I recently repaired two granite countertops that had failed reinforcing rods at the kitchen sink cutout. One was an Uba Tuba top, and the other was a Bordeaux top. In each case, the cause was a compounding of failures rather than just a single problem: Latex caulk was used instead of silicone between the undermount stainless steel sink flange and the underside of the granite; particle-board scraps glued with polyester adhesive were used to support the flange of the undermount sinks instead of a Hercules Universal Sink Harness from Braxton-Bragg (braxton-bragg.com); and plain steel rods, instead of stainless or fiberglass ones, were embedded in the granite with polyester adhesive instead of epoxy, the material recommended by the Marble Institute of America.

Water from activity in and around the sink had leaked past the failed caulk and ponded on the sink flange until the granite absorbed it. It passed through the polyester adhesive to the steel reinforcing rod, causing the rod to rust and expand, which cracked the granite.

In the case of the Uba Tuba top, the homeowner had attempted to repair the crack—or to at least disguise it—by filling it with black caulk, but the only solution for a problem like this (short of replacing the top) is to remove the rusting rod and reset the sink using the proper supports, adhesives, and sealants.

Making room to work

To do that, you need access to the rod as well as room to grind the granite from underneath, so I began by removing the face of the cabinet. With frameless cabinets, sawing through the metal dowels holding the cabinet front to the sides of the box does the job. The false drawer front also may need to be removed—because the sink behind it restricts access to its screws, I pry it off by wedging two scraper blades between it and the cabinet rail, then driving a chisel between the scrapers. If you don't have scrapers in the truck, you can use two drywall knives—the goal is to provide hard surfaces for the chisel to push against while also protecting the drawer facing from being damaged.

With framed cabinets, I first remove any screws holding adjacent cabinets together. Then I use a hammer and wood block to separate the face frame from the box in a single piece; it typically pops off easily, with no damage. You can remove the cabinet door first, but I find that to be unnecessary.

Once the cabinet front is removed, it's easy to see how a leaking sink flange delivers water to the bottom of the rod. Tapping a scraper between the sink flange and the underside of the stone will remove the sink without damage to either.

Removing the rusted rod

To remove the rod, I grind away the adhesive on both sides wherever the rod is rusted. One deep cut into the stone on one side, then a gentle tap with a chisel between the rod and stone on the uncut side will usually free the rod.

To keep the dust down, I cover the sink cabinet and surrounding area in poly, but containing the dust is an uphill battle. Sometime after I had made the two repairs shown here, I bought a vacuum attachment for my grinder (at dustdirector.com). I've also been experimenting with fans to create negative pressure and pump filtered air to the outdoors. But in my experience, no matter what you do, there will be some dust in the air, and I make a point of explaining that to my customers.

There aren't too many things that are more unpleasant than lying on your back under a plastic tent and grinding out a rod using a diamond-blade Metabo while wearing safety glasses, hearing protection, and a respirator. I grind as close to the ends of the rod as I can before the Metabo bumps up against the sides of the cabinets. I have had rods that were short enough to completely remove, some that could be wrestled out by hand on the ends, and some that had to be cut, leaving a small end in place. Fortunately, in these two repairs, the rust didn't extend to the ends of the rods.

After exposing the rod, I cut it off with a grinder and pry it out. Typically, I don't have to pry very hard before the rod pops loose. In one recent repair, for instance, the homeowner called me in just as his countertop had begun to fail, so it was relatively easy to completely remove the rod, clean the slot with acetone, and pack it full of anchoring epoxy before filling and polishing the cracked stone surface. But the Bordeaux top had been cracking for a long time, and when I pried on the rod, the granite broke into several pieces and fell away. It was my mistake for failing to reinforce the granite, which I usually do by hot-melt gluing blocks to the sink shoulders.

Repairing the stone

After removing the rusted rod, I then had to repair the broken granite at the sink surround. I used the melamine cabinet front I had sawn out—after screwing a 1x4 along its length to create a "T" brace to hold it flat—to support the pieces of granite. I coated the melamine with WD-40 so that any epoxy that squeezed out when I glued the granite wouldn't bond to it. Then I glued up the granite, letting the epoxy fill any small voids. I used Dani clamps (daniclamp.com) to hold everything together. (The photo is actually of a solid-surface repair; for stone, I wrap one clamp around another for more clamping power and use more clamps.)

Having the Bordeaux top fall away happened on the first repair. I learned a valuable lesson from that, and when I started the Uba Tuba repair, I decided that the cracking was extensive enough that prying the rod would risk breaking the granite. So instead I made a sacrificial cut on each end through the bottom and sink edge. This approach worked perfectly, breaking the sink-side section of granite exactly where I wanted and exposing the failed rod.

Here is the Uba Tuba top after glue-up and clamping, but before grinding and polishing. Prior to reinstalling the sink, I cleaned the rod slot with acetone and pumped it full of Quikrete FastSet Anchoring Epoxy. At $20 a tube, the epoxy is pricey, but it's waterproof and strong, and—most important—it will stay put upside-down right out of the tube. It is rock- hard in minutes.

The rod is no longer needed because the cabinet will provide all the necessary strength in tension for the granite. In fact, rods are mainly used to support the granite during transport and installation, but these days rodding is expensive, unnecessary, and old-school. The invention of the Omni Cubed Sink Hole Saver (also available from Braxton-Bragg) has eliminated the need to reinforce most types of granite at sink cutouts.

Finishing up

The final step is to polish the repaired area. My goal is to match the existing top, so the repair doesn't always have a super gloss but it blends nicely with the surrounding granite. When I publish my work online, I like to use my least-flattering closeups. It keeps me humble, and it also sets customer expectations. I probably could have made these repairs look a bit better, but the meter is running on these jobs and that's always a trade-off. These repairs couldn't be discerned by touch and, while the customers said the tops weren't as good as new, I got Home­Advisor ratings of 4.5 (out of a possible 5).

Repairing a failed rod is somewhat comparable to fixing a totaled car. The difference is, there are plenty of blue Chevys with nearly the same mileage as the one you wrecked, and finding one is relatively easy. But there may not be many replacement slabs of granite that match a particular damaged top, and finding one may be difficult and take a long time. Therein lies the problem—and the value of rod repairs. Even the $25-per-foot granite countertop guys couldn't have matched and replaced either of these tops for the $1,000 or so I charged for each of these repairs. Repairs that reuse the existing granite are relatively inconspicuous and can't be detected by touch. And unlike with replacements, the finish, particulates, movement, edge profile, and color match perfectly.

Joseph Corlett (josephcorlett.com) has more than 30 years' experience in the cabinet and countertop industries and specializes in surface restoration. His columns appear monthly at countertopiq.com. Email him at [email protected].

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