Beautiful, warm and inviting kitchens like this are the heart of the home. Follow this copper DIY countertop tutorial to make your kitchen just as warm and inviting.
Well hello there fellow Remodelaholic readers, I am here to show you my Copper Countertops tutorial!
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I’m Merrilee, and when I’m not being rescued from pretend peril by my 2 super heroes I can be found at Lilliedale.
Lilliedale is a a place where I share my endeavors to live a simple and ecologically responsible handmade lifestyle. From remodeling to recipes my husband and I always attempt to make it ourselves, and more often than not we are in love with the results. I hope you pop over to see a few of the other projects we have done with our own 4 hands and a few re-purposed materials!
I am so jazzed that Cassity asked me over today to share a little about the copper counters we installed in our kitchen. It’s a long one, so get comfy!
DIY Copper Countertops Tutorial
When we decided to revamp our tiny kitchen we decided on a goal of using as many re-purposed and recycled items as we could. For the most part we were able to give everything a second life. We bought second hand appliances, used an old kitchen table for our butcher block, turned vases into lighting,re-painted the existing cabinets, and even used brown paper bags as the flooring.
When it came to the countertops we wanted something special, after all we had saved so much money on all those other items, right?
We wanted new countertops and something unique, warm and rich looking. Being a Jeweler/Metal worker I’ve always had a love for copper, and we had always loved the way the copper counters looked in one of our favorite coffee shops, so we decided on copper and off we went.
See below for the pro’s and con’s of copper as a kitchen surface, I suggest you fully read up on copper before deciding to go for it. Copper is not for everyone because it requires a lot of maintenance, I however, do not mind the work and LOVE LOVE LOVE the depth and beauty that the copper gives my kitchen.
Installing copper as a surface is a lot like installing laminate countertops. Basically all you are doing is applying a thin sheet of copper over a strong base of MDF or plywood substrate. There are a lot of tutorials out there and you have to choose the right one for your abilities and needs, today I’ll show you how we did ours. There are also really great ones at this Garden Web Forum.
Materials Needed for the New Countertop
Here is a very basic list of the materials that you will need:
- 16 or 20 oz copper sheeting (I ordered mine from a local roofing company)
- 2 layers of 3/4″ MDF or plywood
- Dremel or table saw with metal cutting blade
- about 100 bar clamps of all sizes (buy and borrow if necessary!)
- Drill and Screws
Handling the Copper
We used 16 oz copper roofing material instead of the recommended 20 oz sheeting. We were just very careful not to dent, bend, or tear it before laminating it and it worked out fine.
We transported it from the supplier to our home sandwiched flat between 2 sheets of plywood to avoid dings and dents instead of the recommended method of rolling it up cause that’s just asking for problems (i.e. dings and dents) when you un-roll it!!
Step 1: Remove old Countertop
We started by removing all the previous plywood all the way down to the cabinets because the existing counter was not level and the plywood had extensive water damage. If your existing wood substrate is level and in good condition you can just lay the mdf right on top of it.
Can you cover an existing countertop?
I have heard of people laying the copper on top of laminate but I do not recommend it, because the glue is designed to soak into the mdf which it obviously could not do on laminate.
Step 2: Install the MDF Sheets
Next we cut sheets of 3/4″ MDF and screwed it to the the top of the base cabinets. On top of the first layer of MDF we placed another layer of 3/4″ mdf but did not screw it down. At the corner of the L shape we used miter bolts in holes we routed out from underneath to join the 2 sections securely on the top layer of MDF. Something like this…
To secure the top layer of mdf to the bottom layer we applied construction adhesive in between the 1st and 2nd layers and then screwed them together from underneath (ie, inside the cabinets up into the first and second layers of mdf)
You do this so there are no screw holes on the top surface that you would have to fill and sand and they would probably still show through the copper.
NOTE: We did not screw this in place until after the copper had been applied, so that we could easily slide the entire unit out to clamp the front edge. confusing I know but stick with me…
Step 3: Installing the Edges
For the edges we screwed oak boards into the mdf and plywood before applying the copper sheeting. Mdf is relatively soft and will dent easier than oak will. This is a pretty standard way of doing edges when applying regular laminate.
After screwing the oak boards to the sides we then filled and sanded the holes perfectly smooth so they would not show under the thin layer of copper.
We decided to apply the copper to the sides before putting the top on to avoid having the seam on top. If you have access to or would like to make a sheet metal brake then you can just bend it to a 90 angle and glue it down. I however did not want a rounded edge, but there are a few tutorials around if that’s the way you want to go.
We cut strips from our large sheets of copper with a dremel in our garage. This step takes forever but makes a perfect cut without warping the copper as shears would. Simply lay the sheet out with a board underneath to elevate it a bit. then mark your line, put goggles on, and patiently cut along your line. Cut your strip about a quarter inch wider than you need so it can be filed/sanded down to fit perfectly after it is put in place.
Prep your surfaces by lightly sanding the back of the copper and cleaning both the oak edge and the copper with rubbing alcohol.
Must Use This Glue:
This is the ONLY adhesive I suggest you use, TC-20 Premium Copper Adhesive, it’s worth the money, cleans up with water, is VOC free and has a long working time. Yes, you could use construction adhesive but this is so much better and has twice the working time. You can order it several places but I purchased mine and a glue roller together here.
Follow the directions on the glue and apply glue to the back of the clean copper and oak edges and tape into place. Then clamp ayway!
(See how the entire thing is scooted out a bit so we can clamp to the back edge. Later we glued and screwed the mdf to the lower sheet of mdf like I mentioned above)
It is best to have a few sets of hands to quickly clamp the edge. The glue allows quite a bit of working time, but I do recommend cleaning up any that squeezes out with a damp towel while it is still wet. As you can tell we used A LOT of clamps, the more the better! We placed another board over the copper before clamping so the clamps would not mar the copper and would evenly dissipate the pressure.
Allow the edges to dry overnight before removing the clamps. Once dry, file and sand the top edge flush with the mdf layer. The copper top will go over this so it is important that it is perfectly flat and smooth.
Step 4: Glue on the Copper Sheets
Next we cut the copper sheets to just a bit larger than what we wanted our finished size to be. We used the factory edge of the copper for the front and placed our cut edge in the back, this is only important if you are doing a “L” shape or long span and have to have a seam on the top. Ideally you want to mate the 2 factory edges together to make a perfect seam.
*Notice in the picture above that we had already cut out the sink hole out of the mdf sub-layer. Do this, but wait to cut the sink hole in the copper until after it is glued down.
Prep the back of the copper and the top of the mdf by lightly sanding the copper and cleaning both with rubbing alcohol. We had an “L” shape so we chose to lay only 1 segment at a time.
Apply the glue with a roller CAREFULLY and lay down the copper. Smooth out all air bubbles and cover with another sheet of mdf. You will do this so that the pressure from the clamps is evenly distributed and that the clamps do not mar the surface.
Here is a general idea of how it should be laid out so that the seam will be on the edge and not on the top. Pretty snazzy sketch huh?
This ridiculous picture is because we figured that the more weight and pressure we applied the less air bubbles we might get. So we placed just about every portable heavy object in our home on top of the mdf. It worked too because there are no air pockets under the copper. Also we did not apply too much weight on top of where the sink would be to avoid denting the copper that had no mdf underneath it.
After allowing the glue to dry overnight we removed the clamps, scooted the whole shebang back and into place and glued and screwed it to the plywood layer from underneath as I discussed earlier.
Next, we filed and sanded so that the edge appears to be 1 solid piece. As I have mentioned before I’m a jeweler/ fabricator so this went fast and easy for me. Mostly you just need to make sure that the edges feel smooth and that there is no gap between the top layer and the edge, If there is then you can squish in some just for copper epoxy putty I used this instead of solder.
I purchased mine at Ace hardware and followed the manufactures instructions for use. this is also what we used to fill the seam on the top of the counter. I simply smooshed it into the clean crack, waited for it to dry then sanded it flush.
Here is what the finished edge looks like.
See how it looks like 1 solid piece rather than 2 sheets butted together.
Here is the only outside corner. It looks like the corner is sharp but is is not at all sharp, it actually slightly rounded at the point. also notice the bit of oxidation on the bottom, it can easily be cleaned off with a scrubby.
Here is the only inside corner that also lines up with the only top seam. This is where I mentioned the factory edge is important so that the top seam look straight and only a little noticeable when finished.
In the end we are definitely happy with how we did the copper countertop, but we had to do a lot of figuring and problem solving to make the other methods we had seen work best for our space. If you should choose to install a similar surface you will probably have to do a lot of your own adjusting to make it work for you.
It has been just over a year and I am happy to say that our counter still is scratch/dent free with the exception of 1 small dent that came with the copper sheet. We have no air bubbles and still love the way it looks is our home.
They look good day or night!
Care and Maintenance:
How I clean my copper countertop. 1-2 times a week I remove everything from the counter. Scrub it down with a non-scratching sponge and soapy water. Then using a light multi-surface spray wax, (I use Swiffer Dust and shine furniture polish) I polish the surface.
Before it is cleaned there are green spots “verdigris” from water drops. The spots will come right off but see the ring from a glass over in the right corner, that will not polish out unless you use a heavier polish. Secondly, this picture has been cleaned and polished. The “living” elements-residual marks are still there, except now the green spots are gone.
Here is the same polished spot but shot from a different angle, see how clean and shiny it is despite that mottled patina of the surface.
If you’d like to get back to a newer look, you could try what people do for copper pans, by cleaning it with a mixture of lemon juice and salt. Although considering the amount of square feet, and the amount of elbow grease you are going to have to put in, make sure you have the time and inclination to finish the whole project or don’t start. The instructions are to cut a lemon in half and sprinkle a bit of table salt on the cut side. now, rub on your counters for about 10 minutes and any piece of copper that has minimal stains or a little patina should sparkle.
You could also consider a commercial copper cleaner.
DIY Copper Countertop Questions and Answers?
Is copper a good kitchen countertop?
A copper finish is not sealed and therefore it is like the countertop is alive with ever changing, oxidizing, newness. I like to say, it has a “living” finish. If something comes in contact with copper it will leave a mark. This gives so much interest to the finish in my mind. It has a mottled depth and lots of interest. It also sometimes looks a little grungy. I love it.
Copper has anti-microbial properties, which makes it ideal for use in a kitchen. Also bacteria is killed on contact with copper, again another benefit in a kitchen setting.
Warning: Copper can scratch and dent easily because it is a soft metal. So extra care has to be taken to avoid marks, dents and scratches. It is possible to sand out a scratch, but be careful because if the thickness is not high, you may wear down the surface.
What are Copper Countertops Cost?
Copper is getting more expensive, as it is considered a semi-precious metal. It may not currently be a super affordable option. You would need to check with local metal suppliers to get a current market value of a 20 oz sheet of roofing copper and consider the MDF, glues and epoxy fillers – plus any tools needed. Of course the more labor you do the more affordable it makes any project, but time is also a valuable commodity so you might want to factor that in.
How thick should the copper be?
20 oz sheeting is recommended. A 20 oz sheet of copper is equal to 21 gauge thickness -it isn’t exact this is the nearest gauge to the 20oz sheeting.
For this tutorial a 16 oz sheet was used which is about a 24 gauge. (the man selling tried to get me to buy 20oz) It is thin enough to bend with your hands, but too thick to cut nicely with tin snips.
Can you cover an existing Countertop?
The specialty glue we used soaks into and adheres to MDF to create a strong solid bond. If your current counter is level and in good shape you could add the MDF right on top and glue between the layers with a construction adhesive.
I do not know if the glue we used (which I highly recommend) would work for application on an existing laminate countertop for example. You may have to do research to find a different adhesive. Also, whatever surface you attach it too must be perfectly smooth so that it doesn’t show through. (remember its a soft metal, if it doesn’t show up immediately it may show up after time and use)
Are copper counter tops durable?
Yes and no but like mentioned above they do react and constantly change over time. If this type of mottled finish would bother you then copper is NOT a good choice for you.
Disadvantages of copper countertops: copper can scratch and dent easily because it is a soft metal. So extra care has to be taken to avoid marks, dents and scratches. It is possible to sand out a scratch, but be careful because if the thickness is not high, you may wear down the surface.
The new penny finish when first installed will NOT last. It will age and stay that way thereafter.
How to seal a copper countertop.
The only finish I use is a light furniture wax at least twice weekly.
Any finish you paint on the copper will ultimately rub and peel off in heavy traffic areas so I do not recommend any type of roll on finish.
There is one exception that *MAY* work (I have not tested this on sheet goods). I have seen penny countertops that are set in epoxy. If you like the initial look of copper and want to maintain it without the aging, you would need to epoxy the top immediately.
I imagine the copper may still age but this theory would need to be tested for sure. It may be contact to air that ages it to a brown finish, so the epoxy may maintain the new copper look. I suggest testing this on a small sample if you want to know how it will work, because I can’t tell you from personal experience what will happen, but the idea seems sound.
Why Copper for countertops?
There is a unique beauty to copper. They have an inherent warmth that I just love. My style did not lean toward granite, quartz or marble (also the cost of such is prohibitive), I didn’t want to deal with cleaning grout and I wanted something higher end than laminate. A local favorite coffee shop has copper countertops I’ve always admired. So my research began by devouring every forum, calling local suppliers of metal.
If you have any additional questions feel free to ask, I’m always glad to share and help.
Thanks again to Cassity for having me over and I hope you all stop by Lilliedale and check out a few of our other handmade projects!
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Cassity Kmetzsch started Remodelaholic after graduating from Utah State University with a degree in Interior Design. Remodelaholic is the place to share her love for knocking out walls, and building everything back up again to not only add function but beauty to her home. Together with her husband Justin, they have remodeled 6 homes and are working on a seventh. She is a mother of four amazing girls. Making a house a home is her favorite hobby.