Install a Self Rimmed Plastic Laminate Countertop Install a Self Rimmed Plastic Laminate Countertop

Since there are so many types of counter tops, we will only be discussing the most commonly used today: the plastic laminate. These can be either pre-molded or self rimmed. Self-rimmed means you apply the laminate over an old counter top or a new counter top core.

Self rimmed plastic laminate counter tops are both handsome and durable for the hardworking kitchen, and they are not all that difficult to install. The sheets of 1/16" thickness are stocked with most dealers in 4 x 8 foot sheets but can be special ordered in a range from 2 to 5 foot widths and from 6 to 12 foot lengths. The laminate should be stored in your kitchen for at least 48 hours prior to installation to have time to adjust to the temperature and humidity.

Most Common Mistakes

  1. Not sanding counter tops to the contours of the wall,
  2. Not applying the finish surface accurately,
  3. Not cutting the sink opening to the proper dimension,
  4. Scratching the countertop over the course of the installation,
  5. Puncturing the countertop with screws while fastening it to the base units, or
  6. When laminating your own countertop, not spreading enough adhesive. This will result in bubbles or may lift up in corners or along the edges.


1. Make certain that the surface upon which you will be applying the laminate is even and smooth. If you will be topping an existing laminate counter, repair any gouges or loose edges and be sure the existing laminate is glued firmly. If the counter is rimmed with a metal band, remove it and fill any holes with wood dough.

2. When planning your cuts, reserve the factory edges for those counter edges that you will be unable to reach with a router, as where counter top meets backsplash, etc. The laminate should be cut with a sabre saw fitted with a fine-toothed blade and cuts should be made leaving a half inch margin on all sides but the factory edge.

3. Use a soft paintbrush or a vacuum cleaner to completely remove any dust from the counter and the back of the laminate strip being applied.

4. Spread contact cement onto the counter edge with a 3 1/4 inch natural bristle brush, covering the entire surface. Then brush the contact cement onto the back of the strip of laminate and allow both of these to set for about 15 minute. It will be ready for bonding when a piece of brown paper will not stick to it. When working with contact cement, make sure your work area is well ventilated.

5. Drape the strips of brown wrapping paper over the edge of the counter so that the two cement covered surfaces will not come in contact with each other.

6. Position the strip close to the counter edge so that the 1 1/2" margin is extending evenly above and below the edge of the counter. This may take two persons. If one end of the strip is to meet an inside corner, start by butting that end into the corner, pulling out the first piece of paper, and pressing the strip onto the counter's edge.

7. Work your way along the edge of the counter, alternately removing a piece of paper and pressing the laminate into position. Be sure the laminate is exactly where you want it.

8. Once the entire strip is in position, roll over it several times with a rolling pin or a hand roller using firm, even pressure to ensure a good bond.

9. Trim the laminate with your router fitted with a carbide-tipped flush-cutting bit. Hold the router in position with the lower part of the faceplate flat against the newly laminated strip and the bit held just above the excess. Slowly lower the router until the bit meets the counter top then move the router along the strip, trimming flush with the counter top. Trim the excess laminate on all sides of the edge, moving in a counter clockwise motion.

10. After laminating all of the, counter edges and trimming them with the router, smooth the top edges with a sanding block fitted with 80 grit sandpaper. Then dust thoroughly. Do not touch the sandpaper to the laminate surface as it will leave permanent scratches.

11. When spreading the adhesive for the counter top, it is most easily done with a paint tray and a mohair-covered paint roller. Lay the cut plastic laminate on the floor on top of newspapers and roll the contact cement on, covering the entire surface. Apply a slightly thicker coat of cement near the edges. Next, cover the counter surface and allow both to dry about 15 minutes or until the brown paper will not stick to the adhesive.

Dowels will keep the laminate from sticking to the counter before you are ready.

12. Wood strips work better to keep the laminate from sticking to the cemented counter surface than brown paper when laying the counter top. Place them at one foot intervals. Then lay the laminate, adhesive side down, on the wood strips. Put the factory edge against the backsplash and set the tip of the diagonal cut into the corner. This corner is where you will begin.

13. Pull out the wood strip nearest the corner while pressing the laminate into position. Again, be sure the laminate is exactly where you want it. Use a sweeping motion so no air bubbles are trapped beneath the laminate. Work along the counter, pulling out strips of wood and pressing down the laminate. Then, immediately roll the surface with your rolling pin or hand roller, applying extra pressure near the edges.

14. When placing the second piece, make certain the diagonal seam at the corner is very tight and roll the seam thoroughly.

15. If the laminate fails to form a bond or creates a bubble at some point, place a piece of the brown wrapping paper over the spot and place a hot iron (set for cotton) on top of the paper until the laminate feels hot to the touch. The heat should soften the contact cement enough to regain some of its stickiness. Then use the roller again with a firm, steady pressure until the laminate has cooled.

16. Before router trimming the counter top, put masking tape around the newly laminated edges so as not to mar them. Router off the excess as you did with the edges, moving the router from left to right. Then, replace the bit with a 22' bevel bit and bevel the seam at the top of the counter moving, as always, left to right.

Tip: Practice this technique on some scrap before doing the final project.

17. Finish the bevels with a 14-inch single cut Mile. Apply pressure on the downward stroke. Check each angle with your finger tip to assure there are no rough edges that may later result in cracks. Inside corners are particularly prone to cracking if they are not filed smooth.

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