Project: bathroom vanity with laminate over laminate

The kids bathroom in our house is one of three baths, used (of course) by our two teens (13 and 17 year old). While we are updating to sell the house in a year, this isn’t a make-or-break bathroom that needs to be over the top, it does need to be clean and updated throughout.

One part of the up-modeling is the counter. This bath originally had a blue laminate countertop that we put in 14 years ago when we built the house. It’s way overdue for that to go.

I first considered granite ($800), and then buying a premade vanity countertop with laminate ($225), but in an effort to keep cutting costs with DIY and sweat labor, decided to buy a sheet of laminate (Formica Flint Crystal) from Lowes. Wow! I picked it up from my local Lowes store within three days. It came rolled up in a box and easily fit in my hatchback.

I picked this color and pattern for several reasons. A similar pattern in Corian is at a local chain of gas stations as their counter (TIP! ~ commercial spaces often give a lot of good design ideas). I’ve noticed that it doesn’t show spills or stains easily and that it is a great neutral color scheme.

Gray is very big in design at this time, and with the white (cabinets and moulding), it should be a neutral color scheme appealing to buyers. TIP! ~ Gray could be paired with blue (think French), yellow, fire-engine red, or a neon color such as hot pink, lime green or lemon yellow.

Before laying your laminate, do some research first. It will make the job go easier with fewer mistakes. It’s not that laminate is hard to lay but a mistake or a scratch means re-doing the job and who wants that?? The Cabinetry Expert channel at Youtube has some very good DIY laminate tips:

Cutting Laminate with hand tools

Using a Table Saw to cut Laminate (if using this method, it is ESSENTIAL that your blade be new and sharp; anything dull will cause damage to the laminate. Laminate lays good side up with a table saw.)

Applying Contact Cement Glue (btw I would go with the glue and roller over the spray – and this stuff STINKS!)

If you need a file, he has directions on how to do this properly.

Basic instructions on how to laminate a kitchen countertop from start to finish.

There are some other great videos out there:

From start to finish – building the laminate countertop with an undermount sink. This video shows a beveled edge to the countertop that has been pre-made and just needed to be attached.

Laying over existing laminate – hits all the high points with a bulleted slideshow.

Making your own beveled edge. We couldn’t remove the countertop without damaging it but this would have been the preferred method if we could have (adapted for home materials).

Explanation about Router bits and how to use them.

Okay, so let’s move on to how we did our project. First thing we shut off the water and removed the existing sinks and faucets and plugged the open pipe (to prevent wood debris getting in).

Older houses may not have shutoffs at the sink – you may have to shut off at the curb. If you are going to all this time and trouble, I would recommend putting in sink cut off valves when you re-install the sinks. It provides some real future insurance against disasters such as frozen pipes and leaks.

We pulled off the back and side splashes and cleaned the counter top. If doing a kitchen counter with grease residue, use thinner. We wanted to remove the counter completely but it turned out the builder put it in pretty tight! So in an effort to save it, we left it in place but this meant the project took longer and had to be adapted.

The existing countertop surface is sanded using my electric Mouser sander and 80 grit sandpaper. It has to be roughed up for a better gluing attachment.

Before going past this point – use PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR — laminate really produces a lot of pointy and sharp debris. You could poke your eye out!

We used a circular saw and router to cut the laminate. Holding laminate sheets for cutting can be tricky, especially if they are large, due to their flex. Use sawhorses, boards, clamps, and a helper to support it.

We shortened the length with a circular saw; to minimize splintering, have the good side down when using a circular saw (if using a table saw, good side should be up). The pencil line is slightly off – cutting it a bit wider this first pass allowed room for error.

The Router (with a Straight Bit) came back to get a closer, cleaner edge. When using the Router some things to keep in mind: fatter blades cut slower and chops off more; and thinner blades cut faster.

TIP! ~ The Router must be moved around the OUTSIDE of a rectangle (or circle) on a COUNTERCLOCKWISE movement.

Photo shows a first cut with the Router and a visual verification we are on the right line (look upper left corner).

Clamps, straight edge and boards provide a guide and something to push against when using the Router.

If the Router is a bit off the line or too rough, and you have room to cut closer, make a second pass with the Router. If the roughness is slight then use a hand file to make smooth.

BTW the countertop piece was deliberately cut a little longer in depth so AFTER IT IS PLACED, the Router can do a final trim, getting it a perfectly against the front facing. Trying to cut this exactly before installion wouldn’t give as fine an edge.

TIP! ~ You can always trim back but you can’t add on after you cut 😛

When cutting the long leg, make sure your laminate is supported both at front, back and sides. The cut edge will become the front of the counter and it is marked with pencil and a piece of tape as such. This will help when we lay it on top of the existing counter and mark the holes for the sink.

Next, cuts are done on the long scrap piece. This piece will become the front edge.

The counter front has glue (contact cement) put on using a foam paint applicater. The back of the laminate is also brushed with glue. Both pieces are allowed to dry per the instructions (about 15-20 minutes) before being placed together. When the glue sides touch, it will form a chemical bond that will NOT BE MOVEABLE!

Contact cement is strong smelling; be aware of the need for ventiliation.

Note how the piece is actually taller then the eventual height. This allows it to be cut with the 45 degree ANGLED Router bit and gives a nice beveled edge. Before using the Router to trim it, rub the surface with a block of wax or candle. This prevents the laminate from being scratched by the Router.

The first pass of the Router left too much. We reduced the height on the bit and cut again. A final pass with a hand file trimmed it up nicely. The ends, where the Router couldn’t reach, we hand filed.

Router is used counter-clockwise

NOTE! This is the hard way of making a beveled edge. Since we didn’t remove the countertop we had to improvise. If at all possible, I would recommend removing the countertop completely and making the beveled edge the more traditional way (as shown in the above referenced video).

The counter top is ready to go on. Glue is applied to the old counter top and to the bottom of the new laminate to be placed. The blue painters tape on top of the new laminate marks the front of the laminate. No glue was placed where the sinks were marked out with pencil on the rough side of the laminate.

sticks separate the new from old laminate before laying it down

Again, a helper and some tricks (using sticks – see some of the videos listed above) can make this happen without it being a problem. Work from the center, outwards on removing the dowels and pressing it down.

Once the laminate is down, smooth it outwards to insure there are no pocket bubbles under the sheet. They sell a special J-roller for this; we used a 2×4 block wrapped in clean cardboard because this was a one-shot project. If we were laying a lot of laminate, I would have gone with the tool.

A hole is drilled in the center of the sink area (an empty cavity) to allow the Router access.

The Router (with a Flush Bit) uses the sides of the existing sink holes as a guide to cut a circle in the laminate. TIP! ~ When using a Router to cut the INSIDE of a circle or square, it needs to move CLOCKWISE.

The front edge of the countertop top is cleaned up using the 45 degree angle bit on the Router. It is traveling, left to right, which is a counter-clockwise direction.

Some paint thinner cleans up and removes any glue residue on the laminate. Sinks are re-installed and a line of white, bath caulking is put around each rim. The beveled edge that we weren’t able to cover with laminate, I will paint white next weekend. BTW the price for this project was about $60 as we owned the saws, Router, and bits needed. Cost was only the laminate and the glue.

Woohoo!!! So much nicer already!!

The backsplash will be a tile one; I just felt repeating the laminate as a backsplash would make it look cheaper. I’ll post about the backsplash install after we get the right tile ~ probably around Thanksgiving.

2 thoughts on “Project: bathroom vanity with laminate over laminate

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