Installing Custom Laminate Countertops

Custom laminate countertops are the way to go if your kitchen is designed for a specific look or application. Custom laminate countertops are built from many pieces as you can in the drawing below. custom countertop drawing As with the post formed, the base cabinets are installed in their respective locations.

Take the design of the final countertops surface and lay it out on a piece of particle board. I prefer MDF (medium density fiberboard) as it has a very flat surface. Cut the basic shape and allow an extra ¼” on the outside or front edges (we will trim this off later).

Then on the bottom side place 1×4 pine boards at the exact final location. Make sure the front edge is straight, true and has a smooth square edge.

Glue and screw this board to the particle board. It may be helpful to draw out the final countertop edge for the custom laminate countertops and place the edge of the pine board on that line.

I use Quick Grip clamps instead of screws to make sure everything is held tightly together.

After the glue has dried, take a router with a ¾” or greater flush cut bottom ball bearing bit. Trim the particle board using the pine as a guide. The particle board should now be an exact duplicate of the pine edge and 1 ½” thick.

Take a strip of laminate that you have cut to 2” wide and glue this piece to the edge using contact cement.


After setting the edge laminate in place, take the router (I use a laminate router as they are less bulky and have a small sole plate) and cut both edges square to the top and bottom surfaces.

You may be tempted to only cut the top edge, but don’t. The bottom custom laminate countertop edge will get caught on your hand or a towel and something and will chip. Making the project and you look bad.

At this point attach the custom laminate countertop to the base cabinets using screws from below to attach the countertop. You may want to take the top off later. This way you will not destroy the cabinets when replacing the top.

Any areas where the laminate is to be butt matched to get the coverage you need must be perfectly smooth and NOT above a seam in the subsurface material.

Apply contact cement to the countertop area and the bottom of the laminate Remember well ventilated and let it dry.

Years ago I would go to my local hardware store and get a handful of yardsticks. Now you can wander the trim section of you local retailer and find something that looks like a yardstick OR get out your table saw and rip a 3’ piece of 1×4 into ¼” strips.

Place these strips on top of the glue coated countertop no more than 6” apart. Place the custom laminate countertop on top of these strips and adjust for the best fit. Starting at one end remove the wood strips and press the laminate in place.

Another consideration concerning the final look of your custom laminate countertop: If there is a seam, use a straight edge and trim the laminate. The factory edges are usually not crisp and square.

When placing laminate, get this seam straight as the adjacent piece fits up to it. The CLEANER THE EDGE, the more INVISIBLE the seam becomes.

Plan you seams where they will offer the least amount of visibility. Look at the picture of the floor plan in layout of kitchen appliances. The seam was placed at the left edge of the sink cutout. The only piece of the seam that was visible was the part from the front edge to the sink and the piece from under the sink to the back splash. By cutting the piece square, the seam became almost invisible.

Ok, you now have the laminate attached to the countertops. Roll the laminate with a j-roller to make sure there are no air bubbles.

You want your custom laminate countertops to look great when their finished. Then get out your laminate trimmer and using a flush cutting laminate bit cut the laminate square to the edge.

After it is square, use a 15 degree bevel cutting bit. Be careful not to cut the laminate on the edge. The purpose of this is to bevel the edge to reduce chipping.

By placing the edging on first then placing the top on and matching to the edging, the final product appears more professional as the edge is not as visible.

You may be tempted to just make one cut using the bevel bit, DON’T. The bit will ALWAYS cut into the edging and make the edging appear to be thicker than it really is. You can also place wood trim on the outside edge just make sure everything fits tight, no gaps!

The typical height of a backsplash for custom laminate countertops is 4”. However, there is nothing that says it can not be any height you want it to be. I usually take a 1×6 and rip it to be 4 ½”.

Check the wall and determine how straight so that there are no huge gaps to fill when you are finished. If there are, you can take a piece of ¼” plywood and cut it to fit on the top edge of the 1×4 and trim it to match the contour of the wall. I will usually make this piece fit and then attach it to the wall with screws.

Next, place the laminate on the face of the board after squaring the laminate to fit. Router the top and use clear silicone caulk to blend the two pieces (custom laminate countertops and the back splash) together.

If the gap is very small at the top, silicone will work OK here. Make sure, however, you get the kind of silicone that is paintable.

All that is left to do at this point is cut the hole for the sink. Place the sink upside down where you want it. Trace around the outside with a marker. Remove the sink. Cut 5/8” INSIDE this line or whatever your sink manufacturer recommends.

Install the kitchen faucet BEFORE placing the sink in the hole. It’s easy at this point. Follow the sink manufacturer recommendations about sealant under the self rimming sink, some want sealant, others want plumbers putty, others want nothing. My theory is put something to keep liquids from going under the sink.

There you have it. Beautiful custom laminate countertops you built your way.

Dave Altman

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