Best way to cut laminate countertop

Laminate countertops are inexpensive and easier to work with than stone. But the cheapest places to get laminate countertops often only offer fixed sizes and won’t cut them for you. So here’s the best way to cut laminate countertop so you can install it yourself and avoid custom orders.

The key to cutting laminate countertop is a straight edge, a fine-tooth sawblade, and lots of support. The most common reason for difficulty cutting laminate countertop is lack of support causing the countertop to pinch your blade.

Safety first

First things first: This isn’t a good first project. Have quality tools in good condition before undertaking this project. I also bought a new saw blade. A sharp blade is easier to maintain control over than a dull blade. It also makes a finer quality cut. You can have blades sharpened, so that’s an option. Since I didn’t have a fine enough blade, I had to buy one.

Also work at the proper height. The countertop should be at about waist height while you’re cutting. If it’s too high, you won’t be able to see or get good extension. If it’s too low, it’s too difficult to maintain control over the saw.

To complete this project safely, you need several things:

  • A platform to hold the countertop while cutting
  • At least four scraps of 2×4 lumber to act as supports, about 18-24 inches long. Six would be better
  • Circular saw
  • New fine-tooth circular saw blade with at least 60 teeth. More is better
  • Circular saw
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Masking tape
  • Straight edge
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Clamps and/or short wood screws
  • Safety glasses and hearing protection

Yes, it’s a lot of tools.

Also, one person can do this, but it definitely helps to have one other person present to help lift and hold the counter steady while cutting. The other person doesn’t necessarily have to be an adult, but ideally is someone with some strength and enough life experience to respect power tools.

Preparation to cut the laminate countertop

best way to cut laminate countertops
Measure on both sides and double check everything. Always cut with the unfinished side facing up.

Preparation starts with measuring. Measure the distance on both sides of the countertop and mark it with pencil. Measure at three points on both sides to ensure you get a straight line, and use your square to ensure the line is perpendicular to the edges. You only get one chance, so double-check your work.

I put masking tape over the line on the laminate side of the countertop. Experts disagree on whether putting tape on a countertop actually results in a smoother cut. The blade you use probably makes a bigger difference than the tape. Since it costs a penny and takes 30 seconds, I use the tape.

Once you have the countertop marked on both sides, flip the countertop over onto the unfinished side. Retract the blade completely so that your circular saw can sit flat, or as close to flat as possible. Find the center mark on the saw and place it right on your line, then use your square to position the saw perfectly perpendicular to the edge. Place your straightedge up against the right-hand side of the saw and clamp it in place. Clamp so that the handles are on the opposite side of the straightedge from the saw and don’t impede the saw’s path at all.

One of my clamps broke in the middle of my project, so I improvised by screwing my straightedge down to the surface of the countertop with short wood screws. Obviously this isn’t ideal. If the screws are too long, you can poke right through the finished surface of the countertop.

Choosing a circular saw blade

A general-purpose blade intended for cutting 2×4 studs will give too rough of a cut on laminate countertop. The guidance I could find all said to get a blade with at least 60 teeth. I bought a plywood blade with about 150 teeth. The result was pretty good. I’m not sure I would have been happy with a cut with a 60-tooth blade.

There are blades designed specifically for laminate, but they don’t say whether they’re for countertops or flooring. Those blades cost about six times as much as a plywood blade, so I went with a plywood blade. If I were going to do this a lot, I would have bought the costlier blade.

Cutting on the line or right up against the line?

Keep in mind your saw blade has some thickness, so if you need your countertop to be an exact length that can’t be off by potentially as much as 1/8 of an inch, measure to the length you want and cut right next to the line, rather than on the line.

Also keep in mind that when you put the end caps on the countertop, each endcap will add about 1/8 of an inch to the length of the countertop.

Dealing with the countertop lip

best way to cut laminate countertops
It’s easier to cut the lip first unless you have a larger-than-usual saw blade to work.

Some laminate countertops are just a level slab. Others have a lip at the back that goes up against the backsplash. This design gives you an additional challenge when cutting. A standard 7.25-inch circular saw blade isn’t deep enough to cut the full depth of that lip. That’s a secret nobody told me, and I didn’t think to check before I cut. I’m telling you so hopefully I can save you some hassle.

If your countertop design has a lip, it’s best to cut the lip first. Set the countertop with the lip facing up. and lots of 2×4 support under the countertop so you don’t cut into your work surface. Cut the lip first, then flip the countertop onto its surface to make the longer cut. Start the longer cut where your cut from the lip left off.

If you cut the surface first, you risk not leaving enough material to support the lip, and the countertop may break when you go to move it to cut the lip. I cut my surface first, then I had to reinforce the lip with lumber and screws to hold the countertop together while I moved it so it didn’t snap on me.

That slowed me down a good 30 minutes, so do yourself a favor and cut the lip first.

Cutting the laminate countertop

best way to cut laminate countertops
In this photo you can see I’ve already cut the lip. I have the countertop resting on a flat surface, supported by 2×4 boards and I’m about ready to grab the saw and cut.

Before you pull the trigger on your saw, give everything a pre-flight check. Is the countertop positioned properly and securely? Do you have adequate 2×4 support underneath it? You want one 2×4 at each edge of the countertop, and one more on either side of your cut. You need enough support under the countertop that it doesn’t sag while you cut. If it sags, it will pinch your blade and cause the saw to hang up near the end of the cut.

Does the saw work and is the blade on correctly? Can you see your line and can you reach everything? Does the straightedge hold firm and steady when you place pressure against it? Can you reach all the way across with the saw? Do you have eye and hearing protection on?

If you don’t have a helper to hold the countertop steady while you cut, clamp the countertop to your work area with long bar clamps. If you do have a helper, make sure your helper stands far back from the saw, out of harm’s way. Your helper just needs to be in position to steady it, not to hold on for dear life.

If everything’s good, lower the saw blade to a depth of about 1/8 of an inch deeper than the thickness of your countertop.┬áPosition the saw at the edge of the countertop right up against the straightedge, pull the trigger and start cutting. Cut in one smooth, consistent motion. The straightedge should keep you straight, but I find it easiest to follow the line with my eye as I cut.

You’ll probably find it takes 15 minutes to prep, and about 30 seconds to cut. Double both figures if your countertop has a lip. But a countertop can last decades if you take care of it, so whatever amount of prep time you find necessary is completely worth it to get a quality cut.

Dressing the cut afterward

No matter what blade you use, you’ll leave burrs on the edges afterward. You’ll need to run a metal file over that edge a few times to knock down the burrs and smooth the edge back down. It only takes a few passes, and draw the file toward you, rather than using it like a saw. Filing back and forth like a saw dulls it. I would estimate it took about five or six strokes along the full edge of the countertop to smooth my edges out.

Best way to cut laminate countertop: In conclusion

You’ll find replacing laminate countertops is an inexpensive way to really improve the look of a kitchen. Laminate countertops have improved significantly in appearance in recent years thanks to modern printing methods, and the quality has increased more dramatically than the price. You should be able to get an 8-foot length of laminate countertop for under $100, so it’s not an expensive project. The typical kitchen needs less than $300 worth of material to cover it.

Kitchen renovations have a reputation for being expensive. If you go all out like they do on television and buy the most expensive everything, you can indeed spend $20,000 or more on a kitchen renovation. But if you don’t have that kind of budget, laminate countertops look nice, cost very little, and you can work on them with simple tools and install them yourself, giving your kitchen a nice upgrade for a very reasonable price. Between laminate countertops and a new peel-and-stick backsplash, I renovated my kitchen for less than $400. But that doesn’t make for good television, so that’s why you’re reading about this on a blog instead.

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