So you’ve decided to tackle a smaller project in natural stone… congratulations! You already know this is a luxury material, so in all likelihood you’re gearing up to save money wherever possible. You’re checking out remnants, scrounging for sinks and faucets, and even considering handling parts of the process yourself. Well, as much as I’d like for you to pay us to handle the template and install for you on every project, the sliver of altruism in me wants to help you accomplish certain steps of the process yourself. Let's jump right into it!
Quick Disclaimer: If your project is a kitchen, you should stop reading this right now and just resign yourself to the fact that you need to have a professional team template and install your countertops for you. If you’re endeavoring to take on a smaller project and you’re ready to assume the risks of handling your own template and install, then you’ve come to the right place...read on!
In addition to creating a physical copy of the shape and size of your countertops, professional teams gather a ton of information about your project when they make a template. We’re talking sink size and location, backsplash specs, edge profile locations, information relating to impending installation, etc. All of this (and much more) is not only important in planning and executing the project successfully, but also influences the price of the job. If you do not gather and communicate all of this information accurately when you perform a DIY measure or template, then you’re setting yourself up for nasty surprises somewhere down the line, both financially and in the way the project turns out. Yikes. Check below for a list of all the information we'll need to fabricate your job the way you want it:
Exact dimensions of the countertops (not the cabinets) to within 1/16”. These should include the overhang you want over the cabinet or wall the stone will be installed upon.
Which edges are finished, and with what edge profile.
Style and size of all corner radii.
Backsplash location, height, thickness, and edge profile.
Sink location (horizontal placement): the distance from the nearest wall (left or right) to the center of the sink, in inches.
Sink set-back (depth placement): how far back from the front of the countertop, the inside edge of your cabinetry will be. This helps us make your sink cutout in such a way that your sink clears your inside cabinetry once installed.
Faucet center: the distance from the nearest wall (left or right) to the center of the faucet spread, in inches.
Faucet set-back: how far back from the back of the sink cutout, to the center of the faucet spread, in inches.
Faucet spread and # of faucet holes
Faucet hole size
One thing that is conspicuously missing from the list above is the specs of the sink. We will need the actual sink bowl itself here in-house to make an accurate cutout. Another thing missing is any custom shapes such as bump-ins, banjos, notches, etc. If your project contains any of these larger custom features, you’ll likely require a professional template even if you have the information above handy (or, if you're really handy you can endeavor to make your own template, in which case skip to the next section). If your project is purely rectangle-shaped, then this information should give us the information we need to fabricate it properly.
The easiest way to communicate this information to us and to make sure it’s all included is to use our order form here. We’ll still have some questions for you, but it’s a quick and easy way to get the ball rolling. If you can’t open this form or print it out, or for some reason you just want to try your hand at free-styling the information to us, then you’ll need to make a clear, well detailed drawing with legible notes. Here’s a good example:
This drawing is sufficient, albeit imperfect! We may have to call to confirm the thickness and edge profile on the backsplash, and the centeredness and spread of the faucet, but you’ve successfully eliminated the need to pay us to template your project. I hope you did a good job measuring, because we’re going to make your project EXACTLY to these specifications!
If you aced middle school arts & crafts and the situation calls for a DIY template, then you’re cleared to attempt the following:
1. Start with the right material. We use luan wood strips, and we’ve seen fine templates made from particle board or ¾” plywood as well. Don’t use cardboard, paper, tape, or heavy wood. Cardboard, paper and tape are too flimsy, and will get soaked through with water on any production floor, warping the dimensions and running the ink. Heavy wood is just too heavy.
2. Take the material and build a template that is an exact replica of the size and shape of the countertop you want.
3. Draw out all of the relevant information (listed above) on your template. It’s the same thing as creating the drawing above, except you get to work with wood instead of paper.
“So,” you may be asking yourself, “why in the world would I opt to make a template instead of a drawing?” Fantastic question… and while the answer is usually “I have too much time on my hands,” there are some situations that do require a template. If your countertop has any custom features such as a banjo, bump-out, bump-in, full radius, notch, tail-out, etc., then a template is necessary in order to capture the proper specs of these features. Another common situation that requires a template is when one’s walls are so out of square that installing a straight-lined rectangular countertop would look bad. Templates made to account for this issue must include a “scribe line,” a line that follows the waves of the wall(s), which allows us to create edges that fit better. If you’re planning on making your own template, you need to be proficient at working with the material you're using, and it's best to have a conversation with your fabricator first about what specifics they need to see on it. Every shop uses different markings, terms, etc., so it takes work not to cross wires. If you make a template and it’s deemed insufficient by your fabricator, you will probably be asked to make another one before they can start production of your project.
Here's an example of a great DIY template:
This template was made from luan wood and was an exact mimic of the project, including the corner radii and full radius on top. It even gave exact locations and specs of the holes he wanted drilled, so all the custom features were easy to recreate in the stone.
Here is an example of poor DIY templates:
The template on top was made out of cardboard and tape and unusable. The customer was asked to make another template, and produced the bottom one out of paper. The two were very different from each other, and neither ideal for production. This required us to make a luan template ourselves using the bottom template, and communicate extensively with the customer in the process to work out the differences between the two. Our production team had trouble recreating this in stone due to the confusion and soft material.
Small-project installation is less complex than templating, but it requires at least two people of above-average strength and a few materials.
1. The first step is picking up your project. If you’re trying to save money with a DIY install you’re likely not going to spring for delivery either. So, when you go to pick up your finished product carry-out style, keep in mind that 95% of the time it needs to lie completely flat in your vehicle to be transported safely. Make sure you have a space large enough to transport it in this position. Also, if you're going to rest it on its top face (it may have a sink attached to the bottom face), you're going to want something soft to lay it on so that the finish does not scratch. Cardboard and blankets work well for this. Your fabricator will likely have someone around to help load the piece safely into your vehicle.
2. You need to get it from your car to wherever it's going. The trek from your vehicle to the stone's final resting place is a physical, mental, and spiritual journey. The correct way to handle this (without hurting yourself or the stone) is to have at least two people carry it in a vertical position. Even though stone is extremely durable when properly supported, it can flex and even break under its own weight when being carried. The likelihood of this happening is small when it's carried vertically and MUCH higher when it's carried horizontally.
3. Perform the Installation. Ok, so here you are at the 1 yard line...all your hard work has led to this. All you have to do now is lift this countertop up and somehow actually do the install, and it'll all be over...so how do you do it? The answer is: it depends. If you're installing a vanity top, the stone's own weight and the minimal overhang of the project means that it likely does not need much adhesive to secure it sufficiently; just enough to make sure it doesn't move when you bump it with your hip. Put a small dollop of construction adhesive on each corner just before setting it down and sliding it into place and that should do it. Make sure it's snug against any walls and that any attachments are lined up with plumbing in the way you had intended. If you're installing a bar-top or some other project where the stone will be overhanging its support structure by more than a couple inches, you will probably need to use more construction adhesive, and you may even need to install additional supports (corbels, steel bars, etc.). Talk to your fabricator about how you're planning to carry out a DIY install, and they'll give you as much information as they can to help you out.
Other elements of installation may include attaching sinks, faucets, soap dispensers, backsplashes, etc. All of these will likely require some aspect of chemical bonding combined with waterproofing, which you can achieve simultaneously with silicone caulk. If you are planning on attaching an undermount sink yourself, you should use a combination of silicone caulk, construction adhesive, and metal clips to achieve optimal adherence and support. The clips are easy to install, but require that slots have been drilled in the bottom of the stone and in the right location near the flanges of the sink. Unless you have a diamond-tipped saw at home, you'll have to ask your fabricator to place these slots in the stone for you (or better yet have them attach the sink for you).
So there you have it, as much DIY as you wanted and more! This puts into perspective not only the amount of detail required to successfully carry out each step of these natural stone countertop projects, but also some of the materials involved. We know it can appear like a lot to handle, but on a small project it may be worth it to save a couple hundred dollars and get a high-performance, luxury material like granite or quartz in your home. Who knows, it may even be fun... so best of luck, and of course if you'd like more information specific to your project, give us a shout!