Stencils bring new life to old countertops

December 13, 2008


Creators Syndicate

Dear Pat: My kitchen could use a new look, but my children need braces on their teeth even more. The laminate countertop looks the worst. What can I do to it to make it look better? - Marina A.

Dear Marina: Plastic laminate countertops are beautiful when they are new, but they can be scratched and stained. This is common with children, because they seldom use a cutting board, and they allow staining liquids and foods to dry on countertops.

If laminate surfaces in your kitchen have become stained and scratched, but are otherwise in good condition, you are in luck. You should be able to let your creative juices flow and turn them into an attractive visual centerpiece for little expense.


Laminate makes a strong base for paint or other types of coatings. Instead of painting it a solid color, stencil it for a unique appearance. Consider the decor of the entire kitchen when selecting your stencil pattern because you might want to continue the stenciling onto the walls at a later date.

A coat of paint is not as durable as the glossy new laminate was initially, so it will tend to stain. For this reason, it should be finished with several coats of high-gloss urethane. Stress to your children to always use a cutting board on the new paint/urethane surfaces. If they do get scratched over time, you can lightly sand them and apply another coat of urethane just as you would with hardwood flooring.

Oil-based paint smells a bit more when first applied, and cleanup is more complicated than with water-based paint, but it is more durable. A coat of oil-based primer is a good starting point. The final urethane topcoat is durable, but it only adheres as well as the substrate, or coats of paint, beneath it.

The first step to any long-lasting paint job is a clean surface. Scrub the countertop with a strong detergent solution, rinse it and scrub it again. If there is any oil or grease residue left on the surface, paint will not adhere well.

Using a hand-sanding block, lightly sand the surface with medium-grit and then with fine-grit sandpaper. Run your hand over the surface to detect any rough spots. Wait an hour for the dust to settle and then vacuum it off, and then wipe it with a damp cloth.

The primer coat is most important. Carefully read the instructions on the paint can before proceeding. Pay attention to the recommended drying time before the next coat is applied. This is critical for good adhesion. If it dries too thoroughly, the next coat of paint might not bite into the primer.

You should be able to find a huge array of stencils at paint stores and arts-and-craft stores. Buy your matching wall stencils at the same time even though you might not use them for a while. Always dab the paint on the stencils instead of using brush strokes. When the stenciling is dry, apply the urethane.

One of the most attractive is an overlay stencil, which creates a 3-D effect. Overlay stencils are also the most difficult to apply, so practice on some scrap wood first. This technique requires the use of several different colors of oil-based paint.

Tools and materials required:

·Sanding block

· Brushes


· Paint

· Urethane

· Sandpaper

· Damp cloth

· Stencils

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit

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