Installing Wooden, Ceramic and Tile Counter Tops

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A vanity may come with its own counter top, but you might choose to make your own. Because plastic laminate is more easily done by a professional, wood, ceramic tile, and cultured marble are the surfaces you are likely to do yourself. A tiled counter requires a ¾-inch plywood base, which is made the same way as a wood counter. Many brands of cultured marble cannot be worked with normal woodworking tools, but some, like Corian, can. These are worked a little differently (see facing page). The first step in making your counter top is to measure carefully. The counter top should be 1 inch deeper than the cabinet to provide some front overhang. If the sides do not abut walls, plan a ½-inch overhang on each side. Before the completed counter top is installed, you will add a backsplash to prevent water from marring the walls and from seeping behind the cabinet. Your backsplash should be at least 4 inches high and as long as your counter top. If one side abuts a wall, plan a side splash as well. You can purchase wood in a large sheet and cut it at home, or prepare exact measurements and have it cut at the lumberyard.

Tools: circular saw; drill; saber saw.

Supplies: construction glue; 2d finishing nails; sandpaper; screws; silicone seal; Varathane (if wood surface); ¾-inch plywood to size.

1. Cut all materials to size, including the base, back-, and side- splashes. To double the thickness of the base for a substantial-looking wood counter or for face tiles, cut strips of wood, ¾ by 2 inches, and attach them all around the edges. Secure them with glue and 2d nails set about 2 inches apart. When the glue has dried, sand all the edges smooth. Then mark the position for the basin hole. Many manufacturers provide a template of the basin you buy, or you can use the basin itself. Turn it upside down in position, and trace the outline. Leave at least 2 inches of counter in front and behind the basin’s rim.

2. Cut the basin hole. Drill one starting hole immediately inside your outline if your basin is circular, or one hole inside each corner if it is square or rectangular. Use a saber saw to cut the basin hole, and stay inside the line or you may end up with a hole slightly larger than your basin. If you plan to cover the counter with tile, install the counter before laying the tiles.

3. Attach the backsplash to the back of the counter top, using a thick bead of silicone seal; then se cure it from under the counter top with wood screws at 1- to 2-inch intervals, Drill pilot holes for the screws. Clean up excess sealant immediately.

78a Backsplash, Glue, Area to be cut for basin, Stay ½-inch inside your guideline

4. Attach the counter top to the vanity. It’s easier to use glue than to insert wood screws, but the counter top will be easier to move in the future if you have to remove only the screws. If you are using hardwood for the counter surface it self, finish the wood with a liquid plastic such as Varathane.

78b Pilot holes, Counter top, Set your counter top, and screw in place from beneath


As noted earlier most cultured marble cannot be worked with standard woodworking tools. Some brands, like Corian, can be cut as long as your tools are equipped with carbide blades. The work may be harder than the simple instructions indicate, so don’t under take this yourself without a thorough understanding of the material and the process. The material is sold in ¼-inch-thick sheets, 30 inches wide by 57, 60, 72, 80, and 98 inches long; it is also sold in ½-inch-thick sheets 25 and 30 inches wide by 98 and 121 inches long. For the most part you install this counter top the same way you install a wood top, but it is very heavy; when working with it you should see that it is well supported at all times.

Tools: circular saw with carbide blade; router (optional); drill with carbide bit.

Supplies: goggles; dust mask; sandpaper; caulk; neoprene adhesive.

1. Measure and cut your counter top. Wear goggles and a dust mask, and use a carbide blade in a circular saw.

79a Dust mask and goggles, Supports, Sample of edge styles available, Use a router, or sand edges

2. Finish the edges by sanding them smooth or by carving decorative edges with a router.

3. Mark and cut out your basin hole as with a standard counter- top core.

4. Apply sealing caulk around the top edges of the vanity cabinet, set the counter top in place, and press it firmly into the caulk for about ten minutes.

5. Attach the backsplash with a neoprene adhesive, caulk the juncture between the counter top and backsplash, and clean off any excess caulk.

Mark position for basin cutout.

79b Backsplash — attach with neoprene adhesive; 2-inch minimum for basin


It’s hard to beat the value of ceramic tiles. But because such a surface is liable to be as permanent as your bath room, it demands a bit of extra planning. You’ll need to make a plywood base as described earlier. You may want to use cement board instead of plywood.

Tools: notched trowel; tile saw; tile flippers; rubber trowel.

Supplies: mastic; grout; wet rag or sponge; buff cloth; grout sealer.

1. You do not need the thick tiles generally used for floors to cover your counter top, but shop around for high-quality tiles that are less likely to chip. Field tiles are used for everything but the edges and are sold by the square foot. Bullnose tiles, which have one rounded edge, are used at the front and side edges of your counter top and are sold by the linear foot. There are other special tiles—quarter-round and cove tiles, for example—and you should be aware of which ones are available in your chosen style. Measure the width and depth of your plywood base, including back- and sides-plashes, and then mea sure the tiles you want to buy. Calculate the number of tiles you will need. Buy a few extra tiles of each type so you can replace any that become damaged.

80 Cove

2. Lay out your pattern. Start with an outside edge and position all your bullnose tiles for the front and side edges. Make adjustments to limit the cuts and to place the cuts where you want them.

3. When you’re satisfied with the cuts along the back- and side- splashes, lay out the tiles around the basin. If you have a self- rimming or flush-mounted basin with a metal rim, you can lay each tile over the edge of the basin cut out, mark each one for its cut, and use a tile cutter or flippers to cut them all back. The basin will cover the raw edges. If you have a recessed basin, you’ll need to be more precise, planning cove tiles and an even grout line around the rim.

80b Backsplash; Basin opening; Spacers


4. When you know where all your tiles will go, mark tiles, counter, or both, to guide you in tricky areas; make your tile cuts, and prepare to set your tiles. Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of mastic or epoxy over a small portion of your counter top. Hold the trowel at about a 45° angle to achieve maximum coverage. Different adhesives take different amounts of time to dry, so follow the manufacturer’s advice carefully. Do not cover a larger area than you can tile easily before the glue is too dry to hold the tiles.

5. Starting with the face tiles on the edge and bullnose tiles at the front of your counter top, lay the tiles on, one small area at a time. Place each tile carefully, and press it down, twisting slightly as you set it into place. Using the edges of the counter for guidance, make sure your lines stay straight. When necessary, use tile flippers to cut tiles to fit. Work your way up the back-splash, ending with a row of bull- nose tiles for the back-splash’s top edge. Remove excess mastic from the tiles, and let the whole project set overnight, or as long as the manufacturer recommends.

6. Use a rubber trowel to spread grout over the tile according to the grout manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to press the grout into the crevices between tiles. There are tools for this, but many people just use the end of a toothbrush to get a smooth finish. Clean off excess grout with a wet rag or sponge. When the surface grout has dried, buff the tile with a dry cloth. In two to three weeks, when the grout has cured completely, apply a tile grout sealer to keep it clean and mildew-free.

Rubber trowel

Spread mastic with a notched trowel. Mastic manufacturer will indicate proper size of notches

Bullnose tile

Spread grout into all channels

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Prev.: Vanity Cabinets

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Updated: Monday, 2011-07-11 5:35