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Cutting Laminate Countertop

The Natural Handyman

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Dear NH,
I have about an 1 1/2" overhang on one end of my laminate countertop in the kitchen. Can I cut this extra off without taking the whole countertop off? I need this extra room for the new refrigerator to fit.
SB from Vienna, WV

How to Cut Laminate Countertop

Yes, you can. It is just quite a bit easier if you can move the countertop away from the wall. That's always easier said than done, considering moving the countertop can entail disconnecting the sink plumbing and disconnecting whatever fasteners hold the countertop in place. Since some are glued and screwed down, moving a countertop can be a really challenging project.

The cut can be made using two saws… a circular saw and a jig saw. The circular saw will make most of the cut and the jig saw will finish up close to the wall. As an aside, I have heard some pros recommend using a jig saw for the entire cut. You can do this if you want, but I have found it to be less satisfactory since the jigsaw blade is more prone to "wander" giving you a less-than-straight line.

Getting Ready to Cut

The first thing to do is to lay masking tape over the cutting line. This will protect the surface and also help prevent chipping. Apply a few additional strips of tape on the countertop where the saw base will travel. Reason? Because there is a slight chance that the circular saw base could scratch the countertop… especially if you have a beat-up-but-ever-reliable old circular saw like NH.

Cut the Countertop

Since using some sort of guide is very helpful in making a straight cut, use the "rip fence" that came with your circular saw to guide your cut. You know… the T-shaped thing that slides into the base of your saw. If you don't have a rip fence or for some reason it won't work in your situation (usually when the cut is too far from the edge of the material), rig up a guide for your saw using a piece of straight wood or even a metal ruler such as a carpenter's square. Since you don't have a way to clamp it down on both ends, clamp one end of your guide to the overhanging edge of the countertop and tape the other end in place with duct tape. The duct tape should be near the wall... that way the circular saw blade will not hit it. You just have to be careful to follow the line and exert minimal force on the guide! If you do veer slightly off the line into the "waste" side of your cut, you will be able to clean it up later with a belt sander or sanding block.

Your circular saw should have a thin kerf carbide blade with at least 40 teeth... this will give a very clean cut. Set the saw blade depth so it just cuts through the thickest part of the countertop by about 1/8 of an inch. Cut slowly with steady movement. Since you are taking off more than an inch of countertop width, you might want to make a practice cut at around 1/2 inch to get the feel of the saw cutting the countertop... a little on-the-job training!

(The "kerf" is the width of the "slot" that a saw blade leaves when cutting through a material. Unlike the auto ads, thinner is better in saw blades because the saw is not working as hard. This produces a smoother cut because you also don't have to work as hard while pushing the saw through the material, producing a steadier and straighter cut… with or without a guide!)

Sand the Countertop Edge

Needless to say, the base of the circular saw will prevent you from cutting all the way to the wall. The cut can be finished with an electric jig saw using either a special laminate cutting blade or just a fine tooth metal cutting blade. The cut near the wall is always hard to get perfect. When I make the final cut, I cut just a little outside of the line so that there is a slight amount more to remove. Then I use a 3" belt sander with a fairly fine grit carbide belt... 120 or thereabouts is fine... to grind back the laminate to the line.

It is important to position the sander so that the belt is traveling downward (pressing the laminate against the substrate). I know this can be a problem if you are cutting the left side of the countertop... the body of the sander gets in the way as you approach the wall. I can only warn you... be very careful if you use the sander the other way. If the laminate is well-glued, you have a good chance of success. If not, it may chip. You could use even a finer sanding grit for the belt... up to 200... this will cause less lifting but also will slow down the sanding process.

Use a moderately rough metal file to do cleanup work, if necessary, right near the wall. Do all your filing in a downward direction... you don't want to lift the laminate. Then use a 220 grit sandpaper on a sanding block and run it along the cut edge of the laminate on a 45 degree angle, smoothing and slightly rounding it. This should visually eliminate any minor chipping that may have occurred and also eliminate the razor-sharp edge that laminates can sometimes have when cut.

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