Installing Granite Countertops

When installing solid-stone countertops, move aside stoves and refrigerators and pull the kitchen sink before removing the old countertops. Then remove all of the lower cabinet drawers and doors and cabinet contents. Unscrew or pry the old countertops with a flat bar if they’re glued. You’ll have to climb into the cabinets to access the screws at the corners.

Screw blocking along the backs of cabinets into the studs with 2-in. screws. Screw blocking to hidden cabinet sides. At finished cabinet ends, glue on the blocking with construction adhesive and clamp until it sets. Rip 3/4-in. plywood to project past cabinet fronts 5/8 in. (usually 24-5/8 in.) Put the plywood factory edge to the front. Cut plywood to length so joints meet over blocking. Predrill and screw the plywood to the blocking and cabinet fronts with 1-5/8 in. screws.

Lay out the sink opening following the manufacturer’s template or instructions and cut the opening with a jigsaw (careful, don’t wreck the cabinet fronts). Use a clamp and a block of wood to support the cutout until you finish the cut.

Rip 3-1/2 in. wide 3/4-in. plywood backsplash strips and screw them to the wall with two 2-in. drywall screws into each stud. Score and snap the tile backer to fit flush with the plywood edges. Span over sink openings and mark the underside with a pencil, then flip it over and cut out the opening with a jigsaw.

Mix and spread a 1/8-in. layer of thinset mortar over the plywood base with a 1/4-in. notched trowel. Embed the Denshield in the thinset and nail it to the plywood with 1-in. shingle nails spaced every 6 in. on edges and every 8 in. across the face. Spread thinset over the backsplash and edges and screw on strips of tile backer with 1-1/4 in. drywall screws.

Lay fiberglass mesh tape over the outside corners of the nosings and joints, and over the inside corners of the backsplash. Anchor the tape with a thin layer of thinset, embedding it with a putty knife. Set up your mitering jig and cut a sample nosing piece and a countertop tile for the tile layout. Clamp the jig so the blade cuts just shy of the factory micro-bevel. Make a test cut, then remove the tile and make sure the bevel is even. Adjust the jig and re-cut if necessary.

Cut miters on opposite edges of two tiles, then remove the jig and cut two 2-in. wide nosing strips off one of the tiles. Use the full tile and one of the nosing strips to check fits and lay out the tile pattern.

Tip : Tile saws are a watery mess. If you’re cutting in the house, make a temporary tile saw water-containing workstationout of plastic sheeting, 2x2s and a piece of plywood for a splash guard.

Lay the full tile near the countertop end and adjust its placement by holding the mitered nosing strip against it. Draw a pencil line along the back of the tile onto the tile backer. Mark all of the ends of the countertops and snap chalk lines to mark the back edges of the front row of tile. Cut and finish the backsplash trim board. Nail it to the top of the plywood backsplash board with 8d finish nails spaced every 8 in.

Dry-lay tile (no adhesive) from an inside corner of the countertop, spacing the tiles 1/8-in apart. When you’re working on the sink counter, lay tile from the corner to the sink opening and then begin laying tile from the other end. Cut filler tiles to fit in the middle of the sink where they won’t be so obvious.

Use a honing stone to ease sharp edges that’ll be exposed.

Tip : Cutting lines are hard to see or wash off in the tile saw, so mark cuts with masking tape instead.

Spread thinset with a 1/4-in. notched trowel in front of the line for the front row of mitered tiles. Use a nosing tile to gauge overhangs and embed the tile. Use your eye to keep consistent 1/8-in. grout spaces between the tiles as you lay them. Every few tiles nudge a 4-ft. level against the tile fronts to ensure perfect alignment. Spread thinset and lay the back row of tile, keeping the grout lines aligned with those of the front row. Allow thinset to set up overnight before starting the nosing.

Butter the back of the nosing tiles with thinset using a margin trowel and embed them directly below each front tile, leaving a 1/8-in. grout line between the miters. Hold them in place with a couple of strips of masking tape and let them set.

Cut the backsplash tiles 1/8 in. shorter than the distance between countertop tiles and the bottom of the backsplash trim board. Butter them with thinset, press them in place and prop them up with plastic shims.

 Mix unsanded grout to the consistency of peanut butter and work it into the grout lines with a grout float. Use diagonal swipes across the gaps for good penetration. Sponge off the excess grout with a damp sponge, rinsing it frequently in clean water. After the grout dries overnight, buff off the haze with a clean cotton cloth.

Lay a thin bead of colored tile caulk into all inside corners of the backsplash. Drag the back of your thumbnail through the wet bead to tool the caulk, then wipe over the caulk with a damp sponge or rag to smooth it out.

Install your sink and other appliances to get your kitchen back in service. Let the grout cure for a week or so, then seal it with a product that’s designed specifically for polished granite. Follow the directions on the container. One downside of any tile countertop is the potential for grout to get stained by food or beverages. We recommend two coats of grout sealant applied about a week after grouting.