When we were remodeling our kitchen we wanted a distinct look and something that wouldn’t break the bank. We also wanted something that would let us maximize space. So, we came up with the idea of a drop-leaf countertop.
Here’s a finished picture first.
Here’s the before picture. We just had a typical laminate countertop. It worked well but was old and dinged up and was starting to delaminate at the ends.
We found someone giving away a lot of used tongue and groove maple flooring from an old house in Minneapolis. I figured I could use that and make a countertop the same way I’ve made cutting boards, just bigger.
The first step was to cut a flat edge on all the boards. I set up a fence on the table saw and ran them all through. The tablesaw cut right through all the nails, no problem.
I used a cross-cut sled to cut off the tongue and grooves from the ends of the boards as well. Tongues and grooves don’t actually fit perfectly — there is enough space in there to account for warping and seasonal movement. With a countertop glue-up we don’t need or want those gaps.
At some point in here I used a belt sander to remove the polyurethane and other coatings from the top of the boards and to remove the traces of underlayment from the bottom.
After cutting everything we laid the boards out to double check that we’d have enough of the right shaped boards to make the countertop. We wanted to minimize butts on the front face, and make sure that any pieces near the end or sink were long enough to be strong. A little 3 inch stub at the end of the counter would be more likely to come loose in the future.
Once we had everything laid out I numbered the boards. the boards that were going to be part of the drop leaf join had to be drilled out, so I set up a jig on the drill press to get consistently placed holes.
With the holes drilled it was time for the real fun. We rolled up the living room carpet and laid down craft paper. I bought some new clamps and started the glue up. I used Tightbond II, and a lot of it. I think we used a whole gallon.
There were several challenging things about this glue up. One was that I couldn’t get clamps underneath which meant that the pressure cupped the countertop a bit.
Another challenge was making sure that the hinge holes for the drop-leaf lined up. I ended up doing the glueup with the hinge dowel in place and then pulling it out once the clamps were on. I didn’t want it in there while the glue was wet in case glue got in the hinge.
The other major problem was that despite all being tongue and groove boards and all being cut with a fence on the table saw, the boards were not quite uniform hight. This meant that there were some dips and divots where boards met. Most of these we were able to fix by putting small shims under the short boards before gluing.
Lastly, it was a challenge to spread that much glue quickly enough so that the starting end wasn’t setting by the time we got to the other end.
The hinge holes worked out pretty well.
As I mentioned, there was some cupping, so once the counter was dry I crossed my fingers and just stood on both edges and bounced. A terrifying crack later and it was flat (and cracked). It broke along a two seams which was good enough for me. I cleaned up those seams, flipped it upside down and re glued so it was flat.
Well, mostly flat. The next step was to move it to the garage. First we hit it with some hand planes, then the belt and random orbital sanders. My brother in law was good enough to help me out on this part.
Next was the process of fitting the counter top. I had made it a little bit long because I knew that the back corner wasn’t square. We trimmed it several times until it fit very nicely.
We also dry fit the drop leaf at this point. The hinges aren’t as tight as I would’ve liked, but they are what they are. The drop leaf hangs about 1/2 inch above the ground.
The next step was to install the sink. We wanted an under mount type sink, but we didn’t want it to actually be hanging there, so we built a frame for it to hang in. We opted for a farm style single basin sink so we can fit whole jelly roll pans in it for soaking.
With the sink in place it’s time to cut out the sink hole. This was very nerve wracking. I knew if I screwed it up there’d be a lot of work to make it right.
Since I had left a hole in the counter top, I stick my hand through the hole and traced the outline of the inside of the sink with a sharpie. I then cut out to the shape of the sharpie with a jig saw. That left about 1/4 inch of wood hanging over the sink and it was a little bit rough. I used the router with a flush bit to smooth it out, and then used a 45 degree bit to make a lip, followed by some work with a palm sander to smooth out the angles.
I was still a bit concerned about the places which I’d cracked when flattening the counter top, so I drilled angled holes between pieces which looked troublesome and glued in short dowels for strength. Calvin and Sophie helped pound in the dowels.
Since this was tongue and groove there were grooves along the bottom edge around the sink. I used some of the cut off tongues, saw dust and glue to fill them in.
We finished the counter tops with several coats of waterlox. It was really stinky for about two weeks but the smell faded over time and it’s supposed to hold up to abuse well and be waterproof.
Here’s the dropleaf in the down position.
And extended. We used two piano hinges and two pieces of plywood to create the legs. They fold flat and hide behind the drop leaf when it’s in the down position.
One more shot with that waterlox shine.
Update: Feb. 28, 2017
Jeremy asked for a finished picture of the sink, so here’s one from today.
The silicone bead between the sink and the counter has held up well. It’s mostly clean and still sound.
The waterlox has mostly held up well. You can see fairly large chip in it near the lower left corner of the sink. That happened just recently. I’ll probably touch it up this summer. I’ll just do a light sanding on the whole thing, then apply more waterlox over the top. I’ll likely apply a new bead of silicone at that time too.
The countertop as a whole has held up really well, and we’ve been really happy with it. We’ve managed to not put any hot pots on it so far, and it cleans up easily. Some people on Reddit were extremely vocal that food and gunk would end up in the hinge and get gross. We haven’t found that to be the case. We don’t do most of our mixing right at the edge of the counter, so for the most part there aren’t opportunities for stuff to collect in there.
We flip up waterfall when we have parties and use it to serve food from, or when we’re cooking a lot, like when we’re making Christmas cookies and need space for 4 pans to be cooling while we mix up more dough at the same time.
Probably the only thing I would do differently, is that I would use this project as an excuse to buy a jointer and a planer. It worked out fine to do it on the tablesaw and I have no regrets, but the time saved with a jointer and planer could’ve been significant. On the other hand, there were nails in the boards and neither a jointer nor planer would’ve handled those as well as the table saw did.