Friday, April 22, 2011

How To: Concrete Counter tops

Yipee for my very first ever guest blogger!

We all know how I brag on my uber-awesome husband and how handy he is not only in the OR but also around the house. Without him, we simply couldn't do all of the renovations that we do. He's pretty cool. AND, I am gonna brag a little more - just because I can. There is a dress that I really, really wanted but would never buy for myself just because, well - you know as a Mom, you don't buy clothes for yourself. You wear things that you've had since high school and take the background as your chirrens look all cute. Well....he bought it for me. He got online and ordered it (after he sneakily asked me my size) and surprised me with it. I mean, ladies...he IS taken. Thanks. I'm just so proud.

Anyways - he poured our concrete counter tops in our kitchen and they are fantabulous. And we have had so many people ask about them, that I asked him to write it down so I could put up the how-to on the blog. I mean, CAN do this! And not just by paying someone $100 a square foot!!

But since we all know I can sometimes be a control freak and it is my blog, I added my two-cents in italics. You know, just to make the twitches calm as I gave up the reins for my blog. So, here goes.

Welcome to the exciting world of concrete counter tops!

First, let me say that my writing doesn’t compare to Amy’s. (whatevs, he uses punctuation, and I mean properly like he's supposed to) I would love to tell you about Louisa and I’s trip to taco bell (shizzles. busted. we eat way healthy people) the other day. However, the discussion about how Honduras and the airport aren’t the same just wouldn’t be as funny if Amy doesn’t tell it.

So I will stick to writing about our foray into making concrete counter tops. It wasn’t as hard as I thought that it would be (there is nothing this cracker can't do); however, they are as heavy as you can imagine. Plus the costs are not bad at all. I think that we did our whole kitchen for under $200 not including the tile back splash. So here is my best attempt at describing what I did for anyone else feeling up to the challenge!

Step 1 – remove the old counter tops and measure, measure, measure.

If you house if like ours, old and not level or straight (shantified...but it's fab, so buy it when it's on the market next year - it's harmless character), then you may want to use the old counter tops as a template for the new ones. This will help you to duplicate the size. At this point you may want to ensure that the base counters can support the weight of the new concrete.

Actually the first thing I did was buy a book on concrete counter tops. I bought mine at Lowes for about $20 and it was worth every penny.

It goes into much more depth that I do here. In short, there are 2 ways that concrete counter tops can be made – either poor in place or build them in a form. I chose the latter method in hopes of keeping as much mess out of the kitchen (and keeping the peace in our house). (I mean, dripping sugar he's so he doesn't like my psychoses brought on by reno dust in my house)

Step 2 – build the form

For me, this was the toughest and most time consuming part (insert bad words here). I used melamine to build the form. For those not familiar with melamine, it is the stuff of prefabed closet shelves and dry erase boards. By using melamine, you can poor the counter top upside down and produce a very finished surface without much work. You can buy melamine at Lowes, which is where I got all my supplies. (Lowes is to Byron what Target is to me) I went with 1 ½ inch thick counter tops which is a common thickness. It makes for a strong counter top without being too heavy.

I ripped the melamine shelves into 1 ½ strips with the table saw. I then cut these to length understanding that the inner dimension of the form is the size of the counter top. I then secured these strips to 4x8 melamine sheet (the dry erase board) which is only about 3/16 thick so I stabilized it with some old plywood. One tricky part here is making sure the form is square and level.

Step 3 – mix / poor the concrete

The reference I used recommended pure Portland cement; however, I used a half and half mix of pure Portland cement and quickcrete 5000. (because he's handy like that) This has some small pebbles in it but I think makes for a stronger counter top that just Portland cement. When mixing the concrete, adding too much water will make the mix soupy and weak. Fill the bottom half of the form with concrete and try to tamp it down to get rid of any air bubbles (these can ruin your counter top). Once the form is about half full you should add some metal support for strength. I chose metal lath on the two smaller counter tops and ¼ inch rebar on the other one. Once the metal is in, fill the form the rest of the way.

Step 4 – tamp it down

Begin by screeding the top of the concrete. (WTH?) A screed is just a board levels the concrete out. (oh, yeah...I knew that) Next, I used and orbital sander (anything that vibrates will work)

and moved it around the form to allow the air bubbles to rise to the top. This step is crucial. Not only will bubbles weaken the counter top, they will cause it to be porous and unsightly. (this has me giggling) Once the water rises to the top of the concrete and then disappears, you can use a trowel to smooth out the top (which will be the under-surface when you are finished) so that the counter top rests evenly on the base counters.

Step 5 – remove the form

I let the counter tops sit for a couple of days before removing the form. Begin by removing the screws of the sides and then gently pry the counter top up until you can get your finger under it and flip it over. You may need help depending on the size since these jokers (crackers) are heavy. (Note - ask your 9 month preggo wife) I then let them cure for a couple of extra days – there will still be some water that will evaporate. Once they are fully cured, they are ready to be set in place. I didn’t do anything but set them on the base counter because mine are so heavy they won’t move anywhere.

Step 6 – finish them

I used an epoxy finish designed for counter tops that you can buy at Lowes.
I tried a penetrating sealer but it wasn’t going to stand up to Louisa. (no joke) The epoxy was easy to apply, is impregnable, and provides a nice shine that Amy seems to like. (is it obvious who wears the britches? hehe, just kidding. it isn't me, but sometimes he lets me think i do) Just follow the directions on the box and viola, you have completed the counter tops! Fast food may be in order as the epoxy takes a couple of days to cure. (aha, no wonder we were eating taco bell...hehe)

The good thing about concrete counter tops is that they weren’t too hard to make and look a million times better than our old off white Formica! (hell to the yes!!) They are supposed to be non-uniform as you see above. That isn't moisture, but difference in color of the stone. And while they weren’t expensive, if you mess up you will likely have a 75 pound dud that you will have to find some where to dispose. My dud is still sitting outside…(haaaa, 'tis true)

I mean, awesome right! Now how many of you are gonna do these now? You should!!!

Oh, and try this at home. We are not professionals. Hehe.


beki said...

Thanks so much for sharing! I'm directing my husband here ASAP. He is off all next week...(ya now, watching 3 kids while I'm at work isn't enough for him to do :))

Monika B. said...

I had a great time reading your story and your pictures are amazing, I love them!!!