  • Two basket strainer assemblies (only one if you're installing a disposer)

You'll need the following 1-1/2 in. PVC drain parts:

  • One P-trap assembly
  • One end or center outlet waste kit
  • Two sink tailpiece—only one if you're installing a disposer. If you have a dishwasher and no disposer, get a special “dishwasher” tailpiece that has a tube to connect the dishwasher drain hose.
  • One special “disposer” waste arm, if you have a disposer
  • Two flexible water supply tubes for kitchen sinks. Match the nuts on the ends to the threads on your faucet and shutoff valves. Also measure to determine the right length. Buy everything at a home center, hardware store or plumbing supplier.

New sink: Reconnect the plumbing

Photos 4 – 7 show you how to reconnect the plumbing. When you're finished with the installation, turn on the shutoff valves and check for leaks. Then run water in both bowls and check the drains for leaks. Most leaks can be fixed by tightening the connection. If this doesn't work, you'll have to take the leaky joint apart and inspect it for missing or misaligned parts.

Project 2: Low voltage track lighting

Every kitchen needs good lighting, so we'll show you how to use one of your weekends to install a low-voltage track lighting system to brighten dimly lit countertops. The system we chose is expensive, but is one of the few that has a flexible track that you can customize to fit your kitchen. In addition, its ceiling mount transformer mounts on an existing ceiling light box, eliminating the need to run additional wires. The low-voltage halogen fixtures mount anywhere along the track and supply bright white light that's easy to focus on any countertop. The system is easy to install with basic tools, and you'll be done in less than a day.

Full-service lighting showrooms are the best place to find a large selection of track lighting systems. Take a dimensioned sketch of your kitchen to the lighting showroom. A lighting specialist will help you decide on the number and placement of light fixtures and put together an order complete with all the parts and accessories you'll need. Ask for an installation instruction sheet to familiarize yourself with the system and double-check the order.

Lighting: Wire the transformer

The track system is easy to install in less than one day, even if you don't have any electrical experience. Besides basic hand tools like a set of screwdrivers, tape measure, etc., you'll need a wire stripper, voltage tester (Photo 8), plumb bob or weight and string (Photo 10), 6-ft. stepladder and a drill and bits. Our track lighting system included the Allen wrenches required to tighten the fittings. Check your system's instructions to see if you need any special tools.

Before starting any electrical work, contact your local building department to find out if a permit is required. Then double-check to make sure the power is off before handling the wires (Photo 8). Don't hesitate to call an electrician if you're unsure.

When you get the lighting system, unpack it and make sure you have all the parts. Then turn off the power to the light fixture you'll be removing and take it down (Photo 8). Photo 9 shows how to hook up the new transformer that fits over the existing ceiling box. With this system, you custom- bend the track to position the lights where you want them, and then suspend it from the ceiling with the metal standoffs.

Caution!

Aluminum wiring requires special handling. If you have aluminum wiring, call in a licensed pro who's certified to work with it. This wiring is dull gray, not the dull orange that's characteristic of copper.

Lighting: Install the light bar and hang the lights

Before bending the track, use masking tape to create a full-scale plan of your kitchen, including cabinets, on the floor of your garage or workshop. Now mark the location of the existing ceiling light and cabinet door swings and plan the path of the track with masking tape. Bend the track to match your layout. We bent the track by hand using a 5-gal. bucket as a form to get smooth curves. Carefully move the track to the kitchen and support it on the countertop (Photo 10). Then get help to mount the track to the ceiling (Photos 10 and 11) and install the fixtures (Photo 12).

Caution: Make sure all connections are tight. Loose low-voltage connections will heat up, creating a fire hazard.

Project 3: Stainless steel backsplash and utensil rack

Covering the wall between the countertop and wall cabinets with stainless steel is a great way to quickly jazz up your kitchen. Because stainless steel is difficult to cut without special tools, we'll show you how to make a precise pattern that a local sheet metal fabricator can use to cut out your panels. Once you get the precut panels back, you'll be able to complete the job in a few hours.

With the sheet metal being cut by pros, you don't need any special skills or tools to complete this project. And you'll still save a lot by measuring and installing the backsplash yourself.

You'll need a few common hand tools like a scissors, utility knife, tape measure, caulk gun and voltage tester as well as screwdrivers and leather gloves. You'll need a drill to install the utensil rack. To make the pattern, you'll need a roll of heavy paper (we used red rosin paper), masking tape, packaging tape and a roll of paper tape normally used for covering the joints in drywall. All these materials are available at home centers. In addition to the metal backsplash material, you'll need three 10-oz. tubes of 100 percent silicone caulk for every 20 linear feet of backsplash.

Find a top-notch sheet metal shop for a trouble-free backsplash
The success of this job hinges on finding a sheet metal fabricator that's willing to work with you to choose the material and cut it exactly according to your pattern. Check online or in the Yellow Pages under “Sheet Metal Work” for fabricators in your area. We used 20-gauge No. 304 stainless steel with a No. 4 polish. Make sure to have the holes cut for switches and receptacles. You can also use copper, brass or galvanized sheet metal as well as “pillowed” or “swirl finish” stainless steel.

Stainless steel: Install the backsplash

The sheet metal must be attached to a smooth, clean wall surface. Prepare the wall for sheet metal by removing all cover plates and other hardware and repairing loose or damaged wall materials. Clean the backsplash area with TSP or other grease-cutting cleaner. Then sand the walls with 80-grit paper to remove bumps and to rough up the surface for maximum adhesion.

Photos 13 – 15 show the steps in making the pattern and installing the metal. Paper drywall joint tape works great to create the edges of the pattern because it's stiff and straight.

Tip: Temporarily position the paper tape with masking tape. Then secure it to the red rosin paper with package wrapping tape before you remove the pattern from the wall.

Note: The “ears” on the switches and receptacles should rest on the new metal backsplash. Don't make the holes too big.

Take the pattern to the sheet metal shop and ask them to cut the metal to match. Our metal fabricator smoothed all of the exposed edges and cut perfectly straight lines where two sheets butted, like under the window in our kitchen. The resulting edges and seams fit perfectly and didn't require metal moldings or caulk. Don't worry, though; you can order moldings from your metal fabricator to cover edges and seams if you find they're needed.

With the pattern-making method, any problems you encounter are likely to be small ones. We had to use a grinder with a metal-grinding disc to notch the metal to fit around some small protrusions in the vent hood. We also had to slice the drywall at the inside corner to slide one sheet behind the other. You can also loosen the wall cabinets to slide the metal behind. If the metal simply won't fit, you'll have to take it back to the shop for a trim.

Tip: Cover the countertop with paper to protect it from the sharp metal edges.

Stainless steel: Hang the utensil rack

The photo above shows one of many handy utensil storage racks you can buy to mount anywhere in the kitchen. The 24-in. bar shown came with screws and wall anchors. There's no need to find wall studs for anchoring the bar, but use an appropriate wall anchor. The plastic tube anchor shown in Photo 16 works great in sheet metal or solid walls like those made of concrete.

Project 4: Open shelves

Converting a few of your wall cabinets to open shelving is a great way to create display space for dishes or to keep cookbooks and cooking supplies within easy reach. Anyone handy with a paint brush can complete this project in a leisurely weekend. Don't forget to order the glass shelves about a week before you need them.

You'll need a screwdriver, hammer and tape measure as well as basic painting equipment like a paint brush, putty knife, masking tape, and sandpaper or sanding sponge. Use a drill with a 9/32-in. bit to drill holes for the metal sleeves (Photo 19).

Open shelves: Convert a cabinet

Some cabinets, like ours, are easy to convert by simply removing the doors and ordering glass shelves. Others may require a little carpentry work, like removing a fixed shelf. Take a close look inside the cabinet to see whether there are hidden challenges. If it looks good, remove the doors and carefully measure for shelves. Measure from one side of the cabinet to the other and from front to back. Deduct 1/8 in. from these measurements to arrive at the glass size. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Glass” to find a company that will cut the glass and polish all of the edges. Ask the glass salesperson what thickness you need for strength and safety. Longer spans require thicker glass.

While you're waiting for the glass to arrive, paint the cabinet interiors. Choose a color that matches or complements a floor or wall color. Preparation is the key to a long-lasting, perfectly smooth paint job. Photos 17 and 18 show the painting steps. If you're painting over Melamine or another hard, shiny surface, make sure to thoroughly roughen the surface with 80-grit sandpaper and prime with shellac before brushing or spraying on the coats of paint.

Photo 19 shows the hardware we used to support the glass shelves. If you don't have holes for the shelf pins, use a tape measure and square to mark the hole locations and bore 9/32-in. holes to accept the metal reinforcing sleeves.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Hammer
    • Tape measure
    • Caulk gun
    • 4-in-1 screwdriver
    • Drill/driver, cordless
    • Drill bit set
    • Framing square
    • Voltage tester
    • Stepladder
    • Nut driver
    • Punch
    • Slip joint pliers
    • Utility knife
    • Wire stripper/cutter
    • Wrench set

Fine-tooth saw, disposer wrench, plumb bob, leather gloves, flexible putty knife

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Silicone
    • Rosin paper
    • Paper drywall tape
    • Sandpaper, 80-grit
    • Cobalt drill bit, 1/4-in.
    • Tub and tile caulk
    • Wood filler, hardening type
    • 1/4-in. glass shelves
    • Shelf pins, sleeves and rubber pads
    • Note: For sink materials, see “Sink and faucet supplies” above

Comments from DIY Community Members

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April 27, 6:50 PM [GMT -5]

These were really quick and easy, thanks!

April 26, 3:19 AM [GMT -5]

Hi One

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