(Written in July, 1999)
by Jim Heaphy
Most homeowners prefer a countertop with a coved backsplash, and for good reason. There is little doubt that a coved backsplash is more sanitary and easier to keep clean than a loose backsplash installed separately and caulked with silicone. Coved splashes are common with plastic laminate countertops, where mass production techniques allow this feature to be offered at a negligible price. Matters are different, though, with solid surface countertops. Creating a coved backsplash has always been an expensive and labor intensive proposition when working with solid surface materials.
However, there are a growing number of methods, both new and old, to create coved backsplashes. The choice of methods depends on fabricator preference and is influenced by the volume of coved splash work that a given company does or plans to do in the future.
When I first got involved with countertop fabrication about sixteen years ago, use of a portable coving router was the accepted technique, and this remains a good choice for many fabricators. These machines have been improved over the years, resulting in more reliable performance, and at least one model now incorporates dust control. Before using the router, the countertop and splash must be glued up accurately with a filler block creating a stair step detail where the splash meets the deck. Sources for this type of tool, which costs approximately $800.00, include Art Betterley Enterprises at 800-871-7516 and Specialtytools.com through the Internet at www.specialtytools.com or at 800-669-5519.
The next major development in coving was the introduction about ten years ago of the mass-produced coved backsplash molding by TFI Corporation. Distributed through the Dupont CORIAN network, this molding is consistent and predictable, and allows a cove to be created with a single glue line, as opposed to the double glue line common with many other methods. It is not necessary to purchase any special equipment other than a specific router bit and some inexpensive clamping clips to fabricate a cove by this method. For more information, contact your CORIAN distributor, or TFI Corporation at 800-422-8746 or through the Internet at www.tficorp.com.
Fabricators have sometimes tried to create coves using joint adhesives or other liquid resin products. Such experiments usually prove to be complete failures, as it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent cove shape without unacceptable bubbles, voids and slumping. One company has made progress toward eliminating these problems. The Align-Rite Tool Company has developed its Liquid Coving System that applies a thick liquid epoxy with a caulking gun, which is then smoothed with special tools. The system can match a wide variety of particulate colors, and has been described in literature that Dupont publishes for CORIAN fabricators. A kit that will do 40 to 50 feet of coving sells for $65.00. Contact Align-Rite through the Internet at www.alignritetool.com or call 520-624-4438.
A variation on the theme of the coved backsplash molding is offered by Great Lakes Kitchen & Bath, manufacturers of the Quick Cove Moulding. Rather than a molding that consists of the entire backsplash, this smaller molding takes care of just the coved area, and a rectangular piece of conventional solid surface makes up the balance of the splash. The countertop deck is rabbeted to accept the molding, and the edge of the backsplash receives a beveled dado that corresponds with the angled top edge of the cove molding. This arrangement forces the face and the top edge of the cove into precise alignment as the splash is clamped into position. The company claims a 70% reduction in labor as compared to other methods, and the only special tool required is a router bit. Call Great Lakes Kitchen & Bath at 517-846-9211 for more information.
Now, a dedicated cove manufacturing system is available for production oriented shops. The Machining Center by Merlin Systems, Inc. can machine 200 feet of coved backsplash per hour, according to the company. Total productivity, including gluing and sanding, is estimated at between 5 to 7 feet per man hour on residential jobs and 10 to 12 feet per man hour on straight run commercial jobs., As well as producing standard straight splashes, the system can also cove curved splashes and both inside and outside corners at any angle, not just 90§. The machine is in the $30,000.00 price range, and is available on a 5 year lease plan. For more information, call 800-805-9545 or e-mail to merlin email@example.com.
Automatic V-grooving machines have grown in popularity with larger solid surface fabrication shops in recent years because of their ability to automate the fabrication of countertop front edges. However, by changing a cutter head, or using a double head machine, V-groovers can also be used to produce coved splashes. This type of equipment, which was pioneered by Auto V-Grooving of Toronto, is in the $100,000.00 price range. For more information, contact Auto V-Grooving at 800-387-5819 or through the Internet at www.vgrooving.com.
The choice in coving techniques, then, is a function of the inclination and experience of the fabricator, the company's current and projected sales volume, and the company's ability to finance capital equipment. What is clear is that quality backsplash coving technology is available to fabricators of every size. Unfortunately, it is also clear that, though costs may be declining, the solid surface coved backsplash remains much more expensive than the same detail in a plastic laminate countertop.
NOTE: Here are links to two additional companies that sell technology to help with coved backsplashes:
The Pinske Edge