The last two things that cause a lot of failures are not using corner blocks and routing a radius into an unsupported built-up corner. (See Figure 2.) Notice how the crack originates from the butt joint. This corner also has an offset buildup. In Figure 3, you can see the offset buildup trapped the energy and caused the glue to fail. This photo is from the inside of the cabinet. The offset buildup (meaning that the buildup is not flush in the back) causes many failures. (See Figure 4.)
There are a number of other small, overlooked issues that can cause failures with an inside radius. A chip in the buildup where glue was taken off with a chisel, rather than sanded down, will stop the energy from moving. Saw marks in drop edges or not enough glue in your butt joints can cause failure as well. Also, don’t forget to consider your substrate and how it will support the corner. Did you cleat the wall behind the cabinet if it was needed?
Failures that come from heat or weight can be difficult to diagnose. Weight leaves no tell-tale sign that the failure came from the weight. It is only through experience in fixing counters that I look at the upper cabinets that are over the corner that failed. If I find glasses or dishes or everyday items are stored above a failed corner, I ask leading questions to discover if anyone utilizes the countertop in order to get those items. Of course the confession does not always pay for the repair, but it acts as an opportunity to educate the consumer on how excess weight can fail a corner. I use this to open the door that the next repair will have to be paid for by the consumer.
Heat can also leave tell-tale signs in the form of orange peel. Orange peel is an expression used to describe the bumpy surface of an orange. Heat can cause solid surface materials to become bumpy or rough. In many cases, heat causes the particulates to rise up and sit a little proud of the surface. If heat is a culprit, touching the top will feel like the skin of an orange, almost smooth but a little bumpy. This heat damage is usually caused by a crock pot, or other item that generates heat by using electricity.
Stress is energy, and that energy will always look for the weakest spot in our countertops to release itself. When you are fabricating and installing countertops, look at the countertop and imagine where the energy created by stress will move to and how you keep it moving past one of the weakest points in a counter, the inside corner.
About the author: Patrick Windmeier, owner of Counter Solutions, a fabrication outfit based in Chicagoland, has been repairing solid surface materials for more than 14 years for every major manufacturer. He stopped counting the number of repairs done when his abacus broke; he can be reached at email@example.com.