Tips to Improve Countertop Repair

by WOHe

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.

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