Installing Corian-Style Solid Surface
Countertops for Do-It Yourselfers
by Mark Johanson for the Handyman Club of America
Note from NH... Unfortunately, Solid Surface Kits, the
company who supplied much of the information and graphics for this article, has
gone missing... either totally out of business or nearly so! I've
received some negative feedback about them lately, so I have disabled all links
to their website to protect the innocent. However, I believe the article
does provide much valuable information that isn't readily available elsewhere,
so I intend to leave it posted.
you tell an avid handyman that something is not a do-it-yourself project, he or
she will likely take it as a challenge, not a prohibition. Thaft's why DIYers
have always had mixed feelings about solid-surface countertops. We love the
product, but we're frustrated by the fact that it has been available only
through professional installers.
With the launch of Solid-surface-kits.com, however, a band of enterprising Texans is
planning to shake up the kitchen-and-bath industry by offering solid-surface
countertops directly to the general public. Two leading solid-surface
manufacturers, Formica and Montelli, have agreed to provide raw material to
where it will be fabricated to approximate dimensions and shipped directly to
homeowners (or independent dealer/installers). The homeowner trims the
solid-surface sheets to finished size, makes the sink cutout, seams the pieces,
bonds the new countertop to the base cabinets and installs the backsplash.
Often referred to by the brand name Corian (a registered trademark of the
DuPont Co.), solid-surface material has been closely controlled by manufacturers
and distributors since it first became popular in the 1970s. Except for the new
Internet venture, it is sold exclusively through licensed distributors and
installers. At $60 to $80 a square foot (installed), it is one of the most
expensive countertop materials, rivaling imported granite and marble in cost. By
will sell the custom-fabricated material for less than half the price (depending
of course on the style you choose) plus
shipping. Visit their website
for the latest pricing.
Purchasing the solid-surface countertops
obtain the material, customers submit plan drawings and cabinet dimensions along
with color and pattern preferences. Fabricators at
the sheets to rough size and form the front edges. They also cut matching
backsplash strips and reinforce the 1/2-in.-thick material around areas where
cooktop cutouts will be made. The countertop material is packed with the rest of
the kit into special shipping crates. Along with the solid-surface material,
customers receive a router template for an undermount sink cutout (if
requested), tinted two-part epoxy and a modified caulk gun for seaming, end
strips (if needed) and an installation video.
Installing a solid-surface countertop is relatively easy, says DeWayne
Michaels, one of the founders of the new venture and an experienced installer.
He rates it about a three on a one-to-ten scale of difficulty. But he concedes
that working with solid-surface material becomes easier after you gain
experience. That's one reason the company created a dealer/installer program. By
enrolling in the program, anyone with a set of basic power tools can qualify to
install solid-surface countertops as a career or a profitable sideline.
To show how the solid-surface kits are put together, DeWayne and Handyman
Club Life member Rich Morin traveled from Texas to give a demonstration. The
kitchen we worked on had perfectly nice plastic laminate countertops, but the
owner wanted to upgrade. When purchased from
90 sf of Formica material needed for these countertops cost about $2,900. A
professional installer would charge $5,000 or more to do the job.
It took two days to remove the old countertops and replace them with
solid-surface material (including the sink hookup and gas range installation).
The results are beautiful, as you can see from the photo on the cover of this
Tooling the material
The makeup of solid-surface material varies slightly by manufacturer, but the
basic recipe is a blend of crushed minerals, plastic resins and binders. The
biggest advantage the material claims over other countertop products is that the
color and pattern are solid throughout. If the counter gets scratched, you can
simply sand the damage away. The material is nonporous and very hard, but it is
a bit more forgiving than natural stone or ceramic tile if you set down
coffee mug carelessly. In addition, it is heat resistant and less likely to chip
than harder materials.
From a machinability standpoint, solid-surface material is like very hard
medium-density fiberboard, or MDF. Tooling it is a slower process, but with care
you can get very smooth results on the first pass. It can also be sanded easily
and buffed to a high gloss. A router and a trim saw can handle most of the cuts
you'll need to make to install the countertop. Carbide-tip bits and blades are
Although cutting, profiling and drilling solid-surface material isn't
difficult, it is very messy. Whenever possible, do the work outdoors, and use
dust extraction to manage the resinous shavings (which will cling to almost any
surface). Wearing a particle mask is recommended.
will ship countertops in sections based upon the measurements you provide. The
maximum length of each section is 10 or 12 ft., depending on the material
manufacturer. At the seams, an underseam support strip is grafted onto one
end of each mating pair of sections. When the joint is made, one section rests
on the ledge attached to the other section, forming a sturdy seam that's flush
along the top.
If your countertops will have open, exposed ends (other than at an opening
for a freestanding range), you can fill in the area beneath the countertop
surface at the ends with strips of solid-surface material.
Installation of the solid surface countertop...
any successful project, a logical work sequence is critical. On countertop
projects, begin with the cabinets, removing the old countertop material and
inspecting the base cabinets to make sure they are sturdy and flat across the
tops. If not, adjust and shim the cabinets until they are flat (and preferably
Well-constructed, properly installed cabinets should bear the weight of a
solid-surface countertop. But because the material will flex slightly, you may
want to attach additional support cleats to the cabinet tops, particularly in
areas where the countertop will be unsupported — above a dishwasher opening, for
you're installing an undermount sink (a great option with solid-surface
countertops) fasten support cleats for the sink across the tops of the sink-base
cabinet make sure all cabinets are sturdy, aligned and flat across the top.
the cabinet layout includes an island or peninsula with more than a few inches
of countertop overhang, attach 3/4-in.-thick plywood to the cabinet tops prior
to installing the countertop. The plywood should be sized so the front edge of
the countertop fits neatly over the edge of the plywood. The bottom face of the
plywood should be flush with the bottom of the countertop edging. For added
reinforcement, attach corbels to the cabinet frames.
Each sheet of solid-surface material should be fitted, cut to length and
scribed (if necessary) before you continue with the adjoining sheet. Start the
installation project with a section containing a seam support strip on one end.
Lay the first sheet of solid-surface material in position and fit it against the
wall, scribing (inset in photo) and contouring the back edge with a belt sander
if necessary. Mark a cutting line on one end for trimming. (Note:
Drawing the lines on masking tape makes for more accurate cutting.)
Make cutouts for the sink and cooktop after cutting the section to length and
scribing the back edge. Clamp the sink cutout template (supplied with the kit)
to the countertop section so the template is aligned with the centerline of the
sink location. Cut through the material along the template lines with a
router and straight bit. Cooktop cutouts should be reinforced from below
at the corners.
Once you have cut all of the solid-surface sections to size, begin seaming
them with epoxy and bonding them to the cabinet tops with silicone.
the solid surface sheets on the base cabinets. With a helper, tip each
sheet back and up (photo 10) so you can apply a bead of silicone caulk to the
cabinet tops where they fit against the countertop. Lower the sheet.
Clean the mating surfaces and edges with denatured alcohol; then apply a
heavy layer of tinted epoxy to the strip (photo 11). The epoxy and specialty
caulk gun are supplied with the kit. Hot-glue a pair of clamping points
(solid-surface scraps) near the mating ends of the sheets being seamed. Use
clamps to draw the sections together (photo 12).
Do not wipe off epoxy squeezeout — you will remove important hardeners from
the epoxy, which will slow curing time and weaken the bond. Instead, sand
it off after it dries (photo 13). Use alcohol to dissolve the hot glue so you
can remove the clamping points.
countertop ends will need to be filled. Special filler strips are supplied
with the kit, glued in place with the same two-part epoxy filler used to seam
the countertops together (photo to right).
Sand the seams smooth after the epoxy cures, using power sanders and a
succession of finer sandpapers (100-, then 150-, then 220-grit).
Also sand the
entire countertop, ending with 220-grit paper,. For a high gloss surface,
buff the countertop with a polishing
bonnet attachment for an orbital sander (photo 13) or synthetic scouring pads and vegetable oil. After all of the sections
are in place, install the backsplash, sink and faucet and hook up the range or
If you have installed an undermount sink, drill holes in the countertop for
faucet and sprayer (and optional dishwasher air gap or soap dispenser). An
ordinary hole saw attachment and drill will make clean, smooth holes (photo 14).
Secure the backsplash strips to the wall with silicone-caulk adhesive.
If the wall profile is irregular, hold the backsplash in position by wedging
wood strips between it and the upper cabinets (photo 15).
Complete the faucet, sink and stove installations, sealing around the rim of
the sink with silicone caulk as necessary (photo 16).
Save a few scrap pieces of solid-surface material in case you need to make
repairs in the future. Solid-surface repairers use special tools to cut out
damaged areas and fill them with plugs cut from the extra material.