Installing a U-Shaped Countertop

Pros study the awkward problem of installing a big, heavy laminated countertop into a space that is enclosed on three sides. September 5, 2006

I install post form laminate tops as a part of my cabinet business, but it's a fairly small part. The money is fair with quick turn around and the process is simple enough. Recently however, I did a job for some friends (thank goodness they were friends) that was a pain, and if I do enough jobs, I'll see it again. The kitchen was a U configuration and the tops were standard waterfall edge and splash. I templated the room and scribed the tops.

Then the challenge became obvious. There was no room to move the tops around and into position with them preassembled - even only 2 of the 3 sections. There were cabinets in both corners with tops so there was no getting to the miter joints from underneath to tighten the draw bolts. In short, there was no room to preassemble and position the tops, no real access to even get them into the room, much less wrangle them into place, and no way to access the bolts from the bottom after they were in place. It's been awhile since this was done and I may be looking at another job like this. So how do you shoe horn tops into a tight U kitchen when you can't access from the bottom to tighten the draw bolts?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor A:
Is it possible to cut a hole in the top of the base corner cabinets to have access to the dog bones? Or are the corners inaccessible?

From contributor B:
We had a job last summer like that. Same situation - no room to maneuver tops at all. I scratched my head for a week and finally told the customer that I couldn't guarantee that there would be no future problems. Here's how we handled it though:

Top #1, and top #2 right side: glued/screwed 3" squares of 1/2" plywood along the mitered edges with half the block sticking out to support joining miter - being careful not to place a block over a cabinet side or stretcher. We Gorilla glued the miter and the seaming blocks, then joined the tops and aligned with Parallign seaming clamps. I left the Parallign on for about 3 hours - sort of like you'd do for a solid surface seam, but with different substrate and adhesive. It's been almost 5 months and so far the joints are still great. But I'm still not real confident in that method holding over time with heavy use.

From the original questioner:

I think I know what you're saying, but you're going to have to fill me in on the clamps. Parallign clamps? Both corners had new cabs in them with lazy susan units - the type with the door fixed to the spinning unit. No room to work in side the cabinet either. Admittedly, I didn't think of cutting a hole in the tops, but I'm not sure there was room even if I had. Besides, these were cheap cabs from a big box store. I'd have been afraid to cut too much away for fear of them collapsing.

From contributor C:
First I install the center top. I equally cut the tips off both miters to get an exact fit left to right. I then scribe the back to fit the wall with the overhang exactly the same from the left to the right. I then draw a line from the miters to the underneath cabs. Remove top. For the next top, I cut the tip off the miter to match the corresponding miter. I then set the top in place in line to the cabs underneath. I check the miter with the line from the first top underneath. If they are pretty close, I match them up and scribe to the wall. If they are way out of whack from each other, some beltsanding or laminate trimming of the miters is necessary. Do the same with the last top. Cut out the cab tops to bolt together. The first time it sucks. After a couple, it goes fine.

With the lazy susan in the cab, take it out so you can squeeze in. You can remount the top piece of hardware directly to the underside of the top as long as it doesn't fall on one of the bolts. If that happens, screw a scrap over the bolts to mount it to. As far as getting in there to work, you can do it. I'm a big boy, 240# and I can still get into a 33" angle lazy susan.

From contributor D:
I've used my Parallign clamps on laminated tops too, and they worked fine, as far as I know. I used the same type of quick setting, colored two-part glue that is used for solid surface. I'll never go back to using the bolts, even if there is room. I'd suggest testing whatever glue is going to be used first, though.

From contributor E:
Why is it necessary to have a miter joint? The seam in the top can be anywhere you like, except preferably not in a wet area. I have had great results in using a 90 degree joint at an odd place to overcome just that problem.

From contributor F:
What about putting the tops in place (unassembled), and then lifting them all straight up and putting milk crates (or something else) under them. Install the bolts, and then lower the assembled unit straight down.

From contributor G:
To contributor F: You got it! If you canít cut the tops of the cabs, just lift the counters up. I think milk crates are a little high though. I cut some 5-6 inch material, and use that.

From contributor B:
The Parallign is a solid surface seaming clamp made by Monument. Vacuum holds them to the counter top, with a pod on each side of the seam. The pods are joined by steel rods. Vacuum draws both tops even, and then the turn of a knob draws the tops tight together, but not so tight as to squeeze out the glue. They are quite expensive, but I keep finding all sorts of uses for them besides solid surface. In my opinion they're well worth it. I hope they're kidding about lifting an entire U shape counter top. They have a better back than this old man has.

From the original questioner:
To contributor B: I don't think they're kidding. I actually thought of that and took stands about 6" high I use around the shop for that purpose. There were window sills in the way and other stuff too. It was an old house and nothing was straight. If I recall, it never worked. There still wasnít enough room or people to pick it up.

I looked at the Paralligns. I knew they were way too expensive for my limited use without even pricing them. However, I already own a vacuum pump as part of my veneer operation. I'm certain I can make some pods and make it work on the cheap. I've done it before for clamping and holding. It should work. No different than a hold down system if properly done.

From contributor H:
I have a top shop and run into this problem often. Actually many U-shaped kitchens will work out OK for various reasons - either there is one corner with a blind corner cabinet you can get into or if youíre lucky the room will be tapered in at the back so that you can pull the tops out 3' to get to the t-bolts. Remember, we aren't talking about a problem putting two miters together usually only one. So here are the possible solutions according to difficulty: 1) cut holes in the top of one side's lazy susan. This doesn't always work because many lazy susans don't always go all the way back to the corner to allow access to all the bolts. 2) Reilly's right... raise the tops enough to access the last miter. This could end up being a 4 man job with one man running around removing blocks. This solution may not work either due to window sills or electrical outlets. (I've actually removed these at times.) 3) Finally and clearly the most drastic solution is to remove the lazy susan cabinet (and usually the one next to it), assemble the miter and re-install the cabinets.

From contributor I:
We have actually installed all the lower cabinets so the tops could be measured and then removed the lazy susan cabinet and usually the smaller cabinet to the side of it, if there is one. Then the tops are installed and the cabinets are slid in under the assembled tops.