Blog Cabin DIYs: How to Make Concrete Countertops

Credit: Eric Perry © 2014, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

We went DIY on the countertops this year and poured concrete on site

Everything I know about concrete countertops I learned from Riko Ramos. Well almost everything … here’s how it all started. In previous years, Blog Cabin’s kitchen has had butcher block tops, man-made stone, real stone, you name it. But not concrete. This year we were blessed with a new appliance finish: Slate. This slate line has a similar look to stainless but without the finger prints. It’s also darker, as the name would suggest.

Credit: Eric Perry © 2014, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.With those appliances anchoring the room, we knew we wanted another apron front sink. But one that would fuse farmhouse with contemporary style. Luckily the two-bowl Whitehaven sink was available in Thunder Grey which was a close match to the Slate line. Not only did it have simple lines but it was also available with a short apron which meant we could modify a standard sink base.

After all that, I’m looking at those two — the appliances and the sink — thinking now we have to tie it all together. Concrete seemed the obvious choice. But where do we even start? With only three days from templating to completion, we had to pour them on site. Plus Kitchen Crashers had so many other projects already that we knew that this choice was no simple solution. It was going to mean some late nights.

Enter local expertise: Riko Ramos, of No Boring Concrete, just happened to walk into The Waller Group‘s office on a cold call. They thought I had sent him. Riko had been doing concrete and epoxy floors and was looking to break more into the countertop market. After a short talk, some references, and some pricing, we decided he would join the team for almost all the countertops in Blog Cabin.

Another challenge was the fact that this year’s kitchen was so much more massive than last year with a large U-shape. So the tops had to be done in a manageable way that worked with three new walls, an apron sink, a stove, and … countertop herbs? I think Riko thought I was crazy when I first suggested it. At least that was the look on his face. With a year of firsts, not only could we have fresh food in our new exterior raised beds but we could also have fresh herbs and spices in the house for morning teas or cooking. But it meant two more steps: creating the forms and breaking them free (which I learned is harder than it looks when you let a concrete novice like me do it). I certainly wasn’t making this expedition any easier.

What I learned through the process was that concrete tops have come a long way, aren’t as simple as pouring 50 lb bag mix in a form, and are kind of a science. Specialty companies have arisen that greatly expand the options, finishes, and educational support for DIY tops. For instance, on the second floor, we had Riko order Java colored glass beads to put into a white top to complement the coffee bean backsplash. The possibilities for surface finish and embedded items are really endless.

“Coffee” bean concrete top brings a custom touch to the coffee bar

There’s two basic ways to do a concrete top:

  • Full precast fill where one flowable mix is poured and settled into a form
  • Face and backer mix where a smooth face is applied and then backed with a structural material

The former is one step but heavier and uses more material (because the top is one solid thickness). The latter is two steps but is lighter and uses less material (because the interior portion is 2/3rds of the edge thickness). For the kitchen, Riko recommended the face mix.

Read on for how we built the kitchen countertops. Click on a how-to image below to bring up the images in a larger gallery format. Also be sure to check out the other tops in the master bath, sitting room, back patio, and dock.

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Step 1

 Open GalleryStart with a plan. If you have more than just a straight run, figure out how you can break the total area into multiple pieces that are large but manageable. Concrete is strong but can still break from mishandling. It is also heavy which could present safety concerns for the DIYer. In our case, the kitchen was broken down into (5) pieces, each about 5-6 feet long and worked around sinks, stoves, and corners.

Step 2

 Open GalleryNext, build your forms. Basically, you are pouring the top side down for a smooth finish. Cut 1/2″ melamine board to the same size as your top but as a mirror image. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Cut the size you need and then flip it over. Then cut enough 2″ strips to cover the entire perimeter. The 2″ strip on the side of the 1/2″ base will make for a standard 1 1/2″ countertop. Attach the strips using 1 1/4″ 18ga finish nails. Then caulk the entire interior with black silicon caulk. The black caulk will make it easier to ensure you have smooth corners when viewed on the white melamine. Be sure to “tool” the caulk for a nice consistent interior corner. After the forms are done, arrange them on a flat level concrete floor or on saw horses. Be sure to use shims and a 4′ level to make sure everything is straight and level. Also support the top every 2′ as the weight of the concrete will curve the 1/2″ melamine.

Step 3

 Open GalleryFor the face mix, start by checking the mix ratios from your supplier. In this case, we needed to mix one gallon of precast modifier with one bag of face mix. Up to 16 oz of water could also be used to thin the mix as needed.

Step 4

 Open GalleryPour one gallon of precast modifier into a 5 gallon bucket.

Step 5

 Open GalleryNext pour in an integral color. Refer to the supplier for the proper number of bags to add.

Step 6

 Open GalleryMix the modifier and color well.

Step 7

 Open GallerySlowly mix one bag of face mix with the modifier. Mix 1/2 first, then the balance. A standard 1/2″ drill with spiral paddle works well.

Step 8

 Open GalleryWhile the mix sets for a couple minutes, spray out any dust or debris from the forms with an air hose.

Step 9

 Open GalleryUsing a drywall mud hopper, evenly and consistently spray in a 1/8″ layer of face mix. Add a little water and remix if its not spraying evenly.

Step 10

 Open GalleryBe sure to cover all edges, surfaces, and corners to prevent voids in the finished face.

Step 11

 Open GalleryContinue until complete coverage is achieved in all forms.

Step 12

 Open GalleryWhile the face mix is drying, mix the backer mix per the manufacturer’s ratio chart.

Step 13

 Open GalleryThe backer mix has longer fiberglass fibers that give it better structural qualities.

Step 14

 Open GalleryUsing gloves, form hamburger sized patties in your hand and then pat them down into the face mix.

Step 15

 Open GalleryContinue filling the forms until you have a 1 1/2″ x 2″ thick edge and 1″ thick interior. You can use a trowel to help flatten the mix against the form.

Step 16

 Open GalleryFor sections over 4′ long, add full depth strengthening ribs. Allow to dry overnight.

Step 17

 Open GalleryNext, using a diamond cup wheel on an angle grinder, flatten the outer edge so its smooth with the wood. Be sure to use the proper protective gear such as a N95 mask and safety glasses.

Step 18

 Open GalleryContinue until smooth as this edge is supported by the base cabinets.

Step 19

 Open GalleryNow carefully remove the forms. The edges are usually pretty easy after you get the caulk to separate. Any interior items (such as those herb boxes) maybe more difficult. Remember the concrete is still semi soft and you can crack the surface with metal tools.

Step 20

 Open GalleryThen pop the face layer loose by lightly scoring the caulk and starting at one edge.

Step 21

 Open GalleryNext, decide if you want this monolithic color or a mottled effect. I wanted a slate look so we mixed up a slurry of color and face mix and rubbed it on with gloves. This also helps fill pin hole voids in the surface.

Step 22

 Open GalleryAfter the slurry has dried, lightly sand with an orbital sander and 220 grit pad. Be sure to move the sander fast and evenly to avoid cutting into the face mix.

Step 23

 Open GalleryFinally, seal with a hybrid polyurea for water, stain, and scratch resistance. Once dry, install just like any other top. Be sure to carry the top on its vertical edge and then shim any areas not in complete contact with the base cabinets. Then use clear silicon on the under side from inside the cabinets. Also use the clear silicon to seal butt joints between the various sections.

Materials

Tools

  • Saw Horses
  • 4′ Level
  • Table saw
  • 18ga finish gun
  • Air compressor with nozzle (rentable)
  • Drywall mud hopper (rentable)
  • Angle grinder with diamond cupped disc
  • Orbital Sander with 220 disc
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • 1/2″ drill with grout paddle
  • Gloves
About Dylan Eastman 

8Posts

At a young age, I learned how things worked by taking them apart and (successfully) putting them back together. I've always approached life as an opportunity to learn new skills, ...

More About Dylan Eastman

3 Responses

  1. Awesome Ellen! Let me know if you need help/tips!

  2. Minnow + Co says:

    Oooooh, perfect timing. I've been starting to plan a poured concrete project, but was feeling a little intimidated! Now I know exactly what I need to do! Thanks, Dylan! Give me a few weeks, and fingers crossed, my own concrete project will be up on Made + Remade!

  3. Also, here is a short video version of the process! http://instagram.com/p/rS-XioRuxc/

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