Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kitchen Countertop Project - Part 3 "Base Operations"

If you've been following along with us on this adventure, then you'll know that we've already planned our adventure and then demo'd (always the fun part!) to get to Part 3: Base Operations. Or rather, creating the base for our new granite tile countertops. Before we began this phase of the project, our kitchen looked like this:

Since we are basically building our countertops from scratch, it goes without saying that we needed to build something super-study, unyielding and unmoving, and able to handle the weight of cement, mortar, and many square feet of solid stone granite tiles, not to mention anything else we will actually set on the counter (like our Kitchenaid mixer, which I think weighs about a ton). For this purpose, we used plywood.

We purchased several sheets of thick plywood for our "First Base", and took our measurements (pictured below) to Lowe's and had them cut the sheets to size for us.

To get our measurements it actually wasn't too difficult, we just measured our current countertops (when we still had them, that is), and then adjusted the overhang to the depth we wanted (3/4"). It took a bit more math to figure out the cuts per sheet to save money, but the math genius there (Mr. Tom) got it all squared away, no prob. (good thing too because math really isn't my strong point).

Once we had all our cuts we headed home with the beginnings of our beautiful new countertops, all pumped and excited about the project...

... and once home, we realized we should have thought about our cuts a little more. Oops.

At the points where the pieces of plywood met, the joints, there was nothing to secure the plywood to underneath it... except open air. Which makes for a not-stable-at-all countertop base. BIG oops.

So we were stumped, and frustrated, and oh-so-sure that we had made a huge mistake and would have to go back on yet another trip to Lowe's to get new plywood cut so that the joints would fall on a cabinet side, instead of in the middle of the cabinet.

And then Mr. Math Genius had a bright idea.

He grabbed some leftover wood from when we demo'd our countertops, cut them down a bit, and secured the thick pieces of wood to the inside of the cabinets, right where the plywood joints would be, creating support beams. For extra stability, he also carved out notches at each end of the inside of cabinet top, and laid the wood pieces right in there, like it was sitting in a little wooden seat. Then he secured it by drilling a ton of screws in it. Problem solved!

So after tackling our latest oversight/obstacle, it was time to level the plywood countertops. Which turned out to be a whole 'nother adventure, as well.

As a general rule, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, in our house is level. Heck, our new garage door had to be installed slanted at an angle because the garage floor isn't level. And yes, you can totally tell.

Anyways, countertops must be level. Regardless of roller-coaster-ride curvy walls, unlevel floors and of course cabinet bases. Our new plywood bases needed to be level, front-to-back, side-to-side, diagonal, everything - because think about it: if I spill something on the countertop (which is inevitable with my cooking skills), do I want it to cascade down onto our beautiful and clean floor? No thanks.

Luckily Unluckily for us, none of the cabinet tops were level. Were we surprised? Nope, it was just as we expected, naturally. So we leveled and leveled, and if an area needed to be higher, we used shims to give it a boost. We figured if they worked to level out door frames they would work for a countertop.

We have two inside corners, and for these guys we just double-checked that we had the plywood down correctly by squaring them.

Next we securely screwed those babies down with lots (and I mean LOTS) of wood screws, pretty much everywhere the plywood came into contact with the cabinet base tops. Remember, sturdy sturdy sturdy is the magic word here.

Then it was time to cut out the sink. We followed the installation instructions on our new sink and traced around it while it was upside down on the plywood base, then measured 5/16" inside the traced shape to get the actual area to be cut.

Then Mr. Handyman grabbed his Handy Helper (aka, his Skil jigsaw tool) and got to work cutting the sink hole in the plywood.

And I got to hold the cutout while he cut it. And of course I screamed as, for the second time, something the size of a sink fell into the cabinet and onto our antique and fragile plumbing. Oops.

But everything was a-okay, as we again detected no drips or fountains of spraying water coming from under there (and we weren't too worried since the plumbing, while appearing very fragile and old, is apparently stronger than it looks, as it survived a 60 pound cast iron sink falling on it, as well).

 We set our new sink into the hole to make sure it fit... doesn't it just look so purdy? We didn't want to take it out again!

We took our Dremel tool (we scored a good deal on that baby - normally it's an 80 dollar tool, but we found it on clearance at Target for 25 - sweet!), and trimmed the remaining bits of wood left after we knocked off the shims.

Then we cleaned up all the wood chips and chunks and admired our new plywood countertops:

Slowly but surely, we are getting there! We are taking our time, but we want to do this thing right, and want it to survive the next 50 years, just like our old laminate countertops did. Our next step, the "Second Base" was to cut, lay, and secure cement backing board overtop of the plywood for a sturdy, thick and unwarping foundation to lay the tiles on. Stay tuned for that adventure!

Next Phase: Kitchen Countertop Project - Part 4 "Second Base"


  1. Wow, sounds like a long process, but it's better to have everything perfect than to go the easy route and regret it shortly after. Everything's coming along nicely, I see! Can't wait to see more!

  2. I can't wait to see what the finished countertop looks like!

  3. Love your blog! Keep up the good work. :)

  4. You are right on track. :-)

  5. Haha, I LOVE your stories. Probably because I can totally identify. Installing our countertops was a total nightmare but the end product was so worth it. Can't wait to see the next step!!

  6. YAY! Can't wait to see how it turns out! Thanks again for sharing the process!


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