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Forum topic by clin posted 02-05-2016 12:18 AM 1316 views 0 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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clin

514 posts in 464 days


02-05-2016 12:18 AM

I’m getting a workshop together. I’m trying to decide what type of work surface to use over some base cabinets.

I’ll be doing some hobby stuff, like building RC model airplanes. So along one wall, I’m going to have 10 to 12 ft of built-in cabinets with an area to sit at (open like a desk). Near one end will be a utility sink. There will be other actual workbenches. So this area will be for doing fine work like framing a model airplane wing.

Note: While any and all of this could be done at a heavy workbench, completely different tools are involved, so it make sense to have two different areas.

So the question, especially to those that might have a similar setup, what do you recommend for the worktop (essentially a counter top).

I was originally thinking just laminate top, thinking it would be so much less expensive, that I’d replace it every 5 years or so as it gets beat up. Turns out it isn’t as cheap as I thought. Mostly because I need to get it custom made. Off the shelf tops like the BORGs carry, I don’t want. I want a solid color, no marbled patterns. A patterned background just makes it harder to find small parts etc. And I would prefer a square edge.

I’m thinking about maple tops. I can get maple butcher block tops for about the same price as a custom laminate. Though it’s not quite a equal comparison. Custom laminate includes install. Price really isn’t the issue and a maple top will last forever. But I’m worried about the sink and possible water damage.

Any input would be appreciated.

-- Clin


28 replies so far

View Mark Kornell's profile

Mark Kornell

1061 posts in 1998 days


#1 posted 02-05-2016 07:15 AM

Clin,

There are many kitchen countertops that are made out of wood. Unless you are planning on pouring water on the top and letting it sit there, the maple will hold up just fine. I’ll recommend a wipe-on polyurethane as a finish – cheap, easy and fairly tough. Also somewhat water resistant.

I’m a bit jealous. I just finished installing a.bunch of cabinets in my shop and had to settle for custom laminate tops. Maple tops were my preferred choice but at least twice as much money.

-- Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design

View DrTebi's profile

DrTebi

256 posts in 2734 days


#2 posted 02-05-2016 08:34 AM

I agree with Mark,

wood really isn’t that sensitive to water unless you leave standing water for a long time and/or bake it in the sun.

Even if the maple top should become a bit damaged from water or anything else, you can simply sand it down, refinish, and have a brand new looking top again. Can’t do that with laminate.

View OSU55's profile

OSU55

1063 posts in 1457 days


#3 posted 02-05-2016 12:51 PM

You don’t say what size you need, or what makes your need “custom”. Home Depot shows a plane white countertop here. Another option is a white laminate sheet you apply to the substrate of your choice. Laminate “wood look” countertops are available. Another would be a sheet of hardboard like this or screwed to substrate. I have a heavy duty workbench with this on top. I apply ob poly to it and wipe it off. I’ve changed it a couple of times in the 25 yrs I’ve had it. There’s a white hardboard panel if the dark color is a problem. Lot’s of fairly cheap options available.

View JBrow's profile

JBrow

821 posts in 388 days


#4 posted 02-05-2016 03:50 PM

clin,

Unless you go with stone, the sink will have to be properly installed and maintained. Particle board substrate of a laminate top will deteriorate rather quickly once water gets to it. Maple would take longer to deteriorate.

10 to 12 feet of counter top may require a seam, which I would think you would want to avoid. I do not know if your laminate quote includes a seam or is seamless. Maple would have to be custom built to avoid a seam. The maple tops I have seen in catalogs are too short for your application without seams. If you went short with maple and butt seamed the pieces, I suspect the seams would open over time – not much, but a little and perhaps enough to lose a small part.

Color is another consideration. Assuming dark parts, a white laminate top could be installed. Maple, on the other hand is not uniform in color. While the wood is mostly white, it will have some darker veining. Water based polyurethane will largely preserve the light natural color of maple, while oil based polyurethane and most other finishes will yellow the maple. No matter what varnish is applied, the maple will darken somewhat over time.

Both maple and laminate are durable. However, a razor knife snapping through a part and impacting the countertop will damage both materials. However, a cut in the laminate, in my experience, will be far less noticeable by touch or by eye than maple. Laminate will also endure drops and other impacts better than maple, which will get dinged up over time. However, the only fix for damaged laminate is to replace the laminate. On the other hand, maple can be refinished several times over its life when it becomes damaged; but that is quite a job.

There are woods much harder than maple, and hence more durable that maple. Hardness of woods can be compared using Janka Hardness, the larger the number the harder the material. When you get away from US domestic hardwoods, prices go up and materials can be hard to find. You can find the properties of various woods at

http://www.wood-database.com/lumber-identification/hardwoods/bloodwood/

One alternative you may not have considered is bamboo. Bamboo is available in countertops. Bamboo can be quite hard, superior to maple and many exotic hardwoods. It is attractive and available in a light color. If you want to explore a bamboo countertop, Google searching “Bamboo Countertops” will get you started.

View clin's profile

clin

514 posts in 464 days


#5 posted 02-05-2016 05:07 PM

Thanks for the input.

FYI, laminate is available up to 12 ft without a seam. The reason I don’t want to use an off-the-shelf BORG counter top is I don’t want a pattern, and while they do have a solid white, I don’t want a surface that will reflect that much light back up and create glare. As I mentioned before, I also want a straight front edge rather than the common rolled edges seen on the BORG tops, and in most kitchens.

I was a bit surprised at the relatively high cost of a custom top. Now this is installed pricing but it was $50/ft. Believe it or not it is $14/ft more to have the straight edge versus rolled. Now, this was one quote from the main counter top outfit in town. I have no doubt there are somewhat less expensive sources.

Originally I had planned on a maple top, but then saw some for about $900 and thought maybe I could get a laminate for about 1/3rd the price. After seeing that the laminate was about 2X what I thought and looking at more maple options, the price difference isn’t as big as I thought. I’ve found some 12 ft maple tops for under $700.

I’m not real price sensitive on this, but what at first looked like maybe I could get 3 laminate tops for the cost of 1 maple, I thought I’d go laminate and just replace it when it gets too beat up. But while laminate would still be cheaper, the difference isn’t that great and I’m leaning towards maple or more generally wood.

As far as water problems, it was also my thought that unless I leave standing water on it, that won’t be a problem. Also, the sink is not something I’ll necessarily use daily and not likely to get heavy use. Mostly occasionally cleaning a paint brush, that type of thing.

-- Clin

View JayT's profile

JayT

4788 posts in 1679 days


#6 posted 02-05-2016 05:13 PM

Why not build your own laminate counter top? Use a good substrate (sanded plywood, particle board or even MDF), pick out a solid color laminate you like and use contact cement to glue it down. Trim with a router. It’ll take some time, but is pretty simple to do and you’d get exactly what you want, including the square edge.

-- "Good judgement is the result of experience. A lot of experience is the result of poor judgement."

View Cooler's profile

Cooler

277 posts in 311 days


#7 posted 02-05-2016 05:18 PM

I would use 3/4” ply with a top surface of tempered hardboard held in place with carpet tape. When it gets bruised or damaged it lifts off with a paint scraper and you replace it. The tempered hardboard is much harder than the regular stuff and it will last a long time. It is not very decorative however.

From Wiki:

Tempered hardboard is hardboard that has been coated with a thin film of linseed oil and then baked; this gives it more water resistance, impact resistance, hardness, rigidity and tensile strength. An earlier tempering process involved immersing the board in linseed oil or tung oil until it was 5 to 6 percent saturated, and heating to 170 °C (340 °F).[8] Tempered hardboard is used in construction siding.

-- This post is a hand-crafted natural product. Slight variations in spelling and grammar should not be viewed as flaws or defects, but rather as an integral characteristic of the creative process.

View clin's profile

clin

514 posts in 464 days


#8 posted 02-05-2016 05:42 PM


Why not build your own laminate counter top? Use a good substrate (sanded plywood, particle board or even MDF), pick out a solid color laminate you like and use contact cement to glue it down. Trim with a router. It ll take some time, but is pretty simple to do and you d get exactly what you want, including the square edge.

- JayT

That is certainly an option, but I’ve got many dozens if not hundreds of hours into building out this shop already. Figured I don’t need to fight every battle. I.E., building my own shop cabinets because nothing off the shelf is what I want, and custom cabinets are more than I want to spend. Plus, making cabinets is kind of fun.

But, I’ve not made up my mind yet, so anything is still possible.


I would use 3/4” ply with a top surface of tempered hardboard held in place with carpet tape. When it gets bruised or damaged it lifts off with a paint scraper and you replace it. The tempered hardboard is much harder than the regular stuff and it will last a long time. It is not very decorative however.

From Wiki:

Tempered hardboard is hardboard that has been coated with a thin film of linseed oil and then baked; this gives it more water resistance, impact resistance, hardness, rigidity and tensile strength. An earlier tempering process involved immersing the board in linseed oil or tung oil until it was 5 to 6 percent saturated, and heating to 170 °C (340 °F).[8] Tempered hardboard is used in construction siding.

- Cooler

I think tempered hardboard is what I know simply as “hardboard”. For example, I see that all the products on the Home Depot web site, that are hardboard, are called tempered hardboard. It’s been my experience that it doesn’t hold up well at all to water. Now, maybe there is some difference here I don’t appreciate.

I realize there are versions used for siding (just used some on a shed), but these come primed and must be painted.

I have used hardboard for workbench tops many times before. But given the sink I’ll have, I don’t it’s a good fit in this case. But I’ll see if I can find out more about tempered hardboard, to see if it really is something different than what I’m thinking.

-- Clin

View bigblockyeti's profile

bigblockyeti

3668 posts in 1188 days


#9 posted 02-05-2016 05:56 PM

At my old house along the back wall of the garage I had a 2’ x 16’ workbench attached to the wall and the top was 3/4 BC plywood covered with 1/4” tempered masonite. It had to be replaced every two years, but it’s cheap, relatively tough and could be changed out very quickly as it was just stapled down. The bench was used literally for everything from automotive work to woodworking. While mine did get wet on occasion it wasn’t exposed to the kind of water that could be present around a sink, overall it worked out very well for me.

View Kristian_S's profile

Kristian_S

22 posts in 369 days


#10 posted 02-05-2016 06:51 PM

Concrete is also another interesting option and surprisingly cheap. I’ve done a cast in place top for a coffee table with good results. I’ll soon be doing my kitchen (~20ft of countertop) and it’ll end up costing me less than $1000 including a few pieces of equipment (wet grinder, diamond polishing pads, concrete mixer) and molds which wouldn’t be necessary in your case. I’m sure you could do it for $200-300 depending on the type of finish you want.

View Redoak49's profile (online now)

Redoak49

1964 posts in 1456 days


#11 posted 02-05-2016 07:04 PM

My countertops are 3/4” plywood with 1/4” cardboard or MDF over it. I finished the mdf with a thinned coat of shellac and then a couple more coats. After is was dry, I gave it a good coat of wax. It has wormwood.

You can repair spots if needed or if too bad replace the mdf.

View Cooler's profile

Cooler

277 posts in 311 days


#12 posted 02-05-2016 07:16 PM



At my old house along the back wall of the garage I had a 2 x 16 workbench attached to the wall and the top was 3/4 BC plywood covered with 1/4” tempered masonite. It had to be replaced every two years, but it s cheap, relatively tough and could be changed out very quickly as it was just stapled down. The bench was used literally for everything from automotive work to woodworking. While mine did get wet on occasion it wasn t exposed to the kind of water that could be present around a sink, overall it worked out very well for me.

- bigblockyeti

Home Depot and Lowes only carry tempered in 1/8” (or maybe 3/16” thick); the 1/4” thick stuff is regular hardboard. The same goes for the peg board. The tempered stuff is quite notably tougher. I put it down with carpet tape. Mostly it just held in place by gravity. But it does not move around and it seems fine. I guess you could put in a couple of countersunk screws if it were a problem. It would not be good around a sink however unless you sealed it and that kind of defeats the purpose of using the stuff. It is cheap and easily replaced.

-- This post is a hand-crafted natural product. Slight variations in spelling and grammar should not be viewed as flaws or defects, but rather as an integral characteristic of the creative process.

View Planeman40's profile

Planeman40

805 posts in 2228 days


#13 posted 02-05-2016 07:23 PM



I would use 3/4” ply with a top surface of tempered hardboard held in place with carpet tape. When it gets bruised or damaged it lifts off with a paint scraper and you replace it. The tempered hardboard is much harder than the regular stuff and it will last a long time. It is not very decorative however.

I have been building model planes for well over 50 years and have a very complete metal and wood working shop. I agree with the above recommendation. All of my counter tops are made of strand board substrate (flooring) with tempered hardboard tops and edged with a nice hardwood strip. Like was said, use tempered. This is a hardboard that is infused with oil and made under high pressure. It is very hard, strong, and water resistant. It is often found coated one side with a white Melamine finish that is made to be used as a bathroom wall covering in place of tile. The white is nice to build model planes on, however you will never be sticking any pins in it. Too hard!!! For that use a building board, all balsa building boards are the best. Guillows used to carry them, I guess they still do. Tack the hardboard down at the edges with small brads. Like was said, if you ever want to replace it, just pry it up and flip it over. If you don’t use the white Melamine side, three coats of varnish on the dull brown side makes a nice finish.

Planeman

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Hammerthumb's profile

Hammerthumb

2533 posts in 1443 days


#14 posted 02-05-2016 08:42 PM

If the sink is at one end of the counter, you could tile around that end of the top. Then use a replaceable hardboard as suggested for the working area.

-- Paul, Las Vegas

View BonPacific's profile

BonPacific

20 posts in 323 days


#15 posted 02-05-2016 10:18 PM

I have to add another vote for Plywood with a Tempered Hardboard top. Water shouldn’t be a problem from teh top of the tempered board, and plywood or worse is used in just about every counter top these days. Caulked seams and exterior paint will resist water very well, and it’s dead-easy to renew later on. Plus you can get exactly the color you want, for a fraction of what laminate would cost.

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