Scribing a Template to Fit A Countertop Between Three Walls

      Here's a long, detailed thread about scribing a custom template for cutting and fitting countertops into tight spaces. December 27, 2007

Question
I need to install a wood countertop on a built-in cabinet with walls on both sides. Any tricks to get a good fit? Is it best to make a template?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
I just asked Gary Katz this question two months ago. With Gary's advice I was able to fit a 14ft U shaped wood countertop to my custom cabinets. The advice was to create a template (no matter the size) and use splines at the joints. My client's wall was pretty bad and needed quite a bit of scribing. The template helped get my counter very close. With some minor scribing on site I was able to fit the countertop tight on all three sides. My client was very happy. Thanks again, Gary.



From contributor S:
I make templates out of 1/4 luan or such ripped to 1 1/2 or 2" sticks. Then I cut and fit a perimeter out of the sticks and hot glue together. Then I add a couple of sticks to reinforce the template at mid points and anywhere I think it may help. Usually the walls are straight enough that it is just a matter of finding the angles and using straight sticks, but if there are bows or curves, it is easy to shape the template material to match with a belt sander or jigsaw and then hot glue the stick into the template. Lay the completed template on your countertop, mark and cut.

I used to use some sheet metal scrap for a shoehorn to keep tight scribed counters from damaging the walls as I installed, but now I use some plastic sheets that I found. I don't really know the composition but they are just like the UHMW stuff and a heavy 1/16th thick. The plastic doesn't leave any black/grey marks on the wall like the sheet metal could.



From contributor W:
I've watched a lot of solid surface guys use corrugated cardboard and hot melt. They lay the cardboard in place, letting it overlap where needed, glue it together, then fold it up and take it back to the shop to fabricate the counter. They have a complete full size template. These guys do it every day all year... Seems to me if there was an easier/better way, they'd be on to it.


From contributor A:
The solid surface guys I've seen use 1/4" luan ripped to 2 1/2-3". They use a cordless circular saw (a little Makita works fine). They rough cut and hot glue everything together, placing cross pieces where the cabinet bulkheads are located.


From contributor K:
Here are two methods we use (we prefer to use the cardboard method for tops with a "U" shape)...

Method 1:

- 2 1/2"-3" strips of luan
- Knife and speed-square
- Glue gun or 1/2" pan head screws

- Place 5/16" shims to wall on one side, and luan tight to shims and tight to opposite wall (once removed, this will give you 3/32" spacing on either side, to allow for expansion/contraction and to get it in).
- Once back wall has been laid out, remove shims, center the template between two walls and clamp in place with 2" spring clamps.
- Screw or hot-glue luan strips past the cabinet line to edge of countertop.
- Mark sink, dishwasher, overhangs, etc.
- Once template is done, draw scribe onto back wall pieces.
- If in a large room, draw a center line, mark a "C" for center (can be used for alignment back at shop), cut it with knife on center line or where you plan on putting a seam, and mark the customer's name or job number on both sides, and date it.
- If appropriate, put the person's name who templated it on it, in case the person templating is not the same person fabricating the top, in case there are any questions.

Method 2:

- 4'x8' sheets of cardboard
- Knife and speed-square
- 4' length of material same thickness as the countertop overhang
- Glue gun

- Place 5/16" shims to wall on one side, and cardboard tight to shims and tight to opposite wall (once removed this will give you 3/32" spacing on either side, to allow for expansion/contraction and to get it in).
- Cut "L" out of two sheets of 4'x8' cardboard, and use to cut-out piece to complete template. Once back wall has been laid out, remove shims, center the template between two walls and clamp in place with 2" spring clamps.
- Draw scribe lines on back wall.
- Trim cardboard pieces to overhang by 2"-3".
- Once the template is in place, take 4' material the same thickness as countertop overhang, and place against cabinet face.
- With a marker, draw a line marking the overhang all the way around.
- Mark seam location (if any), sink, dishwasher, overhangs, etc.
- If appropriate, put the person's name who templated it on it, in case the person templating is not the same person fabricating the top in case there are any questions.
- Back at the shop, use a straight-edge and knife to trim excess off of edge and knife to trim scribe of back wall.

In a "U" top scenario, using the cardboard method allows you to remove it from the room as if it was a top to account for any challenges with the walls. If the person installing is not the person templating, make notes as to best angle for install.



From contributor M:
I have a cabinet run that has 2 22/12 angles on the wall and I have to install a pre-finished wood top, so it is going to be three pieces. Can it be done? How would you cut it? Even a little mistake on the angle or on the cut will damage the finish.


From contributor S:
I am not quite sure what you mean. Are you asking if the top can be templated to fit or are you asking if the top can be cut without damage to the finish?

Either way I would guess yes. One step that may have been left out is that it is sometimes better to build your template raised the thickness of the top so that you are actually making the template at the top of the countertop plane.

I have run into situations where a countertop just can't be made to fit without a joint. Existing columns is one that comes to mind, and I am sure that there are other situations, but usually if the boxes are there, the top can go there.

As far as cutting the material goes, the proper blade should be used and the top protected from the tool base as it rides on it. I tend to use down cutting jigsaw blades and stay outside of the line. I then use a belt sander to creep up to the line with the belt turning into the stock so as not to cause any flakes or chips. I have had some very brittle PLAM that just wanted to chip, so sample cuts in scrap areas are a good idea to get a feel for working with the material.



From contributor B:
Watch the Scribemate video at the Quickscribe website. I have done some pretty tough-looking jobs with this - even fit a top between 4 walls. The system is easy to do and the results just don't get any better - it looks like the top grew there.


From contributor C:
Where and how much? I've been looking for this.


From contributor O:
You can also access the Scribemate video, as well as many others, at WOODWEB's new Video Library, located at the link below.

WOODWEB's Video Library



From contributor B:
There are a few distributors listed on their website, though not many yet. Eagle America carries both tools but not their new thing for scribe strips - you have to get that direct.


From contributor K:
Cut two pieces of 1/4" hardboard each a couple of inches longer than half of the wood top. Scribe one piece to fit the left wall and back wall. Scribe the other piece to fit the right wall and back wall. Lay the two pieces in the space tight against the walls and mark one piece where they overlap at the center. Cut that piece on the line. You now have a perfect template for your wood top.


From contributor L:
Unless there is something you aren't telling us, the pattern is a waste of time. Make the top 1 inch longer and 1/2 deeper than needed, undercut ends and back say 1/2 x 5/8 with help, hold one side up in air, set scribe to 1/2 and fallow wall. Jig saw and sand to line, test fit your cut. If good, measure front and back between walls, transfer measurements onto wood top front and back, hold end of top that was fit already up in air with uncut end to wall. Set scribe should be about 1/2 so it touches the line in front. Check in back and if they are the same, follow wall and jig saw and cut to line, maybe go just past the line to allow you to drop into space. Do the same thing for the back wall, scribe jigsaw and cut. Do not glue top in place. Maybe silicone caulk for glue, we just screw through predrilled holes 3/16. This top needs to be able to move. The wood will expand and contract. We make the tops 1/16 smaller in length when we fit them. This allows us to remove them to fit the back wall and when in place, 1/32 on each end is not noticeable.

We enjoy doing this type of top to see how good we can get them. Some walls are real tricky; sometimes we will only do 1/4 of the 1/2 inch of scribe just for a test fit, sometimes we add 3/4 scribe to each end. Once you figure your method out, it's enjoyable to see how nice they turn out. This works on plam windowsill also, but then we fit them as tight as possible and caulk.



From contributor E:
I've watched a lot of solid surface guys use corrugated cardboard and hot melt. They lay the cardboard in place, letting it overlap where needed, glue it together, then fold it up and take it back to the shop to fabricate the counter. They have a complete full size template. These guys do it every day all year... Seems to me if there was an easier/better way, they'd be on to it.


From contributor X:
I used to be one of those guys. The thing to remember is that we had brand new cardboard that was completely flat and crisp. If you can get that, great. If not, use door skin or ply strips.



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