Working with Paper/Resin Composite Countertops

      These paper and resin composite materials cut and sand nicely. Here are some tips. September 26, 2006

I had a customer a while back who decided to use Richlite SS in their kitchen. The countertops were fabricated by an authorized dealer and installed by me. Both the owner and I am delighted with the results, after almost two years the counter has acquired a wonderful patina and looks like it did the day it was installed.

My latest client decided to go with a similar material, Paperstone (actually, to my eyes it looks indistinguishable). I now have in my shop 2 slabs to work with, they are both 1Ό” thick - one is 60 X 144” and the other is 60” X 96”. Needless to say, they are not easily tossed around. Other than toying with a couple of scraps I have never worked with the stuff, so I’m asking for any tips on fabricating this material.

For this job, I have to cut each piece into an appropriately sized “L” shape and scribe to the walls, and then cut a hole through each piece for two undermount sinks – so I need them to be exact size, with finished edges, and small roundovers.

How about the finished countertop edges - should they be cut 1/8” oversize and routed to finish size? How about cutting the inside 90Ί corners – any tricks? Should they be rounded slightly? For the undermount sinks, should I use the same general procedure? If I rout, should I use a plunge router with the template or just cut the opening slightly undersized and rout with a standard setup? Do I use a straight cutter or spiral upcut?

What about finish sanding? Right now if you look in an oblique light the top surface appears to have slight horizontal striations in it – are these sanding marks from the manufacturing process? And more importantly, will they go away with an overall finish sanding? I certainly don’t want to make any mistakes, these slabs were not cheap. I appreciate any help.

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surfacing Forum)
From contributor A:
For the L's, fabricate each leg out of a separate piece, epoxy them together with biscuits. Then you have a sharp inside corner. I have done it the other way before - cut from one piece, routed, and then squared the corner off with a jigsaw, and sanding blocks. It was rather dicey.

Make all cuts slightly oversized, trim with a router with a large pattern bit, then belt sand the router marks off. Finish sand the edges with a random orbit sander. Sand the tops with an orbital, using progressive grits. Don't sand too much - I've been told that you can sand through the kraft paper layers and get some linear artifacts because of it. I've also done these countertops without sanding the surface - it depends on the surface finish you're after.

From contributor B:
Just curious - what's the price of Paperstone and Richlite? They sound like interesting materials - what are they made of? Where are they made? What is the weight compared to Corian?

From the original questioner:
The sink cutouts I'm doing are a bit tricky in that they're oddly shaped - sort of a scalloped cutout. I'm thinking of doing them using a finished-size 1/4 inch inside cutout template and an upcut spiral solid carbide bit with a bushing - in a powerful plunge router, and going very light on depth of the cumulative cuts. Do you think that will fly? My client wants a seamless countertop and actually prefers a rounded inside corner on the L's so cutting out with a router is fine there, and much easier than trying to glue pieces or square up a radius.

All in all I'm beginning to think this process will turn out to be much easier than I'm imagining, and after I finally start cutting into the stuff I'll be relieved - and probably the hardest part will be just getting the 12 by 5 foot beast (I estimate a bit under 500 lbs after I cut the sinks and L shaped cutout) into the house and on the cabinets without breaking my back or punching through a wall. I guess I'll just have to round up a few hefty guys who can follow directions.

From contributor A:
Your process sounds fine, although I would avoid using an inside template for the sink cutouts if at all possible, mainly to avoid digs in to the finished countertop surface. Or maybe I don't understand your procedure. I've used a straight flute bit with a top bearing, but I'm sure a spiral upcut bit would work fine too. And yes, you want to take very light passes because the material is so hard, and the scalloping left by the bit is a bear to sand out by hand. I would think the spiral bit should help this. My back is twitching just thinking about that slab. That is heavy stuff.

From the original questioner:
The job went very smoothly. Once I got started I realized it wasn't going to be quite the bear I imagined - the stuff machines much like maple (without the grain), and if you use sharp carbide there's no problem at all. It sands up nicely too, to whatever sheen you want. I took it to a green scotchbrite sheen which, when oiled, was exactly the semi-matte even finish the owner wanted. The stuff is heavy, though - my shoulders still ache after carrying in the big main piece. And there's no way I could become a granite or marble cutter, I don't think I have the patience. To contributor A: By "inside cutout" I meant the router was inside - so it would naturally want to snug the template as I worked. No sense in giving a powerful router free reign to do what it wants.

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