Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Using Templates for Installing Cultured Marble

The other day a new marble factory asked me the best way to go about making a rather complicated cultured granite bathroom countertop. It was going to be a large ‘L’ shaped, corner vanity top, and it would have a couple of inside and outside radius on each back wall. The customer wanted a 45 degree angle on the front inside corner, and they would have to use a Hexagon Floating Bowl on each side of the ‘L’.

The solution was simple enough and one that many take for granted and use every day. But, if you’ve never seen it done, this trick may never have occurred to you. I’ve seen cultured marble shops try to lay out parts on their wall panel mold using cardboard, paper, etc., with some pretty disastrous results.

I went through my files of photos and found a couple of reasonably clear photos of a template. I e-mailed that to him with directions on how I make a simple template and how to use it, and he found making that unilav countertop was a ‘piece of cake’.

To make the template, go to your local Home Depot kind of store and buy some ‘door skin’. It is a 1/8" thick veneer type of material that comes in sheets about 4' X 8'. Cut them into 3" or 4" wide strips on a table saw.

You will need to make a template on the job site where the actual part will be installed. I use a template most often when I need to pour an irregular shaped piece of cultured marble on the Wall Panel Mold and occasionally on the All Purpose Mold. The most common uses are probably going to be to produce irregular shaped bathroom vanity tops, bathtub decks, or pieces around a shower pan, but once you realize how much time you can save and how much more accurate you can produce your parts, you will start using them all the time.

For example, let’s say you need to make a fairly simple ‘L’ shaped corner unilav countertop like the picture here that I took at Angel Marble. When the cabinets are in place, lay a strip of your template material horizontally along the back, left wall, making sure it is fitting into the corner. Take another strip of your template material and lay it on the cabinet along the right hand wall. Where those two template pieces overlapped in the corner, staple them together.

I like to use a T-50 Arrow staple gun with 3/8" long T-50 Arrow Staples. The 3/8" long staples are perfect because the total thickness of the two overlapped veneer pieces will total of 2/8", and the extra 1/8" is long enough to enter into the cabinet to hold your template in place. And, only going into the cabinet 1/8" is not so deep and you can’t easily lift your template off the cabinet when you’re finished.

Follow the same steps around the cabinet. Make sure you make your templates to allow for the over-hang you will want on your finished edges. Add a few cross pieces to stabilize your template. Nothing is worse than getting your template back to the factory in two or more pieces. When you’ve finished making your template, make some notes on the template to show which sides are finished edges and which will fit against the wall. Whether you’ll be using floating bowls to make a unilav or making a hole to accommodate an undermount bowl or dropin bowl, make a mark on the template where the bowls will be located.

When you get it back to the shop, place your template ‘upside down’ on your mold, staple points facing ‘up’. You can use some double sided tape to hold it in place, and using double sided tape again, tape your divider bars on the mold, against the template.

Another great use for a template is when you’re installing a shower surround. I like the idea of sellingthe inside corner trim molding for shower surrounds for two reasons. You make money selling the trim,plus, it makes installations much easier and faster. But for the time being, let’s say the customer doesn’t want the inside corner trim.

I always say ‘there is no such thing as a square wall’, (but don’t ask a framer) so the marble wall panel will have to be cut to fit the un-square wall. (This is why you’ll always make the wall panel an inch oversize, and expect to cut it to fit.) Since in this case your customer doesn’t want to use an inside corner trim mold, you’ll want no more than 1/8" gap in the corners, and the template is a perfect way to achieve that.

Let’s say you’re installing wall panels for a simple bathtub shower surround. Since the back wall should go on first, let’s do that wall. Take one piece of template and place it vertically in the corner, flat against the back wall. Put a staple in it to hold it to the wall. Place another piece of template across the bottom, resting it on the top of the bathtub. Where these two templates overlap, put in 4 or 5 staples to staple them together. Do the same on all four sides, and you’ll end up with a square template frame. Now, do the same thing to the other two ends of the bathtub where the wall paneling will be installed. When you are making the templates make sure you use a leveling tool to assure they are perfectly horizontal on the top, and make sure the end panels they are going to be exactly the same height as the back panel as well. Also, use the leveling tool to make sure the finished edges of the end wall panels are vertical. Again, put a couple extra pieces of template material across the middle of your rectangle shaped template to give them more strength and assure they won’t come apart.

Hopefully, you’ll be installing a recessed soap dish or soap/shampoo combo in the shower surround too.

You can use your templates to locate where you will cut the hole in the wall panel as well. First, make the cutout in the wall where the soap dish or soap/shampoo combo will go. Then, staple one piece of template horizontally across your template frame at the top edge of this cutout. Staple another one at the bottom of this cutout. Now, staple a template strip vertically on each side of the soap dish cutout, to the two horizontal pieces you just installed prior. You should now have the exact location where your soap dish or soap/shampoo combo will go. Make sure you identify which side of your shower surround requires the finished edge and which side will go in the corner. Obviously you will be cutting on the side that will fit into the corner and not your finished edge. (Ouch!)

Lay your wall panel on a saw horse, unfinished side ‘up’. Lay your template on top the panel making sure your staples are point ‘up’. Align your template on the edge of your two finished edges. Take a pencil and draw a line on the other two edges. These two sides are where you will cut your cultured marble wall panel to fit Mr. Framer’s un-square wall. Follow the same steps whether you’re installing a shower surround over a bathtub or on a shower pan.

When it comes to tools, I’m picky. The best saw you can buy (my opinion) to cut cultured marble or onyx or granite, is the Skil Brand Model HD77, which is a 7” Worm Drive Circular Saw like the one you see in the picture. Using a carborundum blade like the one you see on the Skil saw, cut both ends off that you marked with your pencil. A really good installer can cut the panel perfectly along the pencil line and slap the panel on the wall. I don’t pretend to be a installer, so I’d make my cut about 1/16th from the line, then take a sander with a 36 grit disc, and sand up to the pencil line. I’d rather take the extra time and sand off that 1/16th of an inch all the way up the panel than to try to make a perfect cut with the circular saw and cut in past that line. That would be a bummer.

Anyway, I hope you got the gist of it. I thought I was going to do a short couple of paragraphs here, but that didn’t happen.

If anybody has any other template ideas, let me know. This is the best and most simple way to make a template that I have found.


  1. I'm pleased to have found this page. Your comments on sanding that 1/16 inch will probably save me a bunch of time and material.
    I have just recently returned to marble polishing, and will probably do some fabrication.
    eddie evans

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