Metal and Metal Laminates

A skilled metal worker can fabricate a backsplash out of virtually any sheet metal on the market (copper, stainless steel, zinc, brass and even nickel) and provide a range of surface textures (hammered, ribbed and even the quilted pattern you might have seen last time you were in a circa-1930s diner). Shops that specialize in sheet-metal countertops and backsplashes might be hard to find, so be persistent if you're looking to complement your stainless-steel appliances.

Fabricators typically use sheet metal about 1/16 in. thick: 16- to 22-ga. stainless steel, 20-oz. copper, 24-ga. zinc. It is sometimes bonded to a rigid backing material, such as a water-resistant medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and the assembly is then glued to the wall. Unlike tile or stone, sheet metal is unforgiving. Anything that interrupts the flow of the wall—electric outlets, light switches, windows—requires a precise cutout. Fabricators usually work from templates made on site. They locate cuts exactly so installers don't run into unwelcome surprises. Costs quickly climb with the number of obstructions fabricators have to work around.

With the exception of unusually pricey tile, a sheet-metal backsplash is probably the most expensive option available. Soupcan Inc., a fabricator of metal countertops in Chicago, charges $140 to $160 per square foot for copper or zinc that has been laid up on a substrate. Stainless Steel Kitchens, a specialty fabricator in Elkhart, Indiana, charges considerably less than that for stainless steel. Prices start at $20 per square foot for 16-ga. stainless. But that is for metal not mounted on a backer sheet, and does not include any receptacle cutouts.

Aside from scratching, stainless steel is impervious to all but intentional abuse. Copper, zinc and brass, however, are what pros call "maintenance finishes." These metals oxidize, producing a patina of uneven coloring. Whether metals are allowed to age or are polished regularly to maintain the original appearance is up to the homeowner.

A less expensive route is metal laminate, which is similar to high-pressure plastic laminate, but it is topped with a thin layer of aluminum, brass, copper or stainless steel. Made by several companies, including Formica and Wilsonart, it is available in a variety of finishes and textures. Fabricators buy sheets 2 and 4 ft. wide and up to 10 ft. long and apply the material much as they would plastic laminate. It is glued to a particleboard or MDF core with contact adhesive, and it can be worked with the same tools used to make plastic laminate.

Metal-faced laminates are available through fabricators and from home centers for $6 to $8 per square foot; fabrication and installation will add $8 to $9 per square foot to that figure.

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