Updating your kitchen? Have you considered installing laminate countertops? Yes, laminate. This durable, affordable and versatile countertop option is making a well-deserved comeback.
When Eric and I started our kitchen remodel, we compared endless countertop samples in modern quartz and corian. But when we learned that you can still get glitter laminate in pure mid-century style, the decision was made. Our kitchen had to have magical, sparkly laminate countertops.
There was just one problem…
Unless you pick the big laminate brands (*cough* Formica *cough* Wilsonart), it’s actually very difficult to find a laminate installer. Every contractor we called would only install the big brands.
While those brands do have some tempting options, including mid-mod tweed, boomerang and terrazzo patterns, they don’t offer sparkle laminate. And the sparkles were non-negotiable for us, so it was time for another DIY adventure.
If you’ve been thinking about going the DIY route and installing laminate countertops in your kitchen too, I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it is doable. Here’s where to get the fun retro laminate, every tool you need for the job, and our tips for laminate installation.
Note: This article contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for details.
Where to Find Retro Glitter Laminate
Make it Mid Century is the place to get your glitter laminate, and other mid-century gems. Their 4-foot by 12-foot SparkleLam™ sheets are available in every color of the rainbow. (So many shades of turquoise! I’ll take all of the above, please.)
You pick the color, then decide if you want silver, gold, or a combo of sparkles. Can’t decide? You can order samples here. This is the white laminate sample with the three sparkle options.
To decide how much to order, measure your countertops and see step one, “Plan Your Laminate Cuts,” in the tutorial below. Make sure you get enough for excess rough cuts and any mishaps with the router.
We ordered three sheets of white SparkleLam™ with silver glitter inclusion. It’s the perfect combo of retro and modern for our mid-century kitchen.
Your DIY Kit for Installing Laminate Countertops
Laminate sheets can take about 4-6 weeks to arrive after you place your order. While you’re waiting, you can stock up on all the tools you’ll need for laminate installation.
Big, Bad Router Kit – Available Here
This router kit is purpose-built for cutting laminate. It is lighter and easier to control than the typical router. You can cut laminate sheets and trim them down to their final size. Try the straight edge guide to cut counter edge strips, and use the offset base to cut around corners.
Watch this video to see each piece in the kit and how it all works.
Flush Trim Router Bit – Available Here
The flush trim bit works with the router to allow precision trimming around your counter edges. You may want to pick up several bits so you can stay sharp. Dull bits are more likely to chip your laminate.
Cutting Bit – Available Here
The cutting bit works well for cutting seams in your laminate, where two pieces meet up.
Laminate Cutter – Available Here
This tool makes it easy to score and snap off rough pieces of laminate. Even though you can use the router, the laminate cutter is helpful when you just want to make a quick cut.
Contact Cement – Available Here
This heavy duty contact cement is for gluing your laminate to the counters. Plug your nose…
Foam Paint Rollers – Available Here
Stock up on foam paint rollers for applying the contact cement.
Smooth Out Roller – Available Here
Once you glue down the laminate, use this roller to ensure adhesion. It’s extendable with an extra handle for maximizing pressure on the laminate as you roll over it.
Hand File – Available Here
Use the hand file to bevel your laminate countertops at a 45-degree angle, smoothing out those sharp corners.
And the Basics
- Plastic sheeting (protect the rest of your kitchen from laminate sawdust and contact cement)
- Mineral spirits and a rag (quickly clean up any contact cement)
- Dowel rods (optional trick for gluing the laminate)
- Rubber gloves
- Tape measure
- Graph paper
- Painter’s tape
- Straight edge
Note: I’m assuming you already have particle board or MDF counters ready to be laminated. We built and installed new 0.75-inch MDF. You can learn more about building the base counters in this video.
How to Install Laminate Countertops
Before you begin, check out this quick video to see the basic cuts. These tricks are great for cutting the different seams you’ll encounter.
1. Plan Your Laminate Cuts
Start by planning your laminate layout. Consider where you want the seams, and how you’ll cut the pieces to maximize your use of the laminate. It’s a good idea to place your laminate seams away from your MDF or particle board seams, and away from areas that will frequently get wet, like the sink area.
I roughly sketched out our countertops and labeled each piece of laminate we would need, using letters to label the horizontal pieces and numbers to label the vertical edge pieces. Then I sketched and cut the pieces to scale on graph paper, drew our three laminate sheets to scale, and arranged the pieces on the sketch like Tetris.
Keep in mind that you need to plan for a few spare inches of laminate around each piece for rough cuts.
2. Rough Cut a Piece of Laminate
The first cut is the scariest. We were worried about messing up our precious glitter laminate, but it all worked out and the remaining cuts were less intimidating.
It helps to put down a piece of plywood to protect the surface underneath the laminate and use a 2×4 to raise up the laminate. Tape over the area you want to cut to help minimize chipping, mark a cutting line, and then make your cut.
This is just a rough cut, leaving a few spare inches so you can trim the piece down to size once it’s in place. I don’t know if I should recommend using a ping pong table as your cutting surface, but yes, that’s what we did.
3. Position Laminate and Check Sizing
For each piece, whether vertical or horizontal, hold it in place to check how it fits. You want it oversized at this point, because you’ll trim it down after gluing. But you may need to trim a piece to fit along an uneven wall now. If that’s the case, hold the piece up to the wall and run a pencil along the wall to mark out where you need to trim the laminate, as shown here.
4. Glue Laminate Piece to Counter
This is where things get smelly. Contact cement is strong and serious. Read the instructions on the can and follow their best practices.
We opened all the windows, turned on fans to ventilate, wore protective masks, and turned off the natural gas for safety. It was December, and it got down to 54 degrees in our house. These are the sacrifices you make as a DIYer.
Before you glue, make sure your MDF or particle board counters are as clean and smooth as possible. Any rough areas or sawdust will show through the laminate.
When it’s gluing time, you’ll want to glue the little vertical edge strips first, trim them down to size, and then come back and add the big horizontal laminate pieces over the top. This way the top pieces cover the edges.
Use a foam paint roller to roll the contact cement onto the MDF and onto the underside of the laminate piece. Wait for the glue to be slightly dry and tacky, then carefully set the laminate piece in place.
You can use dowel rods underneath to help position the laminate, and then remove the rods one at a time, as shown here. This gives you a chance to line everything up before the contact cement takes over. Once the glued pieces contact each other, they are stuck for good.
5. Roll Over the Laminate
After gluing, use the smooth out roller to apply pressure on the laminate and increase adhesion.
6. Trim the Laminate
Next, use your router with the trimming bit to carefully trim the laminate down to size along the edge of your laminate. Here’s a clip of the trimming bit in action, and here’s what to do when you get to the tricky kitchen sink area.
Hot Tip: Rub Vaseline along the part of the laminate you’re trimming first, for the top piece and side piece. This helps the router slide smoothly and not bind along the top, and it helps prevent the trimming bit from leaving burn marks along the side.
7. Repeat With Next Piece
Repeat this process until each piece of laminate is glued in place.
8. Bevel the Corners
Once you’ve installed your laminate, you’ll find those countertop corners are sharp. Use the hand file to gently smooth out all the corners at a 45-degree angle, as shown here.
Laminate Installation Tricks We Learned
Throughout this process, we picked up a few tips to make your laminate installation more successful.
- Practice First. We bought a cheap scrap piece of laminate and practiced all of the above steps first, laminating several little wood blocks until we were happy with the results. This was a big help in preserving our more valuable glitter laminate.
- Use Vaseline. Again, Vaseline is a must for protecting the laminate when you’re running the router along the edges for the final trimming.
- Create a Staging Area: These laminate pieces can be big and hard to manage. A piece of plywood laid over a couple of saw horses gives you a place to stage your laminate and apply the contact cement before gluing it to the MDF.
- Find a Buddy: It helps to have a partner when you’re cutting, moving and positioning those floppy laminate pieces. Laminate is awkward to carry, and it can crack or snap under its own weight, so recruit an assistant.
- Protect the Kitchen: The router will throw sawdust all over the place as you trim the laminate. Tape up plastic sheets to catch some of that sawdust, and prevent contact cement from getting where it doesn’t belong (like on your stainless steel appliances).
This little built-in desk is a new feature we added to the kitchen.
Before and After
We are nearly 11 months into our DIY kitchen remodel. Here’s a quick glance at the progress so far.
This first photo was our dark kitchen on a bright July day, right before we started swinging mallets. The original laminate was the color of an old tooth.
Now with sparkly new laminate and one less wall, the kitchen is reacquainting itself with sunlight for the first time in decades. When given the option, always add glitter.
Find more ideas for your mid-century modern kitchen:
- DIY tricks for installing kitchen tile backsplash
- Easy floating shelf DIY
- Colorful mid-century modern kitchen accessories
8 thoughts on “Here’s Everything You Need to Install Laminate Countertops (Retro Style!)”
WOW!! That was a massive DIY undertaking! I can see where it would take alot of studying and figuring out ahead of time. Looks like you guys did an excellent job ! (Are you ready to become laminate installer contractors? 😉 ) Love your “new” kitchen..so sunny and welcoming. I love that you opened it up to the dining area. Awesome job DIY..ers!!
Thanks Judy, it was a big job! It is tempting to go into the laminate installation business, since there is a hole in the market! 😉
Tara and Eric, the revised kitchen and new laminate all look fantastic! Well done.
Thanks Dan! It’s been fun to see the progress. We are almost done with the kitchen. Just a few last details, and adding a floating shelf.
I’m so tired of the heavy look of granite. Your kitchen counters are beautiful! Hubby & I are laminate fans and will be changing ours out soon.
Thanks, Amy! I love laminate. There are so many fun retro and modern laminate options. Good luck on your countertop update!
Love the re-fresher of the kitchen! My set up is almost the same with the exception of orange laminate countertops! Did you completely remove the old countertop and start with new plywood underlay or did you laminate over the top of the existing countertops?
Thanks, Sherry! Yes, we removed the old countertops and then built and installed new 0.75-inch MDF to laminate over.