Making a shelf from an off-cut of kitchen counter top

We had several counter top and shelving off-cuts left over from when our kitchen was built. It’s the same basic kitchen of chipboard veneered with melamine, that you’ll find in millions of homes across western Europe. The melamine is an off-white colour for the cabinets and has pseudo-walnut block-board for the counter. There are three pieces of counter top. A slim cross cut slice about 220mm by 600mm, a long section about 1.2m by 600mm and the sink cut out.

At Christmas I quickly attached the biggest counter top off-cut to a Lidl Parkside portable workbench (think Black & Decker Workmate knock-off for a tenth of the price) as an extra work table for the kitchen and it has proved so useful that it’s still there six months later complete with exposed chipboard edges!

My plan is to edge band this as a more permanent fixture and make it a little more table-like in the process.

To do this I have to cross a couple of bridges and do some processes that I’ve never done before.

  1. Processing full length boards straight off a commercial circular mill. I’ve worked with stuff from a bandsaw mill before but never material from a circular mill and they’re definitely rougher as the sawyer said they would be.

  2. Unfortunately the joiner who put together the kitchen left some bad circular saw gouges in two of the chipboard faces that require cleaning up and I haven’t worked with chipboard kitchen counter before.

  3. This is my first project where I’ll need to clean back a timber edge strip to meet a plastic surface. I suspect that routing will be the right approach but it’s going to be challenging. Not only that but the entire circumference of the table is in full view in the busiest room in the house.

So where the hell do I start?

The joiner left me several off-cuts including a couple of really slim, badly chipped ones and the kitchen sink cut out so I’m going to apply some of the processes above to the smallest pieces first before attempting to do the table. I’ll make a shelf and if it works out, it will eventually hang in a cabinet beneath the finished table top.

Processing rough sawn beech

When you’ve never done this before, it’s quite daunting to be faced with a stack of rough sawn timber. I just dove right in and grabbed a flat(-tish) board and used a circular saw to cut off a piece long enough to provide the two edges I wanted with plenty of space for planer snipe at each end.

A ripped the board straight down the middle to give me my two boards. I jointed them both on one side and then ran them through the table saw to achieve one square edge. Then thickness planed both to about an inch / 27mm or thereabouts.



Cleaning up the counter top

My table saw is a 10” (254mm) saw but I had a couple of 210mm Parkside blades that I’d picked up in the “aisle of wonder” in Lidl for almost nothing. I decided to do an experimental cut with one of these to see how well it would fare and was more than a little surprise to get an almost perfectly clean edge on the first go. I cleaned up both sides of the test piece and the result was good enough. Perhaps not “pro kitchen builder” good but enough for my first attempt.

Then I mocked up the shelf with the two edges in place and marked out the best cross cut positions.

 

Constructing the shelf

There’s a massive gluing area for each band but I decided to use dowels. This is practice for doing the table top, where the extra strength will give me peace of mind because these edges will get leaned on every day.

I did a test with some soft wood of similar proportions using the Axminster No.1 Dowelling Jig and then went ahead with the piece of kitchen counter and the beech strips. As I’ve observed before, the Axminster jig is a little out if you use it as instructed and a tiny bit of packing is required to get the edges to sit flush. It wasn’t the most expensive jig in the world but still a little QA on the production line would sort this out.

 

The glue up was straight forward enough. I laid out a couple of sash clamps and got all of the components ready. By the way, if you’ve never seen it I recommend watching Paul Sellers’ video on strengthening cheap aluminium sash clamps. I have followed his approach with this two clamps and it works an absolute treat. It makes a 15 euro clamp into a 40 euro clamp in ten minutes. I spread PVA evenly on the chipboard faces of the counter top and beech edges. Then a glug of it into all of the dowel holes too before bringing everything together and gently applying clamp pressure.

 

After curing for an hour I removed the squeeze out with a plastic scraper to avoid any damage to the melamine surface. After a further hour I returned to plane the beech flush with the shelf top using the fence from my jointer to protect the melamine from the edge of the plane (Record No. 77) blade.

At this point I made my first major mistake. With the fence in place it was really difficult to judge how close I was to flush to the counter surface so I swapped to a smoothing plane (Bailey 4 1/2) instead, without the fence. I should have added some sticky tape to the surface as a warning indicator but didn’t and planed just a fraction too close in one spot and there are a few small scratches in the melamine from where the blade grazed it. I’ll have to figure a better way of doing this for the table top.

This just leaves the small amount of overhang where the beech edging is a few millimetres beyond the contoured shape of the melamine top. I won’t have this problem on the full table top because the guy installing the kitchen cut it to 90 degrees on all sides so I’ll wait until I’m fitting the shelf to the finished table in case I want to change my approach for how it is finished.

As a test project goes, I’m pleased with how this turned out - an unmounted shelf, exciting stuff!! :D