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Installing Laminate Countertops

Build a laminate countertop from scratch

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How to Install Laminate Countertop Sheets: Cut a Dado in the BacksplashFamily Handyman

How to Install Laminate Countertop Sheets: Cut a Dado in the Backsplash

Before you assemble the underlayment, plow a 1/4-in.-deep, 1/4-in.-wide dado into the backsplash (Figure A). The laminate slips into the groove to give you a little wiggle room when you install it. You can cut the dado by making a few passes on your table saw.

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Raise the Kitchen CountertopsFamily Handyman

Raise the Kitchen Countertops

If you're working with factory-built cabinets, you'll have to install “raise strips” made of 3/4-in. particleboard on top of the cabinets to make room for the top drawers to clear the front edge of the kitchen countertop. Install a board instead of a raise strip where the underlayment corner seam will be. Cut the underlayment so it sticks out 1 in. past the finished end of the cabinet (or make it flush if the cabinet abuts an appliance). Stagger the top, backsplash and nosepiece seams at least 1/2 in. Fasten it all together with 1/4-in. crown staples that are 1-1/4 in. long and spaced about 5 in. apart—no glue required.

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Verify Sink SizeFamily Handyman

Verify Sink Size

Cut the hole for the sink after the underlayment is installed but before you install the laminate. Most sinks require a 21-1/4-in. x 32-1/4-in. hole, but make sure you have your sink on hand so you'll know what size hole to cut. Cut the back side of the hole with an oscillating tool, and then cut the sides and front with a jigsaw.

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Sand the SeamsFamily Handyman

Sand the Seams

There can be a small gap between the underlayment boards, but the seam has to be absolutely flat. Mark the seam with a pencil, then sand with 50-grit paper until the lines disappear.

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How to Install Laminate Countertop Sheet: Use a 'Slitter' for Narrow StripsFamily Handyman

How to Install Laminate Countertop Sheet: Use a 'Slitter' for Narrow Strips

A laminate slitter ($140 at online retailers) is almost a must for cutting thin laminate strips. It has an adjustable guide, so you can cut strips ranging in width from 1/2 in. up to 4-1/4 in. Cut any narrow strips first, before rough-cutting the large kitchen countertop pieces. All the pieces will be cut a bit long and trimmed down after they're installed. Make sure you have enough of the sheet left over to cut the large L-shaped section.

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Rough-Cut the Top With a Circular SawFamily Handyman

Rough-Cut the Top With a Circular Saw

Cut the main top piece of the laminate with a circular saw. Use a board to create a space so the saw blade doesn't grind into the floor. Avoid scratches by sticking a few strips of masking tape to the underside of your saw base. The front side of the laminate will hang over the edge and be trimmed off, so your cuts don't need to be perfect.

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Glue the End Caps FirstFamily Handyman

Glue the End Caps First

Cut the end cap so the bottom portion and the very top are close enough to be cleaned up with a file. The rest will be trimmed with a router. Cut the end cap to size with snips, then paint a thin layer of glue on both surfaces. Let the glue dry just until it's no longer wet to the touch, then carefully line up the top and ends and tip the piece into place. Embed the end cap by lightly tapping the whole surface with a smooth, burr-free hammer, and then it's ready for the router.

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Scribe and Cut the Top CapFamily Handyman

Scribe and Cut the Top Cap

Before you get your first whiff of glue, make sure every piece fits. The top of the backsplash will need to be scribed and trimmed down. Use a small silver marker to scribe the top, and then carefully cut it with tin snips.

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Make Small CutsFamily Handyman

Make Small Cuts

To avoid cracking the laminate, don't cut more than 1/4 in. at a time. Clean up the edge with a belt sander.

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Use Tin SnipsFamily Handyman

Use Tin Snips

Tin snips are a good tool for cutting the scribed line.

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Trim Excess Laminate in PlaceFamily Handyman

Trim Excess Laminate in Place

Install the front edge flush with the bottom of the underlayment, and set it with a hammer. Then trim off the excess with your router. A compact router with an offset base is a must-have when you're building kitchen countertops in place.

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Routing TipFamily Handyman

Routing Tip

When you trim the main kitchen countertop and the top of the backsplash, the guide of your router bit will be running along finished laminate, so keep the router moving. If you stop for any length of time, the bit will grind into the surface of the laminate. Rub a little petroleum jelly along the edge where the bit rides to prevent marring.

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Apply the Adhesive With a ScrapFamily Handyman

Apply the Adhesive With a Scrap

Clean all surfaces with compressed air before gluing up the top surface. Cover the perimeter with a brush and then grab a scrap piece of laminate to spread on the rest. Apply the glue on the underlayment the same way. It gets messy trying to glue the backsplash after the top is installed, so cover the backsplash with glue at the same time. And this stuff is a potent chemical, so always use an organic vapor respirator, open a window and turn on the exhaust fan.

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Use Spacers to Install the TopFamily Handyman

Use Spacers to Install the Top

Laminate adhesive is sometimes referred to as “contact cement” because it sets as soon as the two coated surfaces come into contact. That's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to maneuver a large, floppy sheet into place. Cut strips of leftover laminate and use them as spacers. Because the adhesive won't stick to the strips, you'll be able to slide the sheet around. Start pulling out the spacers once the top sheet is in position. Make sure the spacers are clean so they don't leave debris behind.

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How to Install Laminate Countertop Sheets: Smooth Laminate With a BoardFamily Handyman

How to Install Laminate Countertop Sheets: Smooth Laminate With a Board

Instead of using a roller to smooth out the surface, use a board wrapped in a towel. If a piece of debris does get in between the two surfaces, the soft rubber on a roller can indent around the lump and actually crack the laminate that surrounds it. Start on the back side and work your way out to the edges.

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Trim the Backsplash With SnipsFamily Handyman

Trim the Backsplash With Snips

A router won't be able to reach the inside corner of the backsplash, so use tin snips to trim it down before you install it (make small cuts). That way you won't have as much material to remove with your file. Press the section on with a board the same way you did the top. The top cap piece is set into place with a hammer.

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Trim Out the Sink HoleFamily Handyman

Trim Out the Sink Hole

Use your router to trim the hole for the sink. Just poke through the material with a spinning bit and work your way to the edge. Right before you finish the cut, support the scrap material so it doesn't fall down and tear out the last little section.

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File DownwardFamily Handyman

File Downward

Once all the pieces are in place, file all the edges, including the bottom. You can buy a file especially designed for plastic laminate for less than $20 online. Always file in a downward direction, never back and forth. Clean off excess glue with lacquer thinner or whatever solvent your adhesive manufacturer recommends.