Friday, August 11, 2017

How to Update Counters, Cabinets, & Hardware

Updating Counters, Cabinets, Doors, & Hardware
I'm going to show you how to update cabinets with laminate finishes on the counter, cabinets, and doors. I'll make new doors with hidden hinges and new hardware.The existing casework was woefully out of date. It used exposed hinges, the cabinets were painted, and the laminate counter was well worn.

Current Condition
First, assess what you've got. With hidden hinges, you need 3/4" thick doors so these have to be replaced. The drawer faces then have to be replaced so the thickness matches.
With the cabinet doors shut, draw a line on the cabinet. I want a 1/2" overhang (be sure to get matching 1/2" overhang hinges), so I want to check the size of the current doors.

The existing doors measure 13.5"x23", they should be 14.125"x23.5" for a 1/2" overhang, so that will be the width of the new doors.
I measured the drawers as well. The width needs to match the doors. I will reuse the drawer slides and drawer boxes, just replacing the faces.
The drawer face new dimension will be 14.125"x5.5" 
Remove the doors, hardware, pulls, and drawers. The sink and hardware need to be removed as well for the new laminate counter. If you are reusing the sink, be careful with it. I took pictures of how the sink was clamped for reference later, and I definitely referenced that image upon re-installation. Removing the back splash and any trim  will make for a cleaner job, but in this case I left it in place as removing it would create additional work.
Clean the cabinets and counter with a grease remover for better adhesion later. Cleaning is the first step. Sand the laminate countertop for the best adhesion. Then check the cabinets to make sure there are no irregularities in the surface. Sand down any paint drips or chips on the cabinet surface, sand the former hinge locations flat, fill any gouges, then de-grease again.

Paint is cheaper for the cabinets but is less durable. For counters, you need laminate for the wear and tear.

I use project grade plywood or better for almost all of my woodwork. While some doors are MDF, it's too soft and can ding easier than plywood. It also doesn't hold screws as well. Since I'm cladding the doors in laminate, I did use MDF since it's a very flat and smooth surface. This makes it perfect for laminate. Since the hinge screws are through the 'grain' they will hold perfectly fine.
If I was painting these doors, they would be plywood. Cabinet frames should always be plywood.

Since the counter was in place, this made work more difficult as I couldn't reference the cabinet when I was in my shop. I had to go back and get a few dimensions I missed or do some in field trimming. With the sides of the cabinet face being curved, I created a template in the field and then had to trim when I came back to install.

  • (1) sheets of 3/4" MDF for doors & drawers
  • (1) sheets of 30"x12'  laminate in selected color for the counter, 
  • (2) sheets of 30"x12' laminate in selected color for cabinet, doors, and drawers
  • (1) sheets of 24"x8' white melamine for the door & drawer backs
  • (16) Door hinges for 8 doors
  • (14) pulls for (6) drawers and (8) doors
  • felt pads for the door backs so they don't slam
  • 1.25 gallons of contact cement for laminate installation
  • Dowels to position laminate before gluing
  • Clear silicone caulk to reseal sink and back splash
  • Acetone to clean up contact cement 
  • 1" aluminum angle if you're installing a dummy panel
You're going to spend about $450 on this upgrade, assuming you have all the tools. That's roughly $38 a linear foot.
Plywood comes in 4'x8' size sheets. You'll either need a vehicle large enough or will need to get it cut in store if offered.
The laminate came in 30"x12' and 24"x8' size sheets. It can be rolled fairly tight.

  • Pencil and a ruler to assess existing conditions and take measurements
  • Screwdriver and pry bar to remove existing components
  • Table saw is best, circular saw can work to cut the wood and laminate
  • Masking tape for laminate cut line to prevent splintering, though with my table saw and dremel this wasn't an issue
  • Paint brush or roller to apply contact cement
  • oscillating dremel for cutting laminate in the field. I the laminate clamped between (2) 2x4s for in field trimming. This provides a guide and a firm surface. The dremel also allowed access to hard to reach place
  • Roller to press laminate in place
  • Router with laminate trim bit
  • Metal file to clean up any rough edges from router cutting
  • Drill with a forstner bit to install hidden hinges
  • Screwdriver for installing hardware
  • Drill for hardware mounting holes
For the top of the counter, Cut the laminate lengthwise exact since this is framed on both sides. for the depth cut it longer as the router will trim the front edge.
Since this cabinet is already in place, I did a lot of trimming, checking, trimming again, until it finally fit. The laminate needs to lie completely flat.

Install the laminate on the counter top first. Apply contact cement to the substrate (the older counter) , let it tack up, then place the counter. It tacks up in about fifteen minutes. With the laminate and MDF, I applied two coats of contact cement since it soaked it up. If you only apply contact adhesive to  the substrate, you won't get a good bond.
Always cut the laminate good side up.

I've read that you should tape the cut line to avoid splintering, but I didn't have a problem on the table saw or on the dremel. The circular saw, I did need to use tape.
Put the laminate sheet in place for test fitting and look at the back side against the wall. If you see gaps, take a washer and a pencil and mark it.
If the gaps aren't bad you can leave it, or you could use a sander to sand to the pencil line for a nice tight fit. If you install the back splash separate, the gaps will be covered. If you laminate the back splash in place and a gap results, use color matched caulk.

You want to sand/file the edges of the counter so it's a smooth surface. After a cut it has a bur. Running your finger along the edge will let you know if you need to file it down.

Use a roller to apply contact cement to the substrate and the laminate. Let it tack up, then put dowels every foot on the substrate. These  allow you to position the laminate before you glue it in place. Once two glued pieces touch, you'll have a hard time separating them.
You could also use a couple of people and set the back edge of the laminate against the wall and then lower it in place since the counter is pinned on both sides. If it wasn't, you'd have a better chance of messing up. I'm still going to use dowels to ensure there are notmistakes.

Once the laminate is in place, remove dowels from the center out. Use a roller to press the laminate down and ensure good adhesion.

A router will trim the laminate edge later. Install the front counter trim next. Installing the front trim before you trim the top sheet, lets the top over lap. It also gives you a straight edge guide. When looking down you don't see the dark edge of the front trim. It's a small detail, but will look better.

Using the router, cut left to right to avoid the router digging in. Keep the bit clean, and don't let the router stay in one spot too long, it could burn the laminate due to the friction. You also want to be sure to keep the router level so you don't mar the laminate face.
I forgot to factor that the opening curves. The router wouldn't fit at the edges of the cabinet so I placed a thin metal plate against the counter edge and used my oscillating dremel to trim the overhand, then filed the edge down.
If you have a sink, carefully drill a hole in the laminate, with a backer so you don't splinter the laminate. You can use the router to recreate the opening for the sink once installed with this pilot hole. 

Adhere the back splash, and press it in place. You could try to clamp it but rolling it will be fine.

Installation of laminate to the cabinet is similar to counter. Make sure the surface is clean and smooth. Paint drips and gouges should have been taken care of in preparation. Make sure the surface is flat because if it isn't you won't get the best bond, you'll have a bubble. Sand down any paint edges around hinges, anything that isn't flat.
I install the stiles (vertical framing) first. Measure and cut a strip of laminate to match the existing stiles. Make sure cuts are square and straight.

I tried to make the laminate for the styles as close to the stile width as possible. If you're a bit short the cabinet door will cover it, if it's too wide you can trim it. Use contact cement on the laminate and cabinet and install the laminate. I would position the top and then place it, getting as close to centered on the stile as possible.
If you do need to trim an oscilatting dremel is a great tool. Otherwise use a fine toothed saw. Once the verticals are in place. It's time for the rails (horizontal structure).

The rails have to fit inside the stiles, so make your cuts as exact as possible.You don't want the laminate to buckle at all when in place. The oscillating dremel came in very handy for these exact cuts. I cut all the rails long, then would take a measurement and clamp the laminate rail between (2) 2x4s that I would use as a cutting guide.

Laminating the rails is similar as before. The laminate required (2) coats of contact cement, but the cabinet only needed one since it was painted.

Cabinet Doors & Drawers
With your door dimension, start cutting doors out of the MDF.  Double check your dimensions. Since the doors are just solid MDF it makes the job quite easy.

You will need to apply two coats of contact cement since the laminate and MDF really soaks it up.
Install the laminate on the front faces. With (8) doors and (6) drawers I didn't have much space leftover in the shop.
I applied the front face the first day, then trimmed it. The back face the second day, then trimmed. Two opposite sides of trim the third day, then trimmed. Then the last two edges of side trim on the fourth day.

When applying the contact cement to the faces, you will get it on already finished surfaces. Use acetone to clean it up. It works best the sooner you do it. Otherwise you'll have a glue edge at all seams.

I applied the finish laminate to the front and sides. White laminate was applied to the back.

The drawer faces are created the same way.

To attach the drawer faces to the drawer boxes, I cut the existing drawer face overhang off. I considered detaching the existing faces but I couldn't easily remove it. Then I screwed the new faces onto the boxes through the drawer.

Installing Hinges and Pulls
Mark the location for hinges and pulls. I typically space the hinges 4" off the top or bottom edge and pulls 2" from the side. Check other cabinets in your home for a frame of reference.

Hinges are installed with a forstner bit, that creates a recess for the hinge. These hinges use a 1.5" bit. A forstner bit creates a completely hollow hole, unlike a hole saw bit. A spade bit doesn't provide a completely flat  hole. You don't want to drill too far into the door, less you drill completely through and ruin your door.

For the handles, I created a template out of scrap plywood and used that to transfer the holes to each door and drawer. It's quicker and more accurate than measuring each door. It also helps guide your drill and keep the angle perpendicular. Use the supplied screws to install the hardware.
The drawers were easy to install as the drawer slides were already in place. Beneath the sink I installed a dummy panel. I cut aluminum angles to act as a bracket. They are positioned at the outside edges, screwed to the back of the panel and the sides of the opening.

I brought assorted wood blocking and sat the door on the blocking to mark the holes for the hinges. The hinges are slotted to move up and down and there are adjustment screws on the hinge itself. Use this to align the top of each pair of doors. A few doors I loosened the hinges and moved the door up and down for a consistent height. Once installed I put felt pads at the corners of the doors and drawers so they wouldn't slam. It's a small detail, but the details matter.
It's time to stand back and admire your work. You've got great looking and durable cabinets that will be easily to clean up.
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