Solid surface is one of the most popular countertop materials thanks to its extreme durability, easy to clean poreless surface, and affordable versatility. Solid surface countertops are also fairly easy to install, even if you have little previous experience with countertop installation.
Unlike many other countertop materials, cutting and carving solid surface is relatively easy, and most comparable to cutting hardwood, but without the risk of hitting knots and inconsistencies or splintering/cracking the material.
On average, solid surface weighs less than 5lbs per square foot, with a full sheet typically not weighing more than 130lbs, making solid surface extremely manageable for small installation crews and those with less experience. Because solid surface is relatively easy to install, it is a great choice for businesses, manufacturing, educational environments, offices, and other commercial uses that want a sleek final look without needing to invest heavily in construction.
Many distributors are happy to allow their customers to install their solid surface themselves, while also offering professional installation services and assistance.
In this guide, we’ll be sharing step-by-step instructions for installing your own solid surface countertops, including recommended tools and equipment, tips for successful cutting and installation, and advice to help you create the most professional end-result that can apply to any project involving lab countertops.
Tools for Installing Solid Surface Countertops
While installing solid surface is relatively easy, you will need a number of tools and pieces of equipment to complete the job. Thankfully, all of the necessary tools are readily available and easy to acquire, and may already be in your tool kit if your company has previously self-installed or performed construction on commercial spaces.
Here’s what you’ll need to install solid surface countertops:
Because solid surface cuts like hardwood, basic woodworking tools can easily be used to achieve crisp cuts and virtually undetectable seams. When cutting solid surface, you will need to perform straight cuts, mirror cuts (to join two pieces together), and cutouts to accommodate sinks and other countertop equipment.
Cutting tools that work well when cutting solid surface include:
- Beam saws
- Circular saws (portable and stationary)
- Radial arm saws
- Router cutters
- Verticle/horizontal saws
These types of saws all have the same basic features: at least six teeth per 1 inch of blade, anti-chip teeth, and are approved for use on hard plastics. Additionally, all of these approved cutting tools use fluid, single direction movements, and do not hack at the material while cutting. Tools like jigsaws can create rough, uneven cuts in solid surface, and are best to be avoided.
Sanding & Smoothing Tools
After cutting solid surface, you may find that the area requires sanding or buffing to smooth the edges and create a desirable finish. Because solid surface can be ground down, it is important to use caution when sanding or smoothing your countertops, and sanding products in particular should not be used directly on the top of the counter.
Here are the best tools for sanding your solid surface cuts:
- Belt sander
- Orbital sander
- 100, 150, and 220 grit sandpaper
- Gentle scouring pads (like Scotch Brite)
During the process of cutting, sanding, seaming, and installing solid surface, you will find a need for several additional tools and materials. While some of the items listed below are optional, we recommend having at least some variation of the following:
- Caulk gun
- Hot glue gun/hot glue
- Masking/plastic tape
- Measuring tape
- Pencils/marking tools
- Seam adhesive
- Silicone caulk
- Straightedge ruler
Safety When Cutting Solid Surface
Once you have all the necessary tools and materials gathered, you are almost ready to begin installing your solid surface countertops. While solid surface is designed to not crack, splinter, or crumble, cutting this material can still send bits of particulate flying, which can be harmful to the eyes or respiratory system.
Additionally, without proper ventilation, some of the adhesive products used to bind solid surface may be dangerous to breathe, which is why it is vital to utilize proper precautions when working on any construction project. Here are a few tips to keep you safe when working with solid surface:
- Always wear protective eyewear when cutting or sanding to prevent dust or bits of resin from flying into your eyes
- Wear a respirator or particulate mask when cutting or using chemical adhesive to prevent accidental inhalation
- Secure your solid surface before making a cut or beginning to sand. The slab should be solidly placed on a sawhorse or similar supportive surface at all times with no risk of falling, slipping, or dropping.
- Ventilate your work area to minimize the buildup of fumes. Keeping windows open, utilizing fans or ventilation hoods, or even doing some tasks in open air are great ways to accomplish this.
- Thoroughly clean and dispose of solid-surface particulate. Fine flakes of resin can be highly irritating to the lungs, so it is safest to clean up immediately after completing a task.
- Work as a team to install solid surface, and be sure to err on the side of caution if you are unsure or think you could use professional assistance.
How To Cut Solid Surface
If you have experience cutting hardwoods or synthetic plastics, cutting solid surface is similar. While solid surface possesses immense tensile strength and durability, this material isn’t so hard that it will chip, crack, or shatter with sudden impact or too much pressure.
Instead, solid surface gradually gives, and can even be thermoformed to create curved shapes. Because solid surface is so versatile, it can easily be cut into many shapes without issue, which brings us to our tips for creating different cuts in solid surface.
Because most countertops are rectangular, the most common cut you’ll need to make to install your solid surface countertops is a straight cut. A straight cut is exactly what it sounds like, and involves removing a portion of the sheet either vertically or horizontally to reach a desired size.
Unless you have purchased custom pre-cut countertops, you will likely need to make at least one straight cut before installation. Here’s how:
- Using a straightedge and a pencil or marker, mark where you intend to cut your material. Leave room for a loss of about ¼” of material
- Stabilize the sheet of solid surface across multiple sawhorses to prevent any piece from falling once the cut is made
- Make a straight cut using a portable circular saw – do your best to do so in one fluid movement. A straight edge cutting guide may be useful for this task
- Smooth the edge of the straight cut with a router and a ½” bit to remove approximately ¼” of material
Curved cuts can be tricky, especially if you have never made one before, but with a little patience and the right tools, you can create super-crisp curved lines. A curved cut may need to be made to accommodate a unique space or could be a design choice meant to give countertops a decorative appearance.
Here is a simple example of how to achieve a curved cut:
- Mark the curve you intend to cut using a template
- Remove excess material using short straight cuts and a circular saw. DO NOT try to create a curved cut with a circular saw, this will result in a broken saw or cracked solid surface
- Using a router, carefully cut along the marked curve
A ‘mirror cut’ involves cutting the edge of two separate pieces of solid surface simultaneously to create a ‘mirror image’ of the same cut on two surfaces. Mirror cuts are used to create an almost invisible seam, which, when adhered together, fits without gaps, cracks, or visible separation.
Here’s how to achieve the perfect mirror cut:
- Secure your two pieces of solid surface to your sawhorses using clamps, placing the two edges of the halves about ⅜” apart
- Fit your router with a ½” double fluted bit
- Cut down the center of the two pieces of solid surface, being careful not to allow any undulation in any direction. If your pieces are properly secured, you will have created a perfectly straight mirrored and your two pieces will fit perfectly together, even without adhesive
- Apply scrap pieces of wood to the surface of your countertop using hot glue. Place them strategically to clamp both sides together.
- Bind the two pieces together using a clear seam adhesive or a custom-color-matched seam adhesive, then use clamps to securely hold the pieces together while they dry
- Remove clamps and glued-on pieces of wood to reveal the final product, and buff out the line with a gentle scrubbing pad (like Scotch Brite) to blur the appearance of thin lines
Cutouts are made to accommodate countertop accessories like sinks and are the most complicated type of cut that you will need to learn to properly install your solid surface countertops. Here’s what the job entails:
- Mark where your cutout will be made. Most sinks come with templates to allow you to double-check that your opening will be the right fit, so use this template to mark exactly where you plan to cut. Remember to double-check your measurements to be sure the template is correct
- Secure your solid surface using clamps on a sawhorse
- Using a drill and a large bit, cut a pilot hole within your template
- Cut out the inside of the template using a router
- If necessary, sand the edges of the cutout with an orbital sander and super fine-grit sandpaper
Installing Solid Surface: Step-By-Step Guide
Once you are familiar with the basics of cutting and sanding solid surface, you are ready to begin installing your very own solid surface countertops. While every install will be slightly different depending on the materials you have chosen, the exact design, your tools, and the circumstances of your facility, the same basic steps can be followed for every solid surface countertop installation.
To help you get started, we’ve created this simple step-by-step solid surface installation guide:
1. Prepare The Area
Before you can install your solid surface countertops, you will need to thoroughly prep the area. First, remove any old-materials, countertops, or unwanted items to give yourself as much space to work as possible.
Next, measure your counter-base to double-check for inaccuracies, and check to be certain that the base is level.
Checking that your base is level before installing your countertops will allow you to make adjustments as necessary either to the base or as an addition to the underside of your countertops. In some cases, additional panels may be added to the underside of solid surface countertops to add support or to adjust levels.
A quick wipe-down of the area to remove dust, grime, and residue that may stick in adhesive or caulk will help you to create a more attractive result and will help you to ensure your adhesives bind as tightly as possible.
2. Make All Cuts
Once you have double-checked your measurements and made sure the installation area is clear and ready, you are free to make all necessary cuts. If you have purchased a pre-cut and sanded countertop, this will be the time to double-check that all measurements are correct.
3. Glue Sections Together
Once all of your pieces are cut, it is time to glue your sections together using the method described above in ‘mirror cuts’. If you do not have any sections to glue, move on to step 4.
4. Fit Counter to Wall
With help from at least one or two other people, carefully lift your countertops and place them atop their base. From here, slide the countertop back and against the wall to check for gaps in the seam, and to see whether there is any excess overhang on any side.
If the back edge of the countertop is not fitting closely enough to the wall, using a router to remove any excess. The same process can be used if you find that the overhang is too large on any side of the counter.
5. Secure Countertop
Once you are confident that your countertop is ready to be secured, apply seam adhesive along the back edge and carefully make contact with the wall. At this point, you can apply more clamp-hold-points using scrap wood and hot glue to hold the countertop firmly in place as the adhesive dries.
Allow several days for the adhesive to cure, then carefully remove the clamps and clamp holds.
Finally, add a backsplash, sink, faucet, etc., then seal the gap between the countertop and each item using a silicone-based caulk, carefully smoothing the edge to create a professional finish. Allow all caulk and adhesive to dry for at least 24 hours before removing excess adhesive that may have squeezed out during the drying process, then thoroughly clean the solid surface countertop and other surfaces to remove dust and particulate.
Furniture Design & Solid Surface Experts
While it is entirely possible to install your own solid surface countertops, many business owners prefer the guarantee of an experienced installation expert to ensure they are happy with the final results. At OnePointe Solutions, we specialize in furniture design for commercial facilities around the country and have helped to create, build, and install countless labs, commercial kitchens, medical testing facilities, and more.
In collaboration with our clients, we design custom furniture to suit their unique needs and particular preferences. Clients can choose from a wide range of materials and design options when creating their custom furniture, which includes browsing our vast selection of solid surface offerings.
Available in virtually any finish and color, solid surface is one of the most versatile and customizable countertop materials you can find.
With OnePointe Solutions, everything is done around your schedule and according to your preferences, so you won’t need to worry about choosing between a limited number of options or being forced to settle for a solution you don’t love.
Need Solid Surface Countertops?
Give us a call at (866) 222-7494 to speak with a surface options specialist today!