In my last post I showed off the entry door I installed in the A-frame house I spent a couple months remodeling. This was a test project. I get this frequently, one job usually leads to another. The next project was to replace the countertops in the kitchen.
What should have been a very straightforward installation turned into a monster. The house was built by a custom homebuilder in the mid to late 80’s, and the cabinets were built in. The cabinetmaker used full half-rips for the carcase sides. This means the cabinet depth was greater than the coutertops were made to fit (24″ rip + 3/4″ faceframe = 25″). Most modern cabinetry is modular (vs. built in place) and proportions like depth and height have been standardized. In production shops, plywood is cut in such a way as to minimize waste (hence the 23 1/4″ carcase sides). In a custom on-site build, the cabinetmaker is likely to use different methods. There’s nothing wrong with this, except…
Contemporary modular cabinets are 24″ deep including the faceframe (23 1/4″ rip + 3/4″ faceframe) keeping the overall cabinet depth at 24″. The countertops in this case (off the shelf) will only allow for 24 1/2″, which creates a problem. There were a few ways I could have handled this:
- I could have added a second layer of plywood to raise the laminate,
- I could have just placed the counter anyway and made some attempt at filling in the gap against the wall,
- I could have routed out some of the backside of the bullnose to let in the cabinet, or
- I could notch the face frame instead.
I have to make these kind of judgement calls all the time. It is both welcome and unusual to have the homeowner on hand to help me make them. I chose #4 after some consideration. Adding the second layer (which would be standard practice) was ruled out for a several reasons which mostly had to do with time. If and when the homeowner asks “can we get by without it?”, I have to be confidently able to answer yes or no, and explain why.
Occasionally manufacturer recommendations can be ignored. This might sound like blasphemy to some of you but consider this – the directions on a can of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane say “do not thin”. This keeps Minwax safely in compliance with VOC emission laws, but is preposterous in the finishing room. Unless you’re an accomplished finisher, attempting to apply full-strength poly might leave you frustrated. Having said that, I often use unthinned finish for the final coat. But I digress…
The first thing I realized was that the existing countertops were not fastened with screws from underneath. That meant that they were nailed down through the top, and probably glued as well.
So the chiseling began. I started stripping the laminate with my 1/12″ chisel to expose the nail heads. Then after digging them all out, it was fairly easy to pry the counters up. Sure enough construction adhesive was used, but not excessively. After scraping off the old glue, I turned to the task of chiseling the notch to accept the new tops. The faceframes were pine and the work was easy, if not time consuming.
Next time I’ll be talking about coping base trim, and the way I approach installation.