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Here's How: Update Kitchen Countertop With Stenciling

James Dulley on

Dear James: I am on a tight family budget, but I want to do something to upgrade my old kitchen laminate countertop. What is my least expensive option? -- Kristin W.

Dear Kristin: Laminate countertops are very durable, but the surface can get scratched and stained after years of use. Since a countertop is often the focal point of a kitchen, improving its appearance and be a major decor upgrade for the entire room.

If your countertop does not have deep gouges and is not delaminated with bulges, it can be a very effective substrate for a coat of durable paint. If you really want to jazz up your kitchen decor inexpensively, consider stenciling the countertop with a unique pattern of your own.

Paint is durable, but it will not stand up to the liquids and abuse that most kitchen countertops must endure. Finish it with several coats of high-gloss flooring urethane, and you will have a durable, beautiful surface.

The only thing it will not resist is cutting with a knife, so make sure to instruct your children to always use a cutting board. Realistically, though, if your kids are like most, the cutting board will stay in the cupboard. Once or twice a year, you can lightly sand the countertop surface and apply another coat of the high-gloss urethane, and it will look like new again.

Using an oil-based paint on plastic laminate will provide the best and most durable finish. It is wise to use an oil-based primer first, so that the finished coat gets a good grip. The finish coats of urethane are tough, but they are really only as good as the substrate surface below them.

First, scrub the countertop with a strong detergent solution, rinse it well and then scrub it again. It is imperative that no oil or grease residues from foods are left on the surface; otherwise, even the primer may not adhere well. Hand sand it lightly with a medium grit sandpaper on a sanding block. Follow this with fine sandpaper on the sanding block.

Use your vacuum cleaner brush attachment and remove as much of the sanding dust as possible. Wait an hour or so for any dust to settle. Often, very fine dust will escape your vacuum cleaner bag and settle again on the surface. Then, wipe the surface with a damp cloth to remove any traces of dust.


Apply the oil-based primer, and let it dry for the amount of time specified on the can. People often think that letting primer dry "really good" for a long time first is best, but this is not true. Apply your first finish coat of oil-based pant followed by a second coat. Follow the paint manufacturer's drying time recommendations between finish coats, too.

Now comes the fun part: stenciling! The array of stencils is tremendous. Most local art or craft stores have a wide selection of both simple and complex overlay stencils. If you plan to do your walls later, it is a good idea to buy all your matching stencils at the same time.

Overlay stencils, some of which provide a 3D effect, are the most difficult to apply properly. Definitely practice on some old scrap pieces of wood or laminate material first. The overlay stencils will also require several different colors of oil-based paint, but only a small amount of each.

The key to a good stenciling job is to dab the paint on to the stencil. Don't brush over with a heavy painting stroke. With a little practice, you will get a feel for it. When the patterns are dry, apply the finishing coats of urethane. Lightly sand between each coat.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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