Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bathroom Makeover, Part 2: The Counter

Let's go back to the beginning of the story, before I started working on the cabinets. With the help of a friend, we ripped out the ruined laminate countertop in our upstairs bathroom.

If you're going to tear your laminate countertops out, be careful not to damage the sheetrock. We used razor blades and a putty knife to peel it away from the wall.

Once the countertop was officially sitting on our back porch, I figured it was about time to figure out what the heck I needed to do to get a new countertop ordered. And that's where I kept running into problems. Our existing countertop had a thin, curved backsplash, which Lowe's and Home Depot's providers don't make.

My next thought was to just get a flat countertop without any kind of backsplash so I could install a pretty tile or something to cover up the mess that's left on the walls. Lowe's couldn't order me a flat laminate countertop without any kind of backsplash. When I suggested ripping the laminate off the existing countertop and just using the same piece of wood to lay down new laminate, the sales guy told me that laminate usually just chips off into a million pieces and doesn't really come off cleanly.

Hmm. Well, it looks like that friggin' countertop paint was actually good for something! Because my laminate peeled off in three clean pieces when I attacked it with a razor blade and a flat-head screwdriver.

So I had this piece of wood that's already the right size and has the right-sized sink hole, and even had a counter-lip on it already, so I figured I could just buy a sheet of laminate, sand the hell out of that piece of wood, and try this whole thing again.

Turns out I don't really know enough about building stuff, because that totally wouldn't have worked at all. And here's why: LAMINATE IS EVIL. If you ever decide you want to work with laminate, DON'T. I accidentally almost destroyed the sheet when I tried to cut it to the proper size. It doesn't like to be cut. In fact, it really has to be contact-cemented down to the wood, and then the wood has to be cut with a proper electric saw. I didn't know this, and therefore I totally scratched up my arms and hands with the laminate, and wound up stress-eating caramel brownies right out of the pan.

Plan B: Matt went and got a giant piece of particle board, and we tried to do it the right way. Matt is much more patient than I am. We contact cemented the remainder of the giant sheet of laminate down to the wood, leaving about a half-inch of the laminate sticking out over the edge, so it would cover the front lip of the counter.

The color is WilsonArt's "Travertine."

On the opposite edge, Matt used some power tools to trim a short, skinny laminate-covered board for the counter lip.

We completed this step near where Matt works so we'd have more space. That's why there's weird stuff in the background.

Because it had to attach to the rest of the counter, he hammered some nails through the board, then we cemented down the strip of laminate on top of it, and hammered it onto the counter board, under the excess laminate we left.

This would have worked really well if the nails hadn't punched through the front of the laminate as we tried to attach the two pieces. After ruining a few front pieces, we decided to cement the whole thing together instead. It worked fine.

Finally, it was time to trim the entire thing down to the correct size so it would fit in the bathroom. I held the boards in place while Matt went to town with the power tools. We were so close to cutting the whole thing cleanly through when...

... the power saw got away a little, and left a gash in the top of the countertop we had just spent the last six hours building.

By then we were totally over it, and refused to start over. Instead we filled the gash with wood filler, which was kind of a similar-enough color that we don't mind. (Matt says it gives the countertop "texture," which makes us both laugh.) Matt cut the sink hole, using the original countertop as a template, and we called it a day.

Once we got it home, the section on the front with a gap between the two pieces of laminate started bugging me, so we filled that with wood filler too. Then, I painted polyurethane over the filler so water wouldn't get in, and we contact-cemented the counter to the wood frame and re-installed the sink.

See? You can barely see the gash!

And thus ends the semi-disastrous tale of how we made ourselves a countertop.

What's the hardest home-repair project you've ever tackled?


  1. I'm impressed with how you guys stuck with it! I don't know that I ever would have been that patient!

    1. Haha, that would totally be my better half. :) I was ready to call it quits like 20 minutes in.

  2. It looks great! I wouldn't have noticed the gash if you hadn't said anything.

  3. Way to stick with it! It looks good!