I’m a teacher and I get out for the summer in a couple of weeks. I’m hoping to do a remodel of my kitchen on the cheap. And I’ve got, you know, hideous linoleum floors, and retro 1970s white countertop, and my kitchen is basically the letter ‘C’ right now and I want to tear off one of the parts of the ‘C’ to make it an ‘L’, if you will. I can handle the flooring and we’ve already
painted the cabinets so they look pretty decent. But what I’m wondering is, is a countertop too ambitious for–I guess I could call myself an experienced DIYer–or should I hire a professional to do the countertop? I know there’s a lot of looks and materials out there. I guess I don’t really know [what kind to choose].
–Kevin from Vermont
Well, there’s a couple of ways you could do it. There are some countertop materials you can work with by yourself. And you can get a lot of bang for your buck. So in other words, you can get a really premium product for a not premium price. And one of the things that we did in our house was use a product called Richlite, which is actually made from paper.
One of the reasons we chose the countertop is that it’s super durable. Basically they use this kind of countertop material for skating ramps and all types of totally hardcore, industrial uses, too. And people use it in commercial kitchens, too. Which is comforting, because as a parent, you want make sure it’s food grade safe, there’s no off-gassing, which you can get with other kinds of materials.
But the punchline, I guess, to get right to the heart of your question is: Can you do this yourself? And the cool thing about Richlite is it’s super, super dense but it works with regular woodworking tools. So you can cut it with a circular saw and a straight edge, you can drill holes in it for your sink, for the stems of the faucet. And you can do one of my favorite elements in the kitchen, which is an undermount sink. Just like a piece of granite or solid-surface countertop, it’s impervious.
There are other countertops you can think about as well. You can do a similar project like this with soapstone, which is native to your region. Soapstone is a soft stone and you can cut it using angle grinders and circular saws with masonry blades in them. Concrete countertops are a little bit more difficult to manage. You have to have a lot of time and patience to make sure you absolutely have it perfect. And especially with having kids around, it’s something you might not have time to work on right now.
The other thing you could do, Kevin, is use wood. You can just make it out of wood. That gets towards the advanced side of woodworking. You can make basically a butcher block, there’s a bunch of different ways to do it, but you need a tool called a jointer to really get those edges super square. The thing about wood though is it shows marks, you have to be careful again with kids. You have to oil it, and if you cut on it, it’ll wear. If you’re totally ok with things getting mangled, it’s perfect for you, but just be careful about expectations.
There’s also a cool new product on the market that makes it easier to make a countertop out of tile. Bondera is like double-stick tape, but it’s waterproof. You literally put the tape on the countertop (on your plywood substrate) and then you put the tiles on and then you grout. There’s no need for thin set. And you can still do an under mount sink.
And for anyone else cautious about tile countertops: Tiles don’t leak, but grout does leak. So the key to doing a tile project that lasts just may be Bondera because it’s waterproof.
Hope that helps!