Top Repair - Your Countertops Like New Again
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Articles by Jim Heaphy
for Kitchen & Bath Design News

Solid Surface Marks the End of an Era - November 2003


In my mind, earning a living and working with countertops are almost synonymous, since that's been the source of almost all of my income for the past 20 years. But, it wasn't always that way.

I worked in restaurants and grubby Detroit factories as a teenager. I spent a few months working in a bookstore and, for two years, was a partner in a small record store. Then I spent 10 years as an employee of a large California hospital chain. I'm grateful to that hospital, because it paid most of the costs of finishing my long-delayed Bachelor's degree.

And, I met my wife there.

Then one day, I had a conversation with my father that changed my professional life. My dad worked in the construction industry, and most of that time, he was self-employed, selling either aluminum windows or cabinets.

At the time, my dad was spending a few years as the sales manager for a mid-sized general contracting firm. I was newly married, and I told him that I was a bit bored with my hospital job, and wanted to earn more money. He told me that he was doing business with a well-established custom cabinet and millwork company that was looking for a project manager. I applied for the job and was surprised when I was hired at a salary considerably higher than my hospital job. A little over a year later, my boss acquired a countertop fabrication shop, and asked me to become its general manager.

That company had already been fabricating plastic laminate countertops for 30 years. A few years before, it had also started fabricating DuPont Corian, at that time an innovative new product that was available in a stunning array of three colors. I started learning about Corian, the original solid surface material, before the phrase "solid surface material" was even coined. Sales of the product were taking off, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most significant reason was the introduction only a couple of years earlier of the Corian Joint Adhesive Kit.

Revolutionary Kit
In the early days, seams in Corian countertops were either caulked or bonded with cyanoacrylate adhesive commonly called Super Glue. In either case, the seams were visible, prone to discoloration, and not of high quality.

Then, around 1980, the CORIAN Joint Adhesive Kit was introduced. This simple kit revolutionized solid surface countertop production, and made the current multi-billion dollar industry possible. A skilled fabricator could now create durable and inconspicuous seams.
Initially, the adhesive was used to create thicker decorative edges and to join several sections together into "L"- and "U"-shaped countertops. Within a few years, sinks were being bonded to countertops, and innovative custom designs abounded. Business boomed.

Shortly after assuming management of that countertop shop 20 years ago, I directed the fabrication of approximately 80 vanity tops to be installed in a sprawling new suburban office complex for a large oil company. The architect had designed most of these vanity tops with three integral bowls each.

However, the spacing of the bowls as specified by the architect varied from the spacing of the triple-bowl vanity top available on a special order basis from DuPont. The cost of making a custom mold would have eliminated all profit from the job, and time was running out.

Careful thought led to the conclusion that the tops could be cut into three pieces, the right and left bowls could be swapped, and the proper layout achieved with just two seams. The availability of the Corian Joint Adhesive Kits made it possible to cut and reassemble the vanity tops to the proper dimensions, and to make a handsome profit.

Saying Goodbye
The Joint Adhesive Kit was a simple thing. Inside a cellophane package were two tubes. The smaller tube was thin metal resembling a toothpaste tube, and contained 1.5 oz. of tinted acrylic monomer resin. A larger sealed clear plastic tube contained a fraction of an ounce of catalyst, and was otherwise empty. Also included was a loose threaded nozzle designed to twist onto the top of the catalyst tube.

By now, I've completed the procedure many thousands of times. Select a kit of the proper color to match the countertop. Open it and cut off the tip of the catalyst tube. Secure it in an upright position with a spring clamp. Open the resin tube and insert its top into the opening in the catalyst tube. Squeeze all of the resin into the catalyst tube. Remove and discard the metal tube. Screw on the nozzle. Clip into an orbital sander and agitate for 45 seconds on a hot day or one minute on a cold day. Clip off the tip of the nozzle. Dispense the adhesive that allows you to make a living that day. In 45 minutes or less, it's hardened and it's time to rout or sand the finished seam.

After all of these years, I am still a bit amazed at how well the seams turn out. Although I never promise this to a customer, the seams are usually invisible.

Back in 1987, a bulk joint adhesive system was introduced for use in production shops. In recent years, hand-held adhesive dispensers of various sizes have been introduced, saving time on the jobsite as well. The latest miniature system dispenses about as much adhesive as two Joint Adhesive Kits. As for me, I have always preferred the old fashioned kit I know so well.

A lot has changed over the years. My father was 51 years old when he helped me switch careers. Now, I am 51 years old, and my father is very ill. Back then, I had no children. I was sitting in a restaurant two years later discussing the countertop business when the waiter came over to tell me that a phone call had come, and that my wife was in premature labor. My 18-year-old son is healthy, and has decided to work in my company while attending college part time.

The latest news is that DuPont has ceased production of the good old Joint Adhesive Kit.

I'm now using the newer technology almost every day, and it is very good. I have no complaints. But I will miss the old kit when I've used up the very last of them.
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