How to Install Laminate Formica for a Bathroom Vanity Countertop
Why install a formica countertop?
While many homeowners cringe at the very thought of installing laminate formica it is actually an easy task to accomplish with a modicum of care and the proper tools while saving considerable money and producing a new look to your home.
My son recently purchased his first home with an small unfinished bathroom and asked for my help in producing a countertop for the vanity in that bathroom. Funds were very limited and he opted for making his own formica covered top rather than a preformed top including a sink.
Using little more than a small piece of ¾" plywood, some glue and a piece of formica purchased from a broken roll we were able to make a good looking countertop for less than $20.
Planning the project
With the new vanity set into place in the bathroom careful measurements needed to be made for the size and shape of the new top. We found the walls to be very nearly square, but older homes with a vanity in a corner may not be that accommodating and might require a countertop to be made to fit the walls instead of a simple square of wood.
The overhang (how far the countertop sticks out past the vanity itself) was chosen to be 1" on both sides and the front with the back side of the vanity flush to the wall. We decided not to have any type of backsplash and that simplified the job somewhat, although a backsplash could have been made at the same time as a simple 4" high additional piece of plywood covered with formica.
With materials and plans in hand we headed for the workshop to do the actual work.
Laminate router bits from Amazon
Installing the laminate formica
Using a circular saw with a fine tooth plywood blade we cut the countertop from the ¾" plywood to the exact size we needed and sanded the edges slightly to remove any saw burrs and excess glue from the factory. The plywood needs to be clean, with no sawdust or other foreign material; a dry rag served to wipe it down at it was set aside.
Formica can be cut by many methods and we used the same circular saw with the plywood blade. A Sabre saw will work nearly as well, as will a handsaw, and it can even be cut by scoring a line with a razor knife equipped with a formica blade and snapping it apart at the score as if it were sheetrock. Cuts with a circular or sabre saw need to be made from the back side as they cut on the upstroke and may chip the surface if cut from the top, while the handsaw and knife should be used from the top side. A good idea is to place a piece of masking tape along the desired cut line and cut through the tape and formica as it helps prevent chipping and may make the cut line easier to see.
The formica needs to be cut slight larger than the finished surface; we cut it ¼" larger than the plywood in both length and width - this results in an extra 1/8" of formica on all sides. The excess will be removed later, after it is glued down.
With the plywood and formica top both cut it is time to spread the glue. Contact adhesive is generally used, and we had purchased some intended for laminate. Glue was spread on both the plywood and the formica with a small paint brush and set aside to dry. Drying time varies with manufacturer, but is typically only a few minutes. It will feel dry to the touch with only the slightest "tacky" feel but not much more. Check the instructions on the glue for your exact time - excessive drying time will result in a poor bond.
Care must be taken when placing the formica onto the wood, as once the two touch it is difficult to impossible to move. With our small piece this was not a big problem, but larger pieces may need some help here. One method that works well is to cover the wood with pieces of waxed paper and then set the formica into place. By carefully lifting a small section at one end of the formica and bending it back some of the waxed paper may be withdrawn and that section of formica set back onto the glue where it will instantly adhere. Proceed to the other end and lift the entire remaining section so that more paper nearest the stuck end can be withdrawn and, repeating the process as many times as necessary, work all the paper out while gradually sticking down more and more of the formica. Remember that there needs to be extra formical protruding past the wood at all edges.
The formica needs to be rolled firmly onto the wood; we used a small hard rubber roller, but a paint roller or even a wooden kitchen rolling pin will work fine. Hand pressure is not recommended; sliding your hand over the surface while pressing hard onto the formica just might move it instead of simply pressing it down.
With the top piece of formica glued down, we set it aside and cut additional formica into strips to cover the edges of the plywood. These strips were cut to 1" wide and as long as necessary to cover the edges of the plywood. Note that this is again ¼" wider than necessary; the plywood is ¾" thick.
Finished formica top
Trimming the excess and finishing the edges
After a short 30 minute break to give the glue a little more time to set well, we trimmed the excess formica from the top. The preferred method here is with a router equipped with a special laminate cutting blade, but a simple file will also work. Router laminate bits are available that give either a straight or bevel cut; use the straight cut at this point. The router bit should have a bearing on it that removes the necessity for a guide and makes the work much easier; simply run the router slowly down the edge of plywood to cut off the excess formica. The finished product at this point should have the formica absolutely even with the edge of the plywood all the way around the countertop.
If a router is not available, a fairly fine file may be used although it will take a little more time and effort. Make sure the file is used only in the down direction; you don't want any chance at all of pulling the formica up and off the plywood or of chipping it.
With the top cut flush the edge pieces can now be glued on in the same manner. We did one piece at a time, making sure that it was flush with the bottom of the plywood, but protruding past the top and ends and then again trimming them flush with the router. A final trim with the beveled router bit purely for appearance sake and the countertop was ready to be cut for the sink.
Installing the sink
The sink purchased was a little oversized for the vanity and it proved difficult but not impossible to get it mounted correctly. Make sure that your own sink is the proper size and will fit easily into the vanity.
Using the template that came with the sink an outline was drawn on the back side of the countertop, not forgetting that the sink had to fit into the vanity as well as the countertop. Using a sabresaw the hole was cut into the countertop and the sink fitted and secured onto the countertop. Returning to the bathroom the completed countertop was attached to the vanity by screws passing up through the vanity from the inside of the cabinet and into the top. Make sure the screws aren't too long and pass completely through the top!
Congratulations: you have constructed and installed your own laminate formica bathroom countertop and it wasn't nearly as difficult as you thought. If this is among the first of your home improvement projects you may have just started a lifetime of such "work", ranging from fixing doors to installing new light fixtures to perhaps a complete room remodel. It can be a lot fun and certainly a source of pride to perform your own improvements - don't let a lack of confidence get in your way. With a few simple tools you can accomplish wonders around your home.
Personal observations: I would have made the countertop appear thicker than its ¾" by attaching a small, additional ¾" piece of plywood to the bottom of the plywood at the sides and front. This only needs to be perhaps ½" wide and as the plywood is 1" wider than the vanity it sits on would fit easily and make the top appear to be 1 1/2" think instead of the ¾" it actually is. I would also have provided a backsplash by using an additional piece of plywood as wide as the countertop and 4" tall, covered with formica. Just suggestions you might consider when you install your own laminate formica bathroom countertop.