Kitchen counters take a lot of abuse. Having been used three times a day or more in some homes, counters take the brunt off the kitchen work. Water, kitchen utensils, and food spills tend to wear out the surface of Formica counter tops. You can replace the counter top with many types of marble, Formica, or granite but these can be expensive and hard to work with when you do-it-yourself. An easy alternative to tearing out the entire counter is to re-face it with tile. It requires a little skill and is a great alternative to the more expensive styles of counter tops.
You will need a few tools to begin. The more expensive of the tools is the tile wet saw. You can rent one from most local rental companies for the day or week. You can also purchase your own smaller version of the wet tile saw for around $100. It cuts almost as well as its larger counter part but it doesn’t do big tile as well as a rental would. You will also need to purchase two clean sponges, a notched trowel, and a sponge trowel. The trowels are usually less than $15 each, and the sponges are around $3 apiece.
Some of the materials you will need to buy are Dura-rock. This is a cementious board that will not rot when in constant contact with water. It bonds to tile grout and adhesive well and can be attached with screws to any surface. You need a concrete cutting blade for a skill saw to cut the Dura-rock. You will also need tile adhesive, the tile of your choice and an unsanded grout that matches your tile. You also need a border around the counter top. You can use just about anything from the more expensive bull-nosed tile to a simple wood band.
Start by removing the sink from the counter. Unscrew the valves and drain. The sink may easily pull from its base or it may have under the sink clamps that need to be removed first. Once the sink is free, you can begin placing the Dura-rock over the counter top. Cut the Dura-rock to fit exact as possible with minimum gaps between the pieces. Screw to the counter by pre-drilling holes every 12 inches around the perimeter of the board and about every 18 inches for every 2 feet of board. Use screws that wont rust and aren’t so long they penetrate through the old counter top.
Lay the tiles on the sink in a test pattern before you commit to gluing them in place. Set the tiles together as closely as possible. This helps prevent water from settling between the tiles. Typically a tile setter finds the center of the counter and works outward from their. This way the tiles cut are the same on both sides and provides a uniform look. Cut all the tiles before gluing any down.
Once all the tiles have been cut and you are satisfied with the pattern, set them aside. Label the back of each tile so they aren’t mixed up. Take the notched trowel and spread the tile adhesive in a 3′ x 3′ square. Set the tiles as you go along. Work in small areas at a time. When spreading the adhesive you should use the notched part to create small furrows along the top of the Dura-rock. Attach the bull nose along the edge if you are using them. If you’re using wood trim, make sure the edge is free and clear of any adhesive.
Once the tiles are set, allow them to dry for 24 hours. After the tiles are set, mix the unsanded grout in a bucket and spread on using the sponge trowel. Spread on the entire counter surface working the grout between the tiles. It’s ok to smear it all over the tiles; it will all be cleaned off. Get a fresh bucket of clean water and using a sponge, wipe of the excess grout once it has dried for several minutes. Keep the sponge clean and replace the dirty water often. Wipe off the entire counter top several times until the tile is clean and clear.
Attach wood trim with 4d galvanized finish nails. Miter any corners with a miter saw. You can router the trim once it is set, but wait 24 hours for the grout to dry. Finish any wood trim with a waterproof urethane to prevent wood rot.
Replace the sink into its base and reattach the drain and water lines. You may need to buy new water lines and a piece of PVC drainpipe to extend the sink down to its original depth in the counter top now that it has been raised up.