Building an Island or Peninsula

If you purchase custom cabinets, you can design an island or peninsula to suit your needs exactly. If your budget is limited, you can combine standard-sized base cabinets to make your own unit. In both cases, you need to make or have a countertop specialist make a countertop. This simple island, made of two base cabinets, side panels, and a veneered plywood back panel, is simple to construct. The countertop is something most do-it-yourselfers can build. The most difficult part of the project is the installation of electrical cables, gas pipe, plumbing supply and drains, and the vent duct.

Adding a countertop - Plan an island countertop carefully: If it is to be an eating counter, make it wide enough to accommodate seating but not so wide as to hinder traffic flow. Round off exposed corners, to avoid painful encounters. Countertops usually are made of chipboard, which means they cannot handle much weight if they are not supported from underneath. Make a cantilevered countertop stronger by using plywood attached to a 1x2 frame to thicken the edge. Add bracket supports if you wish to extend the top to make a stool-height informal eating area. Install wood base shoe or vinyl cove base at the bottom. Attach the island to the floor.

Combining stock cabinets - When using stock base cabinets, you will have access to the shelves from one side only. If you want the countertop to be at a good height for people sitting on stools, trim the cabinets down by cutting off the toekick. To anchor the island to the floor. Join the cabinets together by clamping, drilling pilot holes, and installing bolts. As an alternative, drive general-purpose screws through the frames, being careful not to pierce the other side. Install panels on the sides using construction adhesive. Cover the back with a single panel. Finish the corners with corner molding. If building a peninsula, vary the design so it butts against your base cabinets.

Adding a Stainless-Steel Backsplash

Here’s an unusual touch for a household kitchen—a stainless-steel backsplash. It looks stylish and provides a commercial-grade, easy-to-maintain surface between your countertop and the wall cabinets. The first step is to find a source of the material. If your home center or hardware store can’t help you, check in the Yellow Pages under stainless steel or sheet metal. Find a shop that can provide pieces of stainless steel to the exact length you want. Often, stainless steel has to be ordered from a specialty supplier, so schedule accordingly. Check your measurements or provide a template to be sure you get the correct sizes of pieces. Although it is extremely hard, stainless steel can be damaged during installation. As you work, support the material so it doesn’t crimp or get scratched because stainless steel is expensive.

If You Must Cut Stainless Steel - You can make rough cuts around outlets because the edges will be covered up. But it’s hard to make a straight, smooth cut in this amazingly hard material. Use a drill to start the hole, then cut the opening with a sabersaw with a metal-cutting blade designed for cutting stainless steel.

1. Lay out the job.

If possible, do this job before installing the countertop or the wall cabinets. Check the walls for square and measure the lengths you need. Corners are the critical areas; any variation along the length of the piece will be covered by the wall cabinet above and the countertop below. If your walls are plumb, you may be able to get away without the corner trim pieces shown in Step 3. If the walls are out of plumb, you may be able to compensate by cutting a slot in the corner and sliding a bit of one piece of steel into it.

2. Attach with screws, washers. Set the metal in place and make sure the pieces line up. Drill holes and drive stainless-steel screws, fitted with trim washers, into studs. Because the material is rigid and will be anchored by the cabinets as well, two screws driven in every other stud are adequate.

3. Use corner molding pieces. If you have trouble getting the corners to match up, use a piece of corner molding, attaching it to the wall with clear silicone sealant and butting each panel against it. If one wall is wavy, you can, with patience, scribe and curve-cut one of the pieces using a belt sander.

Choosing Countertops

Next to cabinets, countertops do the most to set the style of your kitchen. In addition, they are working surfaces that need to be made of a material you are comfortable with. A number of options are available, all of which do the job well. They range from inexpensive post-form laminates you can buy at a home center (only a few colors will be available) to high-priced granite and solid-surface materials. Wood, such as maple butcher block, is also an option. But such countertops require careful maintenance: Keep them well waxed or give them regular applications of mineral oil. Otherwise, the countertop will discolor and possibly start coming apart at the seams.

How Much Countertop Space?

Dedicated cooks will tell you there’s no such thing as too much countertop space. Countertops that provide ample room for day-to-day food preparation may seem cramped during holidays or when you throw a party. In general, if you can add countertop area to your kitchen, you will be making an improvement that you will be grateful for in the long run.

If your kitchen is smaller than 150 square feet, you should have at least 11 running feet of countertop. For larger kitchens, plan for 16 or more running feet of countertop.

Solid-surface - These are durable and can accommodate a seamless sink. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, many of which rival stone. Their cost rivals stone as well; consider this material among the most expensive countertop options. This is not a do-it-yourself material; solid-surface countertops must be fabricated and installed by specialists.

Granite - This beautiful natural product provides decades of use if installed properly. You must hire a contractor to measure and install it for you; they know how to handle this heavy material and have equipment for buffing all the surfaces to a shine. Marble is not recommended as countertop material because it stains easily.

Laminate - Color-core laminates withstand scratches better than laminates on which the color is applied only on the surface. You can buy a readymade post-form, with either a rolled front edge and a built-in backsplash or a square-edged top. With patience, you can laminate a square-edge top yourself, but the cost of materials may be nearly as much as a factory-made top.

Tile - There are many colors and sizes of tile from which to choose. Be sure the edging and backsplash pieces come in the colors you want. Avoid wall tiles. They are not made to take impact and chip easily. Some people find the grout joints hard to clean; others dislike an uneven surface. But well-installed tile is durable and stylish.

Installing a Laminate Countertop

You can make your own laminate countertop. Unless you are a skilled do-it-yourselfer, however, it may not be worth the time and effort. If your countertop configuration is fairly typical, you can save money by purchasing post-form countertops from your home center. Made with precut corners, these countertops can be trimmed to fit most base cabinets. But if you don’t like the colors available at your home center or if you have an unusual situation, such as a wide counter for an island or a narrow counter for a tight spot, you will need to have a countertop made for you. You may have a wider selection of color and pattern if you choose a square-edge top rather than a post-form.

Caution! Be Sure The Top Hugs Your Walls - If you have a wavy wall or if your walls are more than 3/8 inch out of square, a readymade top may not fit snugly against your walls. Take measures to straighten out your walls or hire a professional countertop maker to come in and take precise measurements so a custom countertop can be made to fit your space.

1. Check walls, cabinets for level and square. Make sure cabinets are level all around so the top will be able to sit flat on them. If necessary, install cleats on walls, as shown, or end panels to support the top firmly. Check walls to ensure they are square with each other and free of major bulges by laying a straightedge down the full length of each. Most post-forms have a “scribe,” a lip of laminate that can be trimmed (see below) to compensate for variations of up to 3/8 inch. A square-edged top with a separate backsplash will let you compensate for up to 3/4 inch.

2. Cut a top to length. If you purchase a factory-made top that you must cut yourself, do this with great care. Use a fine-cutting blade and cut it with the face side down to avoid nicks. Check that the blade on your circular saw is square to the base and use a clamp-on guide to make sure your cut is straight. Be sure to support the waste side so it does not fall off before you finish the cut—an easy way to chip laminate.

3. Scribe a backsplash line. The countertop might not fit tight against the wall, either because the walls are out of square or the wall is wavy. If such is the case, push the countertop against the wall, making sure it is aligned correctly with the base cabinets. Use a compass to scribe a line as wide as the largest gap between the countertop and the wall.

4. Belt-sand to the scribe mark. Don’t attempt to cut to the scribe mark with a sabersaw or circular saw—you’ll almost certainly end up chipping the countertop. Use a belt sander with a fairly coarse 36-grit sanding belt. Pressing lightly, slowly sand away material up to the scribed mark.

5. Make a splice. If you need to splice pieces at a corner or in the middle of a run, have a professional make the cuts and rout the grooves for the clamps. Apply waterproof glue to the edges of the pieces, line up the pieces, and start to tighten the clamps. Check the countertop as you work to make sure it doesn’t slide out of alignment.

6. Attach the top to the cabinets. Screws should extend as far into the countertop as possible without poking through it. Drill pilot holes every 2 to 3 feet along the front and rear of the top and drive in screws upward to hold the counter firmly. Screw into structurally sound sections of the cabinet framing. Make sure the countertop does not move as you work.

7. Attach end caps. Buy a precut end cap to cover the end of a post form. If it has heat-activated glue, hold it in place so it overhangs the countertop edge. (You’ll remove the excess later.) Slowly run a hot laundry iron along the end cap, being careful not to burn the laminate, until the glue adheres. File, sand, or rout away the excess material.

Install a square-edged countertop. If you buy a square-edged countertop and your walls are not square, this type of edging covers up the gap. Set the top so it overhangs the cabinets evenly. Cut the backsplash pieces to fit and set them in place. Mark their position on the countertop, then pull the top away from the wall. Run a bead of bathtub caulk along the bottom of the edging, set the edging in place, and fasten it with screws from underneath. Attach the top from underneath as shown in Step 6. If your wall bows, fasten the top in place, then glue the edging pieces to the wall with construction adhesive. Brace them with pieces of 1x or heavy objects so the edging conforms to the wall.

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