I salvaged an old dresser from a garage sale. It had a wood countertop, but the countertop was veneer – meaning I couldn’t sand it down and restain it. It was trashed, and simply needed replacing.
In the end, we opted to convert the dresser into a bathroom vanity. The full transformation was a fun project (found here).
As, we went about revamping the vanity, I had intentions to do a marble or granite countertop. Once I priced out the granite and marble, I just couldn’t justify it. I paid $15 for the dresser. I couldn’t dish out $250 for a custom granite slab. We thought about buying the tools to do the granite ourselves…but in the end we decided to stick with something we know about – wood. And, I love the result.
If you are wanting to build a wood countertop, we are going to assume you know the basics of woodworking. It’s not a beginner, whip it out in a day type of project – just giving fair warning.
STEP 1 – wood selection
Choose your wood, preferably a dense wood.
(A link to a good way to select wood for your project HERE)
We opted for hickory for a few reasons.
#1: It’s a dense wood that’s going to hold up well.
#2: We have excess of it (making the countertop free).
STEP 2 – prep wood
Be sure your wood is all planed, and ready to be joined together. We laid it out to see where the grains looked good together, before actually joining the wood together.
STEP 3 – join wood
The Biscuit Joiner is the perfect tool for connecting wood together. First, mark the wood across both boards with a pencil, showing where the center of your biscuit joiner cut will be. Proceed with cutting all your biscuit holes. Then, place a good ‘coating’ of wood glue on each biscuit as well as the wood ends that will be connected together. You’ll want to work quickly as wood glue can dry faster than anticipated, and you want it to adhere really well.
STEP 4 - glue and clamp
Clamp the countertop together. The biscuits and wood glue are what are going to hold the countertop together. There are no screws or nails needed. This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to drench the pieces in glue. Be generous, but not excessive.
Notice the glue squeezing out of the joints as it’s clamped tightly? This is fine. It’s not coming out in extreme amounts. I personally do not like cleaning glue off once it is dried. It takes a lot of work to sand it down. Once the piece is all clamped and secure, we take a a putty knife and gently scrape up the glue, and then wipe clean with a damp rag.
STEP 5 – be patient
Let it stay clamped overnight.
STEP 6 – cut to size / shape
Cut it to size! Our vanity had a rounded front. Therefore, we needed to cut a rounded front edge on our countertop. We used the band saw to cut our traced pattern.
STEP 7 - add trim (optional)
We also wanted a decorative trim around the countertop. Although it isn’t necessary, it sure is a nice finishing touch. You don’t want the end joints exposed. It’s not going to sand as well, or absorb the stain the same. The quality way (in my opinion) was to add a decorative trim.
In that Scott is building a wooden sailboat, we had some extra mahogany laying around. Mahogany is very dense wood. Since it is so dense, it is difficult to just ‘bend’ into shape – even this slight curve. Scott rigged up a little steamer, and was able to get the wood moist enough, allowing it to bend into shape a little more easily. Once it was steamed, he bent it to shape and left it there overnight.
The next day, he didn’t use biscuits or screws/nails to attach the trim. Instead, he used an epoxy. Epoxy is really fast drying, therefore, he had to work and clamp quickly (not pictured)
(epoxy is discussed later in the post)
We let that front piece dry clamped overnight. The next afternoon we added the side trim pieces using the same epoxy method. No bending necessary for those.
STEP 8 - smooth edges
Using a router, he gave the edges a nice rounded edge on top.
STEP 9 – cut sink hole
At this point it was starting to really look good! Next up was using the template provided with the sink, to cut out the sink hole.
As you can see in the picture, drilling a hole first is necessary to allow a spot for the jig saw blade to get access to your cut line.
STEP 10 – fixing gaps
Finishing touches before the stain can be applied are critical in achieving an overall end product you’ll be proud of. Sometimes, no matter how meticulous you are, there are going to be slight gaps in wood joints. The countertop didn’t have any gaps, but in one corners joint of the trim we had a slight crack:
This is quite simple to solve. And makes such a difference!
First, you need some matching wood shavings. Using a saw, just create some wood dust (in our case we used a Japanese hand saw and the mahogany)
Next, get a dollop of wood glue and mix the wood shavings and glue creating a paste.
Then, proceed to fill the crack, deep down, really mush it in there good!
Once the gap is filled, don’t be in a hurry to sand. Let the glue and sawdust paste really set…like overnight…again…
Now that blemish is all fixed we can move on…
STEP 11 – sand countertop
Sanding the countertop. The surface was sanded using the orbital sander with a 120, then 220 grit sandpaper. Then quickly hand sanded with a 400 grit over the entire surface. It didn’t need much sanding.
STEP 12 - get the right color
This was the part we were a little nervous about. We knew the piece would eventually be finished off with an epoxy and a lacquer. Both of which he had used for his boat, but I didn’t want it the natural hickory color. I was hoping for a stain on the wood first… He wasn’t sure the epoxy would adhere to a stained wood. After some attempts on scrap wood, Scott declared it ‘should’ work.
We stained (technically, oiled) the wood with this:
- Walnut Oil
Trick here is to let is DRY DRY DRY. If you attempt to do the next step (epoxy) on top of stain or oil that isn’t dry, no chance it’ll work. Believe me, one of our samples was garbage because we (I) tried to rush the process. Let it dry for a few days.
STEP 13 – epoxy finish
Finishing with epoxy. In that this is a countertop, with a sink, in a bathroom, it can’t simply be finished with a lacquer. It wouldn’t last the way we want it to.
As mentioned earlier, Scott’s been building a wooden boat. We decided to finish the countertop the same way the boat is finished – water tight and impenetrable, with epoxy and varnish.
First up was coating it in epoxy. The epoxy is extremely fast drying, so you have to work quickly. It comes in 2 containers, you mix equal parts of resin and hardener 1:1 and stir it up before application. These are really big containers as we had it for the boat, you can purchase it in smaller quantities…
You’ll want to use a disposable brush, one you can just chuck after application.
When the epoxy is applied, it’s not going to have a smooth surface. I tried my best to get a picture showing the uneven surface and bumps.
Let this dry for a few days. That’s right – multiple days.
STEP 14 – sanding the epoxy
Start with a 120 grit, and lightly sand. If you start to sand and the epoxy seems ‘gummy’ STOP. You didn’t wait long enough, the epoxy hasn’t cured completely. This might be due to the weather, or impatience. Regardless, just wait longer.
If your sanding is successful, it’s time to apply another layer of epoxy. You need two coats, minimum. This second coat is going to get in the “valleys” and divits left from the first application. You should see a smoother finish after this second coat.
Again, let dry – for days. Patience, patience, patience. Once dry, sand again. NOTE: When you sand the epoxy, it’s going to look milky. You haven’t ruined it. This is normal (below). This was between a first and second coat. You can really see the divits accentuated. This is why 2 coats are needed, to fill in all these low spots.
STEP 15 – varnish (or lacquer) finish
Once the second coat of epoxy has been sanded, it’s time to apply the varnish (or lacquer). We had varnish left over that was marine grade, and had a UV protectant in it. I don’t think this is necessary for a countertop. But, it’s what we had, so it’s what we used. I think a normal lacquer would suffice.
Depending on the finish you want, carefully select your lacquer. It comes in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finishes. The Schooner brand varnish that we used says “High Gloss” but in my opinion, it compares to the “satin” finish of the Deft brand lacquer.
Left – what we used, it’s really expensive – unnecessary for a countertop.
Right – lacquer found at big box stores, which would be totally fine.
(Below) This is what it should look like after you’ve sanded the epoxy, prior to the lacquer finish. Has an interesting texture and looks really dull…don’t worry!
Applying the lacquer. Look at that beautiful wood grain shine through! Gorgeous!
Let it dry…again…
Wood projects take patience. I am not patient…
Lightly sand with 220 grit.
Repeat the lacquer application. Let dry overnight.
Lightly sand with steel wool.
STEP 16 – installation
Now it’s ready for installation!
Secure the countertop to the vanity from the underside.
Mount the sink using caulk.
Marked to be sure it gets centered just right…
You’ll want to use a tub and tile / kitchen and bath type caulk – clear.
STEP 17 - celebrate
Admire your handiwork! It’s beautiful. It’s got just the right amount of ‘sheen’ to it. It doesn’t look plastic and fake. Yet, it’s smooth and easily wipes clean.
TOOLS & SUPPLIES NEEDED:
A knowledge of wood working – not a “beginner” project.
Hard wood (for countertop)
- 120 / 220 grit sandpaper
Disposable Paint Brush
Varnish (or Lacquer)
Caulk Gun and Caulk
Band Saw (optional if need a slight curve)