By Greg Illes
For many years, we lived with our factory Formica countertop. It was — well, serviceable is about the best I can say. Drab-to-ugly is more honest.
We thought about Corian and some other products, but either expense or weight were big obstacles. Finally, I “bit the bullet” for a somewhat challenging job: resurface the counter in stainless steel. I’d thought about other treatments, and over and over again, I kept coming back to stainless. Heat-proof, stain-proof (although definitely not scratch-proof); after several conversations with my wife, the project was a GO.
First, material selection. After removing the old Formica (not as difficult as I’d thought), I found that its thickness was pretty close to 18 gauge sheet metal. But even in our populated, industrial San Jose area (California), I couldn’t find a source of supply. Online sources produced a few choices, and I finally settled on Amazon for best pricing and shipment.
My counter dimensions weren’t easy to match, especially for an online order. I had a 54″ dimension, and shipping of anything over 48″ is hideously expensive. So I ended up designing a layout of two pieces, which ended up requiring a nearly invisible seam, right at the left-hand stove corner. A strategically placed hot pad hides my transgression.
The biggest single factor was cutting that awful stainless sheet. I used a hand-held saber saw, and probably chewed through six or eight blades. When a blade gets dull, it grabs the work and starts the saw jumping, which will bend the sheet metal and make it impossible to lay flat.
I also chose to modify the layout of the original counter and use a smaller, one-hole sink. This presented another hurdle — how to match the sink to the new stainless. Eventually, I chose to use a rimless sink, but in a rimmed installation. The small ridge (0.048″) is no big deal.
Lastly, despite the most precise possible measuring and cutting, the new sheet did not exactly match the needed counter outline. Voila! Disk-grinder to the rescue. The sandpaper-flap style of disk pad works great on sheet-metal edges. I had to be careful not to take off too much too fast, or the heat would burn/discolor the sheet.
I used contact cement to stick the big sheets down. It’s not a great method, but anything that needs an air cure would not work at all. As it turned out, the edge trim and walls keep the sheet metal very tightly constrained. I might have gotten away with no adhesive at all (but I’m glad I didn’t try). If anything ever starts popping up, I’ll just use some tiny SS flathead screws to fasten it down. It’s an industrial-looking counter anyway, so a few screw heads won’t ruin any looks. For the sink, construction adhesive did the trick handily.
After the counter was done, we got another inspiration and added stick-on stainless-finish tiles to the back and side walls. A bit of oak trim tidied up the cut edges. Wow, that really made the whole installation look grand. We ended up spending about $600 or so, including the new sink/faucets and wall tiles. We’re delighted.
After a couple of years’ use, the counter is nicely scuffed and marred — looks a lot like any working commercial kitchen, but with a nice homey RV flair to it.
FYI: The whole sheet of stainless was about 10 pounds before cutouts/trimming. A similar sheet of wood/plastic (like Formica) is about 3 pounds. So overall weight gain was 7 pounds. The tiles on the walls added another 6 pounds or so.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it.