Tips to Improve Countertop Repair

In my previous column, I mentioned that I'd ordered a solid surface repair template system from Templates by Andreas while attending the Solid Surface 2001 trade show. When I wrote that column, I had not yet received the templates. In this month's column, I want to describe my experiences with using the templates on almost a daily basis for over a month now.'

Kevin Andreas specializes, as I do, in repairing solid surface countertops. In order to complete a successful repair, it's necessary to accomplish two things. First of all, the repair must be inconspicuous as close to invisible as possible. Secondly, the repair must be durable, so that the failure won't occur again.'

In addition, it's important to standardize and systematize the repair process, so that repairs can be completed efficiently and predictably. The repair procedure should be more of a science than an art.'

In striving to meet these objectives, I've found Templates by Andreas to be an exceptionally valuable tool that assists in repairing a wide variety of solid surface countertop cracks. Even if you only repair solid surface countertops occasionally, I think you will find this product worthwhile.'

The template sets are available in two models. One model consists strictly of circles of various sizes. The other consists of different shapes, including a pie shape, a long oval, a dogleg and a small triangle. Based on my previous experience, I purchased the second set with a variety of shapes to best suit my needs.'

The template system's parts are made of a durable 3/4" industrial laminate, and are machined with great precision. Each opening in the template is accompanied by an equivalent and matching "plug," and the two are then used to prepare the damaged countertop. The repair piece or pieces then are used to complete a durable, inconspicuous repair in the countertop.
The repair templates are used in conjunction with a matching pair of bevel router bits, both guided by ball bearing pilots.'

The process
To use the system, start by removing the damaged area from the countertop. Examine the countertop carefully to determine the full extent of the crack. If you use a marking pen to draw over the crack area and spray a little denatured alcohol on the surface, the pigment will flow into the tightest crack. Wipe off the excess and lightly sand the surface. The full extent of the crack will be revealed.'

Position the template on the countertop so that one of the template openings completely encompasses the damaged area. Secure the template with clamps and, if necessary, hot melt glue.'

Now, take a router with a 1" fixed template guide and a common straight bit of 1/2" or 3/8" in diameter. Set the bit just a hair less than the thickness of the countertop, and rout away the damaged area.

Don't remove the template just yet. Install one of the two bevel bits into your router the one that is narrowest at the tip. Set the bit to exactly the same depth as in the first step. Your result will be best if you cut 99% of the way through the countertop thickness, but not all the way. With the router, bevel the edge of the opening you've already made. Check for any irregularities and make another pass with the router if needed. Then, remove the template.'
Next, take a piece of color matching solid surface material, good side up, and the template plug that matches the hole you've just cut. Draw a line around the plug, approximately 3/8" away from the edge. Cut out this rough blank, and glue the plug onto the top surface using hot melt, again with the good side up in both cases.'

Place the other bevel bit into a router installed in a portable router table. This is the bit that is the widest at the tip. It's wise to use a router table with a dust collection port right behind the bit. Turn the patch piece and template plug upside down so the bottom surface of the patch is visible. Adjust the router bit so that the top of the ball bearing pilot is riding 1/8" from the top of the template plug. Turn on the router and trim the plug to shape.'

Safety tips
Practice a few times with larger repair pieces, which will vibrate less and allow your fingers to stay further away from the bit. Then move on to the small pieces. Always feed the material against the direction of bit rotation, and shave off the excess in a series of careful passes, rather than trying to accomplish the whole procedure in a single pass.'
When you test fit your repair piece, you may discover that it fits well, but rides just a little higher than you'd like. That's fine; just lower the bit on the router table a trifle and trim the plug again. Repeat the procedure a time or two, and you will be able to cut perfect plugs that fit with virtually no visible gap.'

If you're repairing damage in the middle of the field of the countertop, all you need to do is clean the parts, bond the repair into place, and, after the adhesive has cured, trim and sand to a matching finish. Whenever practical, add a solid surface reinforcement to the underside of the repair.'

If your repair intersects the front edge or is at a cooktop cutout, you can't just repair the horizontal surface of the countertop and leave a little crack in the built up edge. Repairs at the edge of a cooktop cutout must have a second layer of solid surface material installed underneath to reinforce the area of stress.'

The technique I use to repair the front edge varies according to jobsite conditions. I may reposition the template and rout and stack similar patch pieces to reconstruct the finished edge. If space is available, I may also install 1/2"x1" solid surface reinforcement on the back surface of the edge detail, bridging over the entire repair area. Sometimes in an inside corner, I will stack "L" shaped reinforcements behind the edge. My goal is to rebuild a structurally sound edge or corner, removing all traces of damage and moving the seams as far away from inside corners or known stress points as is practical.'

When dealing with cooktop cracks, my goal is to install reinforcements where they are lacking, replace or repair reinforcements that have failed, increase the corner radius where that is possible, and upgrade the installation to the extent possible to bring it into the closest practical compliance with the manufacturer's installation guidelines.'

In many cases, I will reinstall the cooktop using a custom stainless steel cooktop collar, available through my Web site (located at www.heaphy.com). In my experience, this produces the strongest possible result.'

Just recently, for example, I completed a repair of a cooktop corner crack. In this case, a corner block had been properly installed, but it cracked, too. The crack came close to the front edge of the countertop, but the edge itself did not fail. I used the pie cut shape to repair the deck, and I then used the small triangle shape to repair the reinforcing block below. In so doing, I eliminated all of the damage, and produced a two-layer repair with all edges beveled and the seams on each level staggered by an inch or more. I was also able to increase the corner radius significantly.

On another recent job, I saved a very large countertop that had six separate cracks. In this case, the template system allowed me to operate almost in an assembly line fashion. Once I had all my tools set up to do the first repair, preparing the other five repairs went relatively quickly. I would move the template and rout, move the template and rout, completing all six repairs in a single day.

What should you do if you must repair a large crack that can't be fully encompassed by the repair template? First, encompass as much of the failure as you can with the template, rout it out and prepare a repair piece for that area as described above. Set the repair piece into the opening, being sure that it's level. You can sand it level even before bonding it in place. Secure it in place with strips of aluminum tape. Now, encompass the remaining part of the crack with the template, and prepare a second repair overlapping the end of the first.'
I was pleased with my repairs before I purchased these templates from Kevin Andreas. However, this system makes the process faster and more precise. For more information, contact Templates by Andreas at 800-935-5406, or visit my Web site at www.heaphy.com to see a series of photos of the template system being used to complete challenging repairs.'

Jim Heaphy, who was among the first to urge solid surface fabricators to organize into a trade association, started Heaphy Associates in 1993, which provides warranty service on a major brand of solid surface material in Northern California. Heaphy Associates is a member of the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association. He has been active in the countertop industry for 17 years and has written this column about countertop fabrication in K&BDN for more than a decade.

Loading