Answers to Countertop Questions

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Q. I'm going to install a top for the island in our kitchen and want a darker finish than the natural maple. We don't plan on having much direct food contact and would like to use a dark oil based stain and then several coats of mineral oil. Would this be acceptable or is there another way of achieving a darker finish?

A. Stain is not recommended on wood countertops. Stain is toxic. Perhaps you can find a wood that is darker than natural maple. Perhaps the rich, reddish browns of a lyptus countertop by John Boos would be to your liking. For an even wider selection of countertop woods check out Devos Custom Woodworking website. If you plan on maintaining an oil finish, use white mineral oil from the pharmacy. Do not use vegetable oil, as it turns rancid.

Q. I am remodeling my kitchen and using granite for my counters and breakfast bar. What are the differences except for obvious thickness in the use of 2 or 3 cm granite?

A. 3cm (1 1/4") is the common standard thickness for granite countertops. Countertops in 2 cm usually have an additional built up edge to give an 1 1/2"(4 cm) profile, yet the overall surface area is 3/4" (2 cm) thick. 3/4" wood is installed on the cabinetry first, then these countertops can be installed on top of the wood. The 3/4" overhang/built up edge covers the wood, giving you natural granite at about 1/3 less weight and 1/2 the cost of 3 cm.

Q. We have had Arborite laid down for our kitchen countertops. It has stuck very well in some places but is lifting up in others creating a bubble. Is there any way we can get the bubbles out, or are we stuck with removing the existing Arborite and trying again?

A. You can try placing some width on it and see if it sticks. Otherwise you need to remove it and re-glue. It's not hard to do - just get a squirt bottle and fill it with paint thinner, lift a corner of the Formica, squirt some thinner in it and slowly it will come unglued.

Q. I am remodeling the kitchen in my studio with a budget of next to nothing. I bought a piece of hardwood furniture grade plywood (4x8) from a friend who bought too much, and I was considering using it as a countertop for my kitchen. I know it's a kind of crazy idea, but it would fit perfectly with the industrial design of my studio, and I already have the piece. My question is 1) is this a stupid idea, and 2) how exactly do I finish it?

A. Wood is never a good idea where water is involved (sink). I know a hardwood floor installer who used oak for his tops. If you do use the plywood, make sure it is well polyurethaned. Be sure to coat the edges and bottom side near the sink.

Q. I want to take my existing factory formica countertop out completely. I want to redo it with ceramic tile. My question is, what do I use for the surface to put the tile on. Do I use cement board, or plywood and what thickness?

A. For the best and longest lasting results, it should be 3/4 exterior grade ply, 1/2" backer set in thin set and screwed down and strips of backer wrapped over the exposed edges. Use backer tape and thin set over your joints and use modified thinnest set to set your tile. Leave a 1/8" gap between the ply/backer and the wall and caulk the gap as you set each layer. Leave a 1/8" gape between the wall and the tile and fill with a color /texture matched caulk. Premixed products are not as heat or water resistant than regular modified thin sets you mix in a bucket and that extra work is well worth the effort. Same goes for premixed vs. polymer modified grouts. If you are prone to over building things, cover the backer with a trowel on waterproofing membrane after filling and taping your seams or fill and tape the seams as you tile without the membrane.

Q. I'd like to make my own sink cutouts in Corian. What's the best way to do this? Would a wood blade in a jigsaw work?

A. Most solid surface polymer materials can be cut and shaped with most types of standard woodworking tools, including table saws, jig saws, routers and drills - "carbide-tipped cutting tools are recommended." Fabrication takes care and patience, and you need to wear eye protection to guard against the possibility of flying chips. There are blades for jigsaws for Corian.

Q. I am installing granite tile counter tops in my kitchen. Bull nosing is too expensive so I was told that I could cut the granite and use part for the front edge. How does that stick? What do I need to do to smooth the edges? I heard that using a belt sander will work. Does anyone know anything about this procedure?

A. You would still need to get the edge of the top piece polished. You lay the top piece with an overhang off the counter plywood, the thickness of the tile plus a bit for the thinnest. Then, your cut 1-2 inch strip would be set to the counter sides with thinnest.

Because granite needs two times the support of ceramic, you actually need two layers of bc or better grade exterior ply as your base, then 1/4" cement board set in thinnest, then your granite. Waterproofing the top with something like Red Guard is a good idea. The plywood needs to be kept 1/8" off the wall for expansion. If you are concerned with substrate thickness, lay the plywood over the cabinets, trace the cabinet openings onto the bottom side of the plywood and then remove the ply and cut pieces to fit into your tracings, cut a bit shy of the lines you draw once again, for expansion. Install the reinforced ply and then set your cement board in thinnest, and screw down. Normally, you would tape the joints as you set the granite, but with a waterproofing membrane, do it first. Then use Red Guard over the countertop, and at the wall, go up the wall a few inches, then install 6" drywall mesh tape over the two planes and recoat with Red Guard. This will create a waterproof flashing up the wall so you won't ever have water infiltration at that juncture. Do not use regular drywall mesh tape with the taping of the joints in the backer board. The 6" tape can be used with the Redguard because it is encapsulated and protected form the corrosive effects of the Portland cement in the thinnest. As for the counter edge, I will always cut some thin strips of backer, predrill some holes through it, and ring shank nail it into the veneers of the plywood. For the bull nosed tile of polished edges of the granite, try to see if a local cemetery stone company will do it for you. They already have the machines set up to do it 24/7 and are often cheaper than tile and stone shops if you find one to do it. You are not going to get a polished edge on granite with a belt sander. Another option for the edging is oak trim, or Schluter step Rondec. They have two styles, Rondec Step and Rondec CT for counter edging, or just a piece of standard Rondec to create the bullnose roll over.

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