Using SOLIDWORKS to Replace a Kitchen Counter

by Jim Ward

Kitchen Counter Replacement and SOLIDWORKS

From the time that I moved into my current home, a mobile home built in 1975, I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen counter. However, I’ve never done this type of project before and wasn’t sure how to proceed. What I did know is that I had access to SOLIDWORKS but I had to come up with a plan first.

SOLIDWORKS

Figure 1: Old Tile Top

Getting down and dirty.

The old counter was constructed with 4-inch tiles (See Fig. 1) on top of particle board with a built-in cutting board (See Fig. 2). The particle board lay on top of the lower cabinets. The problems with it were:

  • It is difficult to clean. The uneven surface caused food particles to be trapped in the grout area. Also, mold had a tendency to grow on the grout.
  • The built-in cutting board was in the primary counter workspace. The cutting board was old and difficult to clean.
  • When the sink was replaced the seal between the sink and counter had problems due to the uneven surface of the tile.
SOLIDWORKS

Figure 2: Old counter layout. Note the seams.

Challenges in building a new counter.

The existing counter was built of straight counter sections. This meant that there were two seams where the three sections of the counter were joined (see Figure 2). The stove top crossed both of these seams which meant that sections of each seam were removed to allow room for the stove top. There was no support for the seams in the cabinetry – they were in thin air! There is also a corner shelf which was added to cover the area behind the stove to the wall.

New counter approach.

I considered using stone as a new counter material. However, we are in a mobile home and the cabinets that would support the counter weren’t made to support the weight. Also, working with stone is too heavy and difficult to work with for an amateur like myself. Next,  if I were to hire someone to install the counter, it would be cost prohibitive.

My next approach was to use preformed laminate counters from the Home Depot. These counters come in straight sections, in differing lengths and some with 45-degree cuts on one end. The main problem with these was that there are limited selections on the laminate pattern and my wife and I didn’t find one to our liking.

I finally decided that I would need to build up my own counter from scratch. Now, the kitchen counter in our home is a very busy place. The stove top is built into it, as well as the kitchen sink. Therefore, I wanted to reduce the downtime as much as possible. To this end, I decided to model, in SOLIDWORKS, the current counter shape. This design included the cabinet support structure so that I could properly get the measurements for each section. Also, since I was making this from scratch, I could make the stove section a little deeper than the other two sides.

Getting into the details.

I decided that the counter foundation would be ¾ inch x 4 ft x 8 ft particle board. I would be adding double strips in places so the edge of the counter would be 1 ½ inches and the top of the counter would be 1 ½ inches above the cabinets. I assumed that the laminate would also come in 4 ft x 8 ft sheets.

One thing that really bothered me was the fit and joining of the 3 sections. I had concerns in the following areas:

  • How to make the joint. I knew of the glued and “T-bolt” approach. However, I would have to cut into the joints in order to install the stove top. I was concerned that the T-bolt would be in the way.
  • The strength of the joint. There was no support in the joint areas
  • Leakage through the joint. Any break in the laminate becomes a potential spot for moisture to access the counter.
  • Fitting the three pieces together. Looking at how these three sections fit together their dimensions and the angular cuts would be critical to a counter. My tools and experience (no experience) were lacking in this area so I had serious doubts that I could accomplish this.

Fitting the pieces together.

I spent several days (weeks) measuring the existing countertop. The space it would go into had to fit into a corner with two walls forming a corner and the underlying cabinet support. However, there was some uncertainty in the accuracy of my measurements. My SOLIDWORKS models showed some discrepancy in my measurements that I couldn’t quite resolve. This would have a marked effect on how the three pieces fit together. A change in one piece would have an effect on how all 3 of them fit together.

Figure 3: New counter wood construction

I studied this in SOLIDWORKS and realized that I could change the design of the counter – I could change where the joints occurred. So, I decided to use a 4×8 sheet of particle board for the corner and then add straight sections to the ends to finish the sides (see Figure 3). One of the joints would be under the sink and I would need to be certain it was a tight joint so no water leaked through. The other would be at the end of the short counter (see Figure 3). This would give me strength around the stove (where there was no underlying support from the cabinets) and I would not be crossing any seams with the stove.

Then I discovered that I can buy laminate in a 5 ft x 12 ft sheet! This meant that I could cover my entire counter in a single sheet of laminate – no joints/breaks in the laminate!
I now had the new design of the counter and I knew what pieces I needed. I knew the dimensions of the material I would be buying. Therefore, I used SOLIDWORKS to help figure out the most efficient use of the material. How do I arrange the cuts to be able to use the least purchased material? This was useful in an assembly as I could bring in a 4×8 sheet and then arrange where the cuts would happen on the sheet. This proved to be very helpful as I was also making the backsplash for the counter.

A helping hand.

I had some help to get the particle board sheets from Lowes. A ¾ inch x 4 ft x 8 ft sheet of particle board is just too heavy for me to handle by myself. The person helping me is a contractor and assisted me in removing the old counter. Once removed, he also suggested we place the 4 x 8 into the corner and mark where/how the counter and cabinets interface. This we did and I found it very helpful. The advantage of this is that there are no mistakes in measurements (since we aren’t relying on measuring the old and then transferring that to the new). Given my mistakes/errors in measurement, this was a great relief.

Counter Replacement

Lessons Learned

I am glad I had SOLIDWORKS to model the existing countertop and to investigate new ideas on how to build the new counter.  SOLIDWORKS was also very helpful in arranging how the major cuts would happen on the particle board sheets.

CAD works well when the real world is accurately represented in the models. In my case, I had problems properly representing the existing counter supports (what looked square wasn’t) and I had limited tools to work with.  Therefore, I found that CAD didn’t totally work for my benefit.

Check out the new countertop! Note that there are no seams in the finished work.

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