Creating Countertop Templatescomments (3) March 15th, 2013 in Blogs
Templates, constructed from strips glued together into a lattice, are an accurate way to transfer spatial measurements to any sheet material or flat surface, whether it's a piece of drywall that needs to be notched beneath open-ended stairs or a new door that must be fit to an old, out-of-square door frame. Templates are a cheap and largely foolproof way to assemble and transfer myriad measurements.
Templates are essential to countertop installations, where finish materials can cost thousands of dollars. Templates are typically made by the supplier (the company fabricating the countertop), so consequently, company reps take great pains to get the template right, because if they goof, the company eats the cost.
Here's an overview of ordering countertops and creating templates.
Ordering countertops starts with a floor plan, drawing, or sketch that goes out to bid. The bid should specify a completion date, terms of payment, and the scope of the installation. In most cases, quoted prices will not include plumbing, electrical work, or adjustments to the cabinets such as sink cutouts and leveling plywood substrates.
Most installations require two visits from the countertop supplier: the "measure date" and the "install date." It's difficult to pinpoint a measure date until the cabinets are installed, but in general, two weeks' to four weeks' notice should be enough. Typically, solid-surface (such as Corian®) and plastic-laminate countertops require about one week between the measure date and the install date. Quartz-composite countertops (such as Zodiaq®) require about two weeks. Most suppliers will allow you to change installation dates without penalty, provided you give them enough notice.
The measure date is the last chance to give input on details such as underlayment issues, color, edge treatment, and splash detail. Whatever you finally decide on, get it in writing. During this meeting, the supplier will review job site conditions, so the general contractor should be there, too.
1. Cabinets must be set before the job can be measured. In other words, the cabinets must be screwed together and screwed to the walls, not just pushed into place. The cabinets cannot be moved even 1⁄8 in. after the countertop supplier has measured because countertops are fabricated to close tolerances.
2. Cabinets must be set level. As general rule, the plane of the cabinet top(s) must be level within 1⁄8 in. over a 10-ft. length. Such stringent requirements are a concern not only to installers but also, in some cases, to manufacturers as a condition of warranty.
3. All appliances and sinks should be on the job site at the time of the measure. The fitting of sinks and appliances is often critically close. Design or construction issues that could cause problems or delay the installation should be resolved on the measure date. If the sinks and appliances are on site, the supplier can inspect them. If there's a defect, damage, or, say, a sink rim that won't fit the countertop, you'll need time to replace the item before installation.
Templates are most often made by hot-gluing strips of 1⁄8-in.-thick plywood (also called doorskin), which is rigid enough to keep its shape yet light to transport and position on counter stock. Primarily used to face hollow-core doors, doorskin can be cut into strips by a fine-tooth table saw blade, or by a utility knife drawn along a straightedge. Doorskin is widely used because it is cheap (about $10 for a 4 ft. x 8 ft. sheet), glues quickly and holds its template shape well. Write measurements right on the wood. The knock on doorskin templates is that you need a truck to transport them--assembled, they are too large and stiff to be rolled up.
As an alternative, you can buy plastic templating strips that also glue together, but are flexible enough to roll up. Plastic strips require quick-drying solvent glues (usually PVC); low-VOC adhesives are available. This option tends to be more expensive than doorskin. TemplatePro® offers a kit of 40 pre-cut strips (0.04 in. thick x 2 1/4 in. wide x 96 in. long) and a can of glue for about $65. You can write on strips using a permanent marker; if you want to reuse the strips, erase the writing with de-natured alcohol. A utility knife cuts strips. An alternative supplier, Templast, sells 48 in. x 96 in. sheets of corrugated plastic for about $12 each, but the rub is that you have to buy a skid of 100 sheets, which weighs about 200 lbs. and costs roughly $1250.
What details to note on a template
What details you write on the assembled template will vary according to the countertop material and the fabricator's preferences. Cutouts for faucet holes, for example, will be manufactured into a Silestone® countertop, whereas granite counter installers typically drill such openings after the counter is installed to avoid transporting a slab weakned by holes. In general, the more details, the better.
1. Installers typically start by placing a long template strip along the wall behind the cabinet and another along the front edge. The first thing to note is if the wall is straight; and if not, note irregularities on the template. Measure to see if the wall is parallel to the front of the counter top and, if there are end walls, use a square to see if they are perpendicular. Fabricators will recommend gaps between counter tops and walls (say, 1/4 in.) but it's important that the template exactly record existing irregularities.
2. Edge notations should include the amount of overhang, edge thickness and edge detailing--i.e. a half-round edge. Note all polished (exposed) edges, including, say, the cutout for an under-mounted sink.
3. When measuring for a backsplash, note its length and height and interruptions such as window openings, cooktop edges and so on. Note also receptacles and switches that will be placed in the backsplash.
4. After locating large cutouts for sinks, cooktops and the like, label whether the item is to be top-mounted or under-mounted. Locate the center of each cutout by measuring out from a joint or edge at two locations on the template. For all cutouts--including smaller ones for faucets, drain pipes, etc., leave sufficient space between the cutout and the back edge, allowing extra space if there will be a backspace.
This overview of countertops and templates is adapted from Renovation 4th Edition, which contains thousands of field-tested tips and techniques. Brand new from Taunton Press, Renovation 4th Edition's 614 pages include 250+ technical drawings and 1,000 photos selected from the 40,000 that I have taken over the years. I hope you find it useful. -Mike
© Michael Litchfield 2013
posted in: Blogs, remodeling, kitchen, countertops
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About the Author
Mike Litchfield was a founding editor of Fine Homebuilding and has been renovating homes or writing about them for more than 30 years.
He was one of the first technical journalists to go to job sites to gather information from tradespeople and his great work, Renovation: A Complete Guide is in its 3rd Edition.
Mike’s tenth book, In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats: Turning one house into two homes will be published by Taunton Press in March, 2011. To preview the book and learn more about its contributors, please visit www.cozydigz.com