After three months of here and there work, I have a kitchen! So on March 25, I officially deflated the airbed in my office, moved things into the trailer’s kitchen and starting living here. As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to do everything, even the countertops, myself.
And the messiness as I began this part of my journey:
(I’m going into a little more detail than usual because I spent a lot of time finding all the info I needed, so I’m paying it forward by offering up my own experience for others. I apologize to my friends who don’t give a rip about technique.)
Prepping the cabinets involved stripping and sanding the doors, drawers and bases, and making bottom shelves for all of the cabinets. The base cabinets opened up directly to the floor, and the upper cabinets relied on quarter inch ply stapled to the underside, so not only was it not supported well, but there was a lip in the front. As usual, I forgot to take before pictures, but all the cabinets are set up the same way, so as I get deeper into the trailer, you’ll see. But here’s the after of one of the upper cabinets. The shelf on the left is higher to accommodate the electrical box for the under counter light — it was partially covered with a bent piece of thin metal (seriously?):It took weeks in between work and my other activities to sand and finish the birch cabinets. In addition, I had to repair countless nail holes and damaged/missing veneer. The drawers were not birch, and were in such poor shape that I just glued birch veneer to them. They also did not track right, dipped downward when opened, and easily fell out if pulled out too far. I fixed all that. (I also sanded the walls, which I haven’t stained or finished yet.) After building the bottom shelves to the cabinets, I primed and painted the interiors a pale blue, using oil based enamel (only available in quarts here in California – something about volatiles). After some research, I decided to use wood dye stains on the exteriors (General Finish’s Amber and Cinnamon) instead of off-the-shelf Minwax stains. I wanted a little more punch, and they are more versatile. As luck would have it, there’s a Woodcraft store right next door to our trailer park, where you can get everything the fine woodworker would need, including exotic woods, planers, specialty hand tools, veneer, and, yes, wood dye stains. I finished with 3 coats of satin finish polyurethane. All water based. Once the cabinets were finally done, I could finally think about the countertops.
From Lowes, I special ordered the laminate, which is made by WilsonArt, so I can’t really call it Formica, but it’s the same thing. It was difficult to find the right pattern. Formica re-released its iconic boomerang pattern several years ago in some exciting colors, only to discontinue all but gray (??!!!) by the time I was in the market for it. 99.999% of the available laminate patterns are either fake stone or fake wood. Very few abstract patterns. Although there were some other patterns that I liked, the circles pattern I chose was really the only one I liked that fit a vintage theme. It comes in only 3 colors: cream, purplish blue, and aquaish blue. The two blues turned out to be very close in color, and it’s difficult to tell that I used the aqua for the vertical surfaces (backsplash and edges) and purple for the horizontal surfaces. Still, I’m pleased with its natural complement to the wood tones.
Particleboard is the counter fabricator’s choice of base material. After measuring 4 or 5 times so I would only have to cut once, my pieces laid out nicely within 4′ x 8′:On the underside, you glue and screw in supports on all edges and where ever there’s a support on the cabinet below: Then you do a final fit (the bar top isn’t exactly 90 degrees to the back, for instance), and refine the edges. Before attaching the laminate, the surfaces must be clean, smooth, and perfectly flat. Cutting out the rounded corners was easy enough with a jigsaw, but using the belt sander to get the edges perfectly vertical was challenging. If they are not vertical, the laminate strip will not wrap around straight. I used a steel square hanging from the top to gauge the edge and since the inner corner was refined with a lot of wood putty, I actually used the square as a tool to scrape it.
You have to cut out the laminate a little oversized so you can trim it down, and it’s brittle, so that part was a little nerve-wracking since, like the particleboard, my blue piece for the verticals was just about exactly enough material, no extra for mistakes. Then you coat both surfaces with contact cement, but not the water-based kind, according the experts. This proved to be hard to find in California, because of that volatile fume thing. I did manage to find it at Walmart, but only in pints. And now, it seems even Walmart only sells the tiny 3 oz. office-supply bottles. First on are the side edges, which get trimmed flush with the router. Then the front edge, which covers the side edge, and then gets trimmed, and finally the top, which covers the top edges of the sides. Edges done:Except for the right edge next to the stove, the whole edge of the main countertop was all one piece since there were rounded corners involved. My neighbor helped me position the long skinny piece, using waxed paper to keep it from grabbing, so I didn’t end up off kilter. Luckily we got it right, and as I removed the waxed paper and pressed on the laminate, everything fell into place.
Before I put the laminate on, I cut out the sink hole. Then after the laminate went on, I used the router the router to trim flush to the hole’s edges, first using a hole saw near a corner to give me place to start. Then I painted all raw laminate surfaces with two coats of primer, just in case any water would find its way to it. On the exposed underneath edges, I used the same light blue enamel as in the cabinet and drawer interiors. Of course there’s a generous amount of silicone sealer around the sink and the back edges of the counter to keep water away, but still.Here’s the final product again. Because the counter is not as deep as a standard kitchen’s, I got the biggest bar sink I could find, which is also pretty deep, and one of those high profile integrated faucets that only needs one hole. To its left is a soap dispenser that I absolutely love love love having. It’s so simple. You refill it by lifting out the pump top and squirting more detergent in.
I’ve been officially living here for almost a month now, and completely love it, even though I have no furniture yet, save for a folding chair and an air bed. I have some pieces at my mother’s house that have to be brought up here, but the living room is dominated by lumber and tools for a little while anyway. I walk to work every day in time to make a smoothie for lunch and do whatever work needs to be done. Everything is going as well as I had envisioned!
Next up: Turns out I did not need any permit to make the patio enclosure (I never doubted it), and I turned immediately back to that project as soon as I finished the kitchen. I have completed the structural part, except for the rolling door/gate in the center, and am in the process of staining and faux finishing the wood before putting up the polycarbonate greenhouse panels. Here’s what it looks like today: