Remember that time I decided to renovate my own kitchen during a global pandemic? Oh the crazy things that I decide to do. To be fair, I had decided to do all this prior to the stay at home situation, so it was ready to go, and if you're going to be stuck at home with a kitchen that is slowly sinking by the day...you may as well use your new found time to do something about it.
I've been trying to update on progress, but sometimes I get in a rhythm and get stuck in the "big picture." So I'm going to try to break down some of the components of this reno. Let's talk countertops...what I used..how I did it...what I messed up on...what I would do differently. If I can do this with no previous experience, so can you. Ready? Okay let's go.
A little reminder of where I started from:
Yes, those are red counters. When we first moved in I was a DIY newbie (I still think I am) but I knew I couldn't live with the red, so I did a little research and found a lot of people painting their counters. I did a marble pattern and then covered them in epoxy. It cost about $75. I don't regret doing it, although I'll admit it did start to yellow over time.
Here's the thing though, if I knew you could actually re-laminate a countertop I would have done that, it would have cost me about $25 more but it also would have held up better...you live and you learn. It did the trick for the four years, but I was ready for more counterspace and something new.
I would have preferred a quartzite counter, but remember the whole global pandemic thing? Yeah, we are trying to be very budget conscious in light of everything. Even if we had the money, I wouldn't spend thousands of dollars without being able to see the slab in person (which is not possible right now).
I'll admit I was SO opposed to laminate. I used to associate Formica with the 1980's. Every apartment or home I have lived in has had a laminate countertop, I kept thinking there had to be a better way. After researching though, I was really impressed. This is not your mother's Formica (actually my mom now has granite but you know what I mean). If you haven't looked in a while, it's worth checking out. They've redesigned their patterns so that they don't repeat (giving a more realistic appearance) and they have edges that get rid of the infamous brown line (mine haven't come in yet, I'll update when they do). The patterns are modern and fresh, and here's the thing....SO affordable. I initially was going to have them installed....but that would have cost $800....nope.
So then I looked into buying stock laminate counters...two patterns to pick from...nope.
Finally, after researching and reading and watching tutorials, I realized I could do it myself.
I ended up ordering the Ice Onyx in the Artisan finish. I had ordered a sample of the Calacatta Marble but didn't love how busy the veining was, which is really just personal preference. I went with this pattern site unseen (remember how I was trying to avoid that...doh!). I am SO happy with it. It's got variations, but it's subtle. It has bright whites and creams and grays...all the "colors" I love!
The sheets come in two sizes, 4x8 and 5x12. After measuring I realized that if I went with the 5x12 I wouldn't need a seam in my peninsula..hooray!
I ordered through home depot and paid $111 for the sheet (that includes tax). They shipped it directly to my door.
Now if you do this, you have to know that it comes rolled up in a tube. I was SO concerned...would it be bowed? Warped? I'm happy to report it lays completely flat.
Okay so why you're really here, what do you need and how do you do this?
Laminate Sheet of your choice
A router with a laminate bit
Access to fresh air (just kidding....sort of)
The process is actually pretty straight forward, first you build your countertop. You could use plywood, but most of the tutorials I read recommended particle board since it doesn't warp. A standard counter is 1.5 inches thick. Particle board is 3/4 of an inch thick...you see where this is going...you gotta use two.
Initially I planned to use two sheets everywhere to get the correct thickness. Here's the thing about particle board...it's soooo heavy. If you're a one woman show like me, it's really difficult to move. I got the initial counter shapes cut out and dry fit with one board, but couldn't imagine doing it a second time. Instead I cut the second board into strips and created a second layer around the perimeter. The counter still sits up an inch and a half, but I didn't have to go crazy trying to move the giant boards myself.
To my surprise, when we removed the old laminate countertops, that's exactly how they were made! One board on top with a second board just outlining.
So now that the boards are cut, you have to cut the laminate. I actually used the computer and a word document sent to 5x12 to visualize where the cuts would be.
When it came time to do it in real life, I flipped the laminate over and drew all my cut lines to be sure everything fit. BE AWARE...if you have a peninsula or irregular shape like I did, you need to cut this in "mirror" since you are flipped over. I almost didn't and literally as the sheers were on the laminate realized the mistake I was about to make...phew! I would have ruined the whole sheet. So always triple check.
If I could do this again, I would use my circular saw and not the sheers. They cut the laminate just fine, it felt like cutting a poster board. However, as I was cutting my hands got completely sliced up by the laminate. It looks like I have a million little paper cuts. I didn't notice in the moment but they definitely hurt afterwards. OR..I should have used gloves..so really that's on me.
Make sure your laminate is cut larger than the counter you're putting it on (this is really important and will come in to play later).
Okay so here it goes, placing the laminate.
The process is simple but scary. Using a roller, cover the laminate with contact cement. Also cover the particle board. Set a timer according to the product you bought (mine was 15 minutes) and wait for it to dry. It will feel dry/slightly tacky to the touch.
Once it is dry, place dowels over the particle board. This will allow you to place the laminate on top of the board and line it up without it touching. This is SO important because you only get one shot. The laminate will permanently bond where it touches, so really be careful with this.
Once it's lined up, starting from the middle, pull out one dowel and press down, smoothing the laminate. Work your way out to one edge and then from the middle again out to the other.
Using a hand roller apply pressure to the laminate and smooth out all any bubbles.
You use the same process for the top and sides, but you are supposed to do the sides first. I will admit that the sides gave me a lot of trouble. Ultimately I've ordered edges that will go over them, so these were just for the time being, but I struggled to get the sides to stick, which caused my router to tear them a bit. However I had zero problems with the top. If you're a newbie like me, do all the tops yourself and just order sides, it will cost you an extra $50-$100 dollars but it will save you a day of your life and look better. The tops took 1/4 of the time that the sides took me. That's my two cents on the matter. My temporary sides are fine for now, but they aren't "perfect" so I'm excited for the edges to come in.
Remember that overhang? Using a router with a laminate bit, line up the router with the countertop and let it follow the countertop around. This tool was a lot easier to use than I imagined, it does all the work for you.
That's it. There's no curing time, they are ready to go immediately. Did I make a few mistakes? Yes, but luckily just the edges which are going to be covered.
I did end up with an awkward seam by my sink, but nothing a little caulk and well placed plant can't hide.
The cost breakdown:
Laminate Sheets: $111
Contact Cement: $35
Router bit: $10
Total Cost: $301 dollars (and if you already have a roller, router, or router bit or can borrow it you're cost will be closer to $200).
Would I do this again? Absolutely. This could easily be a weekend project.