trim pulling team

When Surprises Lurk Behind Your Laminate Backsplash

I lied. We’re not quite to tiling yet. BUT! Today we get to talk laminate backsplash & countertops! Hooray?

Before I could tile (read all about that here!), I needed to rip off the 4″ laminate backsplash around the whole kitchen. I was really looking forward to this. Previously, a misguided attempt to remove a small (~12″ long) section of the backsplash with a putty knife led to our first drywall blowout:

…Yeah. Don’t rip off your backsplash with a putty knife.

That’s what prompted me to go buy this beauty: a trim puller. It’s designed specifically to wedge itself behind trim pieces. As you hammer its wedge into the space between the wall and trim, its clever design drives the two pieces farther and farther apart. The really nice part is that the wedge’s surface area is big enough to distribute the load and not blow holes in the wall behind it.

So, I figured that armed with this new tool, it would be trivial to remove the backsplash. Right?

trim pulling team

Problem Number One

Well. It was all going fine until I noticed this:

it's a gap!

See a little, uh, gap there? We had one on the other side of the counter, too. Now, this could have been fine. If we’d planned to tile that wall (we didn’t) it’s possible we could have gotten away with just tiling over the gap and hoping caulk would take us the rest of the way. But, alas. I just wanted to paint that wall and have a seamless transition between counter and wall. IS IT SO MUCH TO ASK??!

After cursing the kitchen gods a bit, I put my creative thinking hat on, found some scrap pieces of wood, and devised a plan.

With some liquid nails and poplar scraps (just thinner than the gap thickness) I had lying around, I figured I could fill the gaps most of the way. This was true. I drove in a couple screws to use as handles while the liquid nails did its thing. The ergonomics were quite awkward, so apologies for the lack of photos here.

The rest of the gap I figured could be filled in with some sort of wood filler, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Problem Number Two

Unfortunately, filling in the side gaps was the easy problem. The harder one was this:

Whatever glue the installers used to secure that backsplash was some kind of crazy industrial strength never-gonna-move type adhesive. I hadn’t noticed it for the other sections because of that gap underneath the backsplash, so there was less surface area for the adhesive to grab onto. But, for the longest stretch of backsplash, there was no gap, and it wasn’t going anywhere. I could remove it from the wall with the trim puller just fine, it just wouldn’t separate from the countertop beneath it.

I took to the internet for advice. First of all, apparently no one else has problems with this. Laminate backsplash removal is a gimme. Low-hanging fruit. But I did get some suggestions: Try softening the glue with a heat gun, they said! Didn’t work. Not even a little. Try some solvents! Yeah, that probably would have worked. But it was cold outside and I really didn’t want to have to go to Home Depot AGAIN… or, you know, deal with yucky solvents.

It seemed that my only option was to brute force this thing off the wall. And that’s how I used the tool I swore would never touch another backsplash or trim piece ever again:

I had to wedge the putty knife under every little bit of backsplash to physically break the glue bond. This was exhausting and took forever. The backsplash was so brittle, it just wanted to keep breaking. Applying leverage with the already-loosened sections of backsplash was nearly impossible. And behind the sink – oof. Impossible to get back there with the putty knife. So what happened there?

This. This happened there. An enormous blowout. It happened in some other places, too, where I just couldn’t muster the strength to physically wedge in the putty knife so that it broke up the glue.

Oh, and another fun thing happened, too:

Hooray for terrible drywall installation (by the previous remodelers) and unnecessary drywall repairs! That’s why you always screw the vertical drywall edges into studs, kids. Ugh.

The Solution

And it’s only a solution because I planned to paint my countertops next anyway, so I didn’t mind a color mismatch. Wood filler!

This stuff smells. BAD. Bummer when it’s in the 20s outside and you have to work with the fan on and door open…

But it did the job. I filled in all the places I had blowouts and built up the material around the poplar strips I’d glued in place to fill the side gaps:

It took several rounds of: mix filler, apply filler, wait for filler to cure fully, sand down (and repeat) before I had reasonably flat surfaces. That space behind the sink… Yikes. That was a doozy. Basically impossible to get back there with any sort of leverage for sanding. I’ll say this, it’s a very, very good thing I painted the counters the way I did – if you look closely at it now, you can tell it’s not totally flat, but you wouldn’t notice unless I said something.

Next up, of course, is painting the countertops! THEN, finally, we can get on to tiling…  Next up is tiling! (Hooray for 60 degree weather in December!) Then countertop painting and caulking! And it all had to happen quickly, since using the sink was verboten while we had no backsplash and exposed wood filler…


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