Cutting the Sink Hole: Uh-oh

“Sink Hole Day” was a big day.  And a stressful one.  I’ll go ahead and reveal it now, so you don’t have to catch on through the middle:  the cut did not go as planned.  Because we were going with an undermount sink with my new butcher block countertops, we had to make sure that our one and only cut would be spot on.  So in this post, instead of telling you how blissful and stress-free it was, I’ll show you what went wrong, and how we overcame this frustrating turn of events.  I think that does more justice to a DIY post anyway.

While most of the planning went down on Thursday evening (after routing the edges and cutting slots for the clamps, which I’ll talk about in a future post), we chose to wait until the following day to make the actual cuts.  I was totally on board with this, considering that the weather caused the skies to darken sooner than expected.  Too much risk; better to try in the daylight.

Even so, we made a few key decisions during the planning phase.  For one, I wanted a cut that would make the hole completely flush with the sink.  There are other options, such as a positive or negative reveal.  A positive reveal exposes a small lip of the undermount sink at the very top when it joins with the countertop; a negative one is exactly the opposite, where the counter extends slightly over the sink basin.  Wanting a zero or flush cut meant that there was no room for error.  One shot, and that’s all we’d have.  But luckily, the sink came with a template with all three options drawn out.  Simply choose the size you want (since obviously, the hole for a negative reveal is smaller than the positive one) and trace around the line.

Isn’t she a beauty?  Throughout the week, my sink had taken up prime real estate in both my garage and my garden (keeping it close to the action for measuring).  I’ve been working with National Builder Supply for choosing this sink, who have been amazingly helpful at both helping me pick the right one for my tastes and then offering helpful information about how to install and care for it long-term.  My contact, Rachael, could not have been more helpful (she even sent me inspiration photos for weeks before we figured out which one I wanted).  The sink I chose is the Houzer Nouvelle Undermount, and National Builder Supply even has a showroom here in Georgia.  I like it when a vendor lets me check out their operation; and I went home with my shiny new sink to boot.

In hindsight, I wish that we would have made this cut before making the rest of them for the other areas in the kitchen.  Because we had two full lengths of butcher block, we could have made the 45 degree angled cut in the corner and then attempted the sink.  If anything went wrong, we’d still have another twelve feet for cutting and have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes (foreshadowing, anyone?).  But while I was in class, my aunt gave my uncle the go-ahead to cut the rest of the smaller pieces out of the other butcher block piece (logically thinking that it was the best option to keep our momentum after all of the delays we had earlier in the week).  So even though that wasn’t the case with my countertop, I’d definitely recommend this to anyone trying this out on their own in the future.

Another recommendation that I mentioned in this post worth repeating:  the right tool for this all-important cut is worth the expense of renting a better quality tool than the one you own.  My jigsaw was a cheapo.  While we definitely made the right decision blade-wise (we picked one out on our 5,487th trip to the hardware store to make sure we had a proper blade for the thickness of the wood), I wish we’d also rented a higher quality brand jigsaw.  We made a number of test cuts, but I don’t think any of them were made on a curve, which would have revealed the problem before making the cut.

I was nervous about the sink hole.  To cope, I stayed out of my uncle’s hair while much of the planning went down (assuming my looming over his shoulder wasn’t going to help matters).  In hindsight, I may have had some ideas of my own to contribute (“Shouldn’t we try to cut a circle in a test block, just to make sure the angle is straight up and down, like we did with the 45-degree one?”).  So I’m certainly not happy with the way I chickened out from getting in on the action.  I was too busy biting my nails and praying.

I was in the dining room and kitchen working on the new window molding (caulk/paint/time-consuming stuff that makes the job look complete) when I heard the buzz of the saw.  The plan was to first cut the straight lines in the sink using the circular saw.  By plunging the saw into these straight lines, the only thing that needs to be cut with the jigsaw is each of the four corners.  See here for a really good video on exactly how that’s done.  The second time I heard the sawblades whirring, I knew it was jigsaw time.  When the noise stopped, I walked to the front yard (which had been our makeshift workshop all week long when it wasn’t raining).

“We cut the hole wrong.”

The first comment I heard from my uncle as I walked outside didn’t scare me.  The thing is, it’s my uncle’s sense of humor to say something like this when he really doesn’t mean it.  I smiled and walked further up, expecting he was kidding.  And then I learned he wasn’t.

“We should have rented a better jigsaw.  The blade didn’t stay straight, and the curve on the underside isn’t flush with the sink.”

My brain short-circuited a little bit.  I blinked, expecting to find myself five minutes in the past, before I learned that we just ruined my countertop.

“We could just go pick up another sink to fit the hole.” offered my uncle’s brother, Timmy.

Tons of thoughts ran through my head in a nanosecond, and none of them positive.  Just go pick up a new sink?  After all of this planning?  Sinks don’t just come in quarter-inch size variations.  There’s the overall width, depth, the curve of the edges, the possibility of the undermount lip butting up to the faucet, and all of the other things we’d taken so much time to prepare and plan for.  We’d even re-arranged the plumbing to fit exactly this sink’s layout.  In this moment, I was angry at the mere suggestion that the solution could be that simple.  It was Friday afternoon, and National Builder Supply would be closing for the weekend in less than two hours.  And even if there were such a sink, there was only a small chance that it would be in stock same-day.  My family would be leaving town in less than 48 hours.  I was at wit’s end and shoving the urge to cry into the pit of my stomach.

First words out of my mouth: “No, that’s simply not going to happen.  There is no such thing as ‘just’ picking up a new sink!”

I was snapping at someone merely offering a solution; it wasn’t my most patient or proudest reaction to the news.  Plus, it’s not like they had done it on purpose; they probably felt worse than I did, and I thanked them for their effort by snapping like a jerk.  I went inside to call National Builder Supply about a replacement, but found that Rachael had already left for the day.  I had met a few other people during my trip to their showroom, so I tried to help the (very helpful, but thrown off because of my panic) agent on the phone track down people who may have met me during my visit.  Eventually, they promised to call me back shortly with options if there were any in stock.  For the second time in a week, I was tethered to the hope of a phone call.

Fortunately, my uncle is also a bit of a whiz at this stuff.  Throw him a home improvement problem, and despite its obstacles, he can usually find a way to work around it.  When I walked back outside, he presented his alternative:  the problem areas were in only two spots along the sink hole.  These spots just so happened to be the least visible corners of the sink (facing the faucet, they were the two closest to the edge of the counter), so you could likely only see there was a problem if you craned your head to inspect them (for example, when cleaning the sink, but would be invisible to most anyone who wasn’t looking for it).  Despite this setback, it really wasn’t the worst possible outcome, as long as he could find a way to make it work.  He suggested running off to the store (for the 6,412th time) to grab a coping saw.  This would allow him to cut the narrow slice off of the resulting block of the cutaway piece and re-attach it to the sink hole using wood glue, tape, and clamps.  After a little bit of wood putty and sanding, he thought the issues would be hardly noticeable.

The phone rang about fifteen minutes later as we were coming up with a game plan.  Bad news was, there really wasn’t something in stock that would fit the current hole without increasing the sink depth (and we’d pretty much already maxed that out) and still leave room for the faucet (which, um, is necessary for a kitchen sink).  Plus, the only alternative was a completely different style that we’d have to immediately rush across Atlanta traffic to snag before they closed.  And there was always a risk of cutting a new hole and still face the same problem again (unlikely, but not a guaranteed favorable outcome).

We went with the most probable-sounding solution:  overcoming the mistake with a coping saw.  Thankfully, my uncle cut this nearly perfectly & even trimmed up a few other places.

With some wood glue and clamps, we placed the two slivers of wood into their new homes and waited for it to dry before filling empty spots with wood putty.

When it comes to butcher block, wood putty is pretty much always necessary (wood = natural material with dings and imperfections), so this wasn’t nearly as bad-looking as I thought it was going to be.  The walnut putty matched pretty well to the color of the wood, and thanks to a Dremel sanding tool and a metal file, we were able to smooth our way to the right shape.

Next up, we’d need to install the sink and faucet.  But it was already getting dark, and I needed to hit the books for class the following day.  At this point in our progress, I wasn’t sure if anything else might go wrong, but we were, most definitely, finding a solution.  Luckily, my uncle and his brother were still raving to my aunt about the Mexican restaurant I took them to the day before, so we ended the evening off with a meal they were sure to enjoy.

I went to bed that night feeling grateful for their help, but chock full of stress.  With all of my luck that week, I hated the idea of spending an entire class day on the edge of my seat, away from the action.  The saga continues, along with a partial reveal on Friday… whew!

 

Did you miss anything in my kitchen reno project so far?  See the inspiration board, the background of my uncle’s visit, the painting saga begins here, sourcing the butcher block, and learn how to cut a corner angle here.

Disclosure:  The sink was provided by National Builder Supply in exchange for writing a review.  I’ll be writing up more about the sink in a future post when I show it fully installed, but just in case you wondered, I like to be transparent.

Comments

  1. says

    Give that Uncle a hug from me! I love it when people know their stuff and are creative enough to come up with solutions that fix the problem. Yahoo!

    • Sarah says

      Isn’t he awesome? I felt so bad. He’s a DIY superhero, that’s for sure.

  2. Sarah In Illinois says

    Ugh, those pictures almost made me sick to my stomach for you. Snapping (and crying) would have been my reaction too!

    I can’t wait to see the reveal!

  3. says

    That is high stress stuff for sure! It really is a beautiful piece of wood/counter, nice to see he could fix it up.

  4. says

    My heart was definitely beating harder as I read your post. And there’s a little bit of a flop sweat going. Sounds like you’re headed in the right direction, though! Phew…

  5. Syl says

    Glad your uncle saved the day!!! And may I say, if you hadn’t mentioned it no one would have noticed.

    I’m surprised though that no one thought of using a hole saw bit on a drill to make the corners. That’s usually how I’ve seen it done. Use a benched drilled (on a regular drill on a support) so you’re sure you’re drilling at a perfect-ish vertical, then follow that with a hole saw bit in the correct diameter for the curvature of the corners.

    Four strait cuts later with a circular saw like you did, a little sanding and you’re good to go.

    Ok, I realise in hindsight that I’m not being very helpful here, so go ahead and slap me ;-)

    • Sarah says

      I thought about that but most of the tutorials I’d read didn’t go that route, so I thought this was better. It all worked out in the end, but that’s not a bad idea for anyone else attempting it.

  6. Lindsay says

    Oh my, you were lucky to come up with such a good fix! We literally cut our butcher block sink hole 3 weeks ago, and it was definately high stress. We were lucky enought to have a good outcome, but spent a good hour or two measuring and checking over and over then another hour getting the courage to actually cut. In the end we ended up with some burn marks in the corner that I couldn’t sand out, but we stained them a dark walnut so its not noticable to anyone but us.

  7. says

    As I’m reading this I’m thinking your Uncle was saying “Ruh roh. We’re going to be hearing a lot more than frickity frick frick any second now.”

    I’m guessing the countertop is about 1 ½” thick. Not an easy size to cut through with any type of jig saw blade. I’m wondering if you always have to undercut and trim with a sander later? At the end of the day it looks like the job came out just fine thanks to lots of skill, some wood glue and a couple of whews. Your sink? That is a beauty.

  8. Clotel says

    You’re Uncle did a great job! It’s not noticeable at all.

    I’m new to woodworking and general home fixing and maintaining. I’m learning lots from your blog. Your blog makes me more confident that as a woman, I can handle most things that happen even if I am standing in the hardware store with sawn-off plumbing in my hand, asking the store clerk where to find this “thingy here” lol!

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