Sinking Into Christmas

Reader Contribution by Allan Douglas
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How could I help but love a woman who says, “Forget diamonds and gold, I want a new kitchen sink for Christmas.”  Well, OK, this is not so much *my* gift to Marie as it is Marie’s gift to herself from her Christmas bonus at work.  But still she could have spent her allowance on jewelry, or slinky clothes, a day at the spa or whatever it is that “normal” women desire. 

But she chose a sink swap.  The sink that came with the house is a standard stainless steel double-bowl sink.  It’s OK.  But we often wish the bowls were larger and much deeper.  And the steel sink doesn’t go with anything in our kitchen.  Marie has spent a year (by her own reckoning) researching kitchen sinks: what is available, what is good what is not and in what colors she can get the good ones.  When she made a decision, we drove into the big city to clap eyeballs on it in real life; sometimes the colors and textures are not quite what you see on-line.  Even after seeing it up close and personal, she liked it.  We bought the sink and a Christmas tree; our Christmas celebration is officially under way.

The box it came in is huge.  If we had younglings hanging around I’m sure a box like this could become all manner of wonderful things.  But we don’t so I’ll break it down and tuck it away in case I need to ship something big one day.

I’m not a big guy but, even so, wiggling into the cabinet under a sink and contorting myself to work on plumbing ranks about 287th on my list of all-time favorite ways to spend an afternoon.  So I decide to assemble the sink *before* mounting it to the counter.  I install the faucet, sprayer, strainers, I even swipe the water supply lines from the old sink and install them to the new faucet so I won’t have to be reaching up behind the sink to try and attach them later. This Price-Phiester faucet uses a push-on connector that is secured with a small clip, and getting that clip into its slot in a nearly inaccessible spot while working blind does not seem to be the way to go.

The first “Oops” moment comes in the fact that the sink is pre-drilled with three holes for a standard faucet, but the faucet Marie selected is not “standard”.   It needs only one hole for the faucet and one for the sprayer.  Marie tried to find a “plug” for the third hole, but could not find any in the right color.  So I whip up this walnut mushroom to do the job.  OK, “whip up” is something of a euphemism; it took several hours and required some ingenuity to mill it to shape while not losing any fingers.  But that is a tale for another time, and another blog.  The stump fits snugly onto the extra hole, a little caulk under the cap will prevent water from working down into the cabinet, and it’s held firmly in place by a spring disk from the underside.  I finished it with polyurethane so it will be water resistant.

I crawl into the cabinet and remove the plumbing and clamps holding the old sink down to the countertop and we lift the old sink clear.  We bag up the clips and leave the fixtures attached.  We’ll probably take this sink to the Goodwill, so we’ll let them decide whether they want to break it down and sell it piecemeal or as a complete unit.

The new sink has a paper template designed to guide an installer in cutting a hole the right size and shape.  We already have a hole, we need to make it bigger; at least deeper front to back, the side-to-side measurement is about right because Marie was careful to look at sinks with the same width so we would not run into problems with the cabinetry under the sink.  There is precious little room on the sides as it is; going any wider would mean tearing out the cabinetry and re-building it.  That would not be a Saturday project!

I line up the template with the front and sides of the existing hole and Marie helps me tape it securely in place.  Then I bore a couple of 1″ holes where the new corners will be -this is much easier than trying to cut a good corner with a saber saw.

I punch the blade of the saber saw through the paper into the existing hole, cut one side, then the other, then I crawl up on the counter top and cut along the back side.  Fortunately our corner sink offers me room to do this.  Reaching the back of the hole from the front would be a strain and I would have trouble getting a good straight cut.  Not that it would matter a whole lot, the cuts made by the original sink installer looked like a drunkards path.

The enlarged hole.  ‘Nuff said.

The sink Marie chose is a composite sink; made from 80% ground granite and 20% resin binder. It looks like granite and wears like granite (and weighs like granite!) but it cannot use the track /bolt/clip system that metal sinks use.  Instead special mounts are molded into the sink and clips are fastened in with expansion pins.  The clips fold over to the side for now.  Once in place, the fasteners flip outward, the metal bracket slides up to lock it in place and a screw pulls the clip up under the counter to hold the sink down.  Failure to fully expand the plugs means the fastener could pull out when the screw is tightened after the sink is installed.  That would be *very* bad.  I make sure the fasteners are mounted securely.

There is precious little room to work down here, especially in the front where a pair of tip-out drawers lives.  Removing these is not an option once the sink is in place.  I could have removed the screws that hold the plastic bin to the wooden drawer front from inside the cabinet while the sink was absent, but putting them back together afterward would  be a problem, so I decide to leave them be and deal with the lack of space as best I can.

Our second “Oops” moment comes as I am laying a bead of black caulk around the rim of the sink opening prior to dropping the sink in place.  Our “L” shaped sink cabinet required joining two pieces of particleboard substrate.  Where that joint occurs, and along the front edge of the sink, the builders used a second layer of lumber.  On the side it was to reinforce the joint so movement doesn’t crack the Formica, along the front it was to give the cabinetry something to nail to.  Particle board is terrible to nail to.  The original sink used really long screw studs to allow the mounting clips to reach down far enough to grab under these double thicknesses (about 2 inches) of material.  The new sink clips are not long enough to allow that.  What to do, what to do?

I left Marie standing in the living room balancing the sink on one end while I ran over to the shop, got a chisel and mallet and as quickly as possible chiseled out pockets in the lower layer at the points the clips will be to give the metal claws space to draw up under the countertop material.  I work quickly because the caulk I laid is already skinning over (and Marie is patiently holding up the sink) but I also have to try not to lie on the caulk bead as I reach through the sink hole whacking on the chisel.  The front edge is little trouble; it is easy to reach, in an ideal position and I am cutting into side grain so the chips just popped out.  The right-rear corner is another story entirely: it is hard to reach, I’m working on end grain and there’s a big hard knot right where I need to cut the pocket.  Very frustrating!

But I get it done, finish laying the caulk and we drop the sink in place.  Caulk gooshes out from under the rim all around (that’s actually a good thing), and I crawl underneath to work on the mounting clips.  I do this with a small battery powered screw driver.  Its compact size is an asset in these tight spaces, and it beats the living daylights out of having to tighten all those clips by twisting a manual screwdriver.  I would be down there a long time doing it that way!

After cleaning up the gooshed caulk I reinstall the drain pipes – which I had completely removed during the process of pulling out the old sink.  The two inches of added bowl depth, combined with the thicker material of the new sink, meant that I had to cut the tail of the main down-pipe to lower the drain connections.  By the way; if you’re a plumber, please forgive my made up terminology; plumbing is NOT my specialty!  And because the drains in the new sink are not centered in the bowls, but shifted toward the center divider by about 1½ inches each, I need to shorten the cross pipe.  But, our installation is done with pipes that contain slip joints at these critical points, so this is a dead simple thing to do.  The only problem I have in this area is that one of the drains leaks, so I have to take it back apart and put more plumbers putty under it to get a good seal.  The flange in the sink is sloped downward rather sharply, the flange on the drain is flat, so it takes a fair bit of putty to fill the void and achieve a seal.  In theory a small bead of putty around just the outer edge of the drain flange would achieve the goal, but in real life that did not work out so well.

Reconnecting the water supply lines is brain-dead simple because I accomplished the hard part before installing the sink.  I even thought to put a flag on the hot water line to be sure I got the lines attached to the right shut-offs.

A full test of the system only shows up the leak I mentioned above.  Easily remedied and not involving a run to the hardware store for more parts.  Although I did have to make a run earlier to get a tub of putty because the tub we had was ancient and all dried out.  I also bought a pair of compression rings that are used in those slip-joint connections, just in case I messed the originals up or they refused to seal again after being dismantled.  Turns out I don’t need them.

As soon as it’s done, Marie reinstalls her kitchen accessories and runs the new sink through its paces by washing a load of dishes – which resulted from Christmas cookie making while I was sink-swapping.  She is very pleased with the larger size and the appearance of the new sink.

Merry Christmas Darling!

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