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Saving big buck$

 Installing your own kitchen can save you a whole lot of money. Ever walk through one of those kitchen and bath places and look at the prices they want? We put in this U-style kitchen (minus the appliances) for under $1000. Granted, we didn't install the upper unit cupboards due to the ceiling's shape, but even the addition of those would've only increased the cost by $600. It would've cost somewhere around $7000 to have a similar kitchen installed.

Installing in the cupboards

I'm not going into great detail on how to install your cupboards, except to tell you the things I've never seen in a guide book. First, line the insulated, stud walls with 1/2" plywood (or same thickness drywall you're going to use). Cut the sheets to fit a 1/4" shorter than your backsplash and end of cupboard run. That way, you can stuff your drywall into there, and have a nice finished look. The plywood allows you to put screws in just about anywhere you need long as you were wise enough to run your plumbing and electric wires where they won't get screws run into them, thus screwing you in the process. When getting your cupboards at the home improvement center, you have to keep in mind that if you're installing a U-shaped or L-shaped kitchen, you'll have to subtract the depth of the cupboards from your wall run. Cupboards do not come in every incremental size unless you're going to special order one, but if you have an inch or a few, you can buy filler boards that are made to match and fit perfectly to the cupboards. You have to balance any fill boards you use in order to have the kitchen look right. In other words, if your cupboards are going to come up 2" shy of the length they need to fill, you have to put two 1" boards in, balanced from the center of the run. We got lucky, and only came up 1/2" shy, and we cheated the short side of the U under the countertop. You would never catch it, if I didn't point it out. What I'm getting ready to do in that picture is, drilling a horizontal pilot holes between the adjoining cupboards, where I'll run 2-1/2" cupboard screws from the facia of one cupboard into the other. I make sure the pilot holes (which keep the facia board from cracking) are about the same size as the shaft of the screw, so only the threads get any wood. I shim the cupboards even, then clamp them together so they come out nice and even, before putting screws through the solid wood strip at the backs of the cupboard into the plywood wall. The rest of the back of the cupboard is too flimsy to do any good.

Building your own countertop

I went to the home improvement centers, and found out they really didn't have a countertop that would fit into the back side of the U. Buying a longer one, and trying to cut that 45 angle over that backsplash looked like an incredibly difficult task. I had some 2x10's and 2x8's leftover from construction and was going to fabricate a countertop out of them, then cover it with lamination. By the time I had it all constructed, Mrs. Pilgrim thought it looked good just like that. So, we sanded it all down smooth and slapped on a goodly number of coats of polyeurathane that we had bought for the unfinished cupboards, and the finished product looked fairly impressive. Not to mention it's quite a bit beefier than the ready made countertops they had at the store. The boards had been laying around for quite a while, and were had gotten pretty warped. At one stage in their life, they were used as ramps to run a wheelbarrow up over a rise, so they were in pretty bad shape. I bought a dowelling kit, some waterproof wood glue, and a bunch of those four foot long clamps that slide along a bar.

Fitting the countertop

I used the 2x10's at the front and back, with the 2x8's in the middle and for the backsplash. I lined all the boards up cutting the ones that go on the back side of the U just short enough to fit between the walls. The one that went against the wall there, was not going to be cut again, so I cut it to 1/8" short of the length of that wall. Using the boards of the two sides of the U, I set about, marking the other two boards to fit, leaving it a tiny bit too long, so I could sand them to fit. Once I had a nice tight fit, using a square and pencil, made a light mark where the three boards met along the sides, so I could line them back up again. I used the dowelling jig to drill 3/8" dowels 1/2" from the tops of the boards. The kit comes with a few marker pins that you insert into the first set of holes you drill in one board, then using the lines I scribed on the tops to line the boards up properly, I squeezed them together with the clamps slowly, and rapped the board at the end to get the lines perfectly across from each other, then ran the clamps home. This sets a series of prick marks on the undrilled board, which you can use to line the dowelling jig up on the center of. Pull it apart, take out the marking pins, pop in the dowels, slather some glue on one of the boards, stick them together and clamp for a day with the top side of the countertops up, to keep any glue that squeezes out from going all over what's going to be seen and used. Remember, these boards were kind of warped, to get those dowels to go into those holes was a little bit of work, but by the time I had all three glued together, it was almost perfectly flat. When I removed the clamps, there wasn't very much sanding to get them perfect. 'Course, I used 80 grit screen type sandpaper, which can really move through wood.

Matching at the corners

Since the original idea was to cover over this countertop with laminate, I wasn't worried about matching mitre cuts at the corners, and laid them out as I fitted them with this interlace pattern for strength. It was during that time that Mrs. Pilgrim decided she liked it, and not to cover it up. Obviously, this picture is of the finished product, but before the polyeurathane was put on, it didn't show that well in the pictures. With the back side of the U in place, I drilled the dowel holes in ends of the boards of the sides, then with the marker pins in, used a tap hammer to mark the assembled back side, then lifted that onto a couple scrap pieces of wood to attach the dowelling jig. I stuck the pieces together dry, then worked on the ends 'til I had a nice, tight fit, then made my line up marks and repeated the process for the back side countertop. I had also bought one of those Kregg angled screw jig things that they advertise on TV late at night, and used it to attach the backsplash to the countertop.

The sink hole

This part isn't too difficult. I cut the 2x8 to fit around the sink hole, then after the pieces were fitted, dowelled, and dry fitted. I measured the flanges on the bottom of the sink, and used a circular saw to cut most of the opening in the 2x10's. I only cut close to the corners, and used a sabre saw blade without the tool, to saw the corner out. Cutting from the edge of the boards was easy. That line in the middle of the boards was a little different though. It takes a set of steady hands, and a strong desire not to lose the fingers of those hands, to pull this trick off. Oh yeah, a nice sharp saw blade helps, too. I put the front of the guide shoe on my circular saw down on the board (lined the guide slot up correctly, of course), then holding the saw guard up, I VERY SLOWLY plunged the circular saw down into the board, at a spot where I knew I wouldn't cross the corner with the blade. Then, once the shoe was all the way down, I VERY SLOWLY backed it up until I hit the corner. Going forward was just like any other cut, and if at any time the saw starts to bind up, I release the trigger and figure out what's wrong. It's usually from trying to turn the saw or having the scrap piece leaning on the blade as it gets close to coming off. In the picture you can also see just how badly these boards matched up.


If you read the directions on the can, you're supposed to sand the surface down real fine, coat the wood with sealer, then after every coat except the last, sand with steel wool. Well, I'm lazy and cheap. I only used 80 grit sandpaper screen and just put the first coat on kind of slow, so no air bubbles popped up. Let that coat dry for an entire day, then every successive coat went on and dried for four or five hours before the next. If you look at the original size picture (click on the image) you can see just how nicely the dowelling, gluing and clamping matched the boards up. The countertop is nice and flat.

Five coats of polyeurathane

Five coats of poly looks good, and isn't too thick. You could put more coats on, and really give it depth, but the surface will scratch too easily to be used as a countertop. So, as soon as it looks good, stop. The cupboards only have two coats on them, maple likes this coating better than pine. A kick board will be placed at the bottom of the cupboards later. So far, the countertop appears to be a complete success and it only cost me $60.

The finished product

Attaching the sink to an inch and a half thick countertop is a little bit of a challenge, but I managed to get it with the clamps provided with the sink. The hardest part was reaching up inside between the hole and the sink basins with an extra 3/4" of depth. The microwave oven is a range vent hood, too, that's waiting for me to build a shelf to mount it over the stove. Typically, there's cupboards over the stove that make that operation easier because they're built for each other.

Tiling the floor

Tiled floors not only look good and last a long time, but they can be a relatively cheap way to go. It isn't that hard to do, but it's hard on your back, hands and knees. You can cure the knee problem by buying the best gel filled knee pads they have at the home improvement center. If you just ask them what you need otherwise, they will help set you up for the job. As far as the actual tile goes, it's a personal taste thing, but since we're keeping the job cheap, I bought the cheapest tile they had on sale. There are a couple tricks you need to know when tiling. First, buy all the tiles you'll need for the entire job at once, then throw in about 20% more. If you keep your receipt, you can return any boxes of tiles you don't use. If you drop a box, it's yours. If you get away with taking it back, and I wind up with it, I'm going to be pretty upset. If you only have a few boxes leftover, keep and store them. They'll come in handy when someone drops something heavy on your floor and crack a tile. Unless you have a one ton pick up, or a fairly heavy duty trailer and you're going to tile an entire house, rent a truck that can handle that much weight, or have the store deliver it. Otherwise, it'll look like you're pulling a wheelie going down the road, and you'll probably screw up the springs on your vehicle (for a hundred miles in my case, which is why I have a heavy duty trailer that new, costs less than a suspension job). The other thing you'll need to buy enough of for the entire job, is the grout. If you don't get the same lot numbers on these two items, you're very likely to be disappointed with the job when you're finished because they may not match. Do the major parts of the floor first, then go back and do the pieces you have to cut last. You're going to come across some cracked tiles. Set them aside for the cut pieces at the end. Unless you like cleaning grit off everything, do the cutting outdoors, away from your house, especially if you're using a wet tile saw.

Finishing the tile floor

Here's how she looks after the cut pieces are put in and the floor is grouted. Notice the boards under the refridgerator. Using a 4'x4' piece of 3/8" plywood on the tiles that were already installed, I moved it out of the spot it sat in, so I could install and grout the tiles there. After a couple days, I used two pieces of scrap plywood to move it back into place, and after a couple weeks of curing the adhesive, I can simply tip the fridge and pull those out. If you run something heavy over your newly installed tiles, you're likely to crack them, so this is how you avoid that problem.