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We recently purchased our family cottage. Built in 1976, it was very 1976! We are slowly but surely remodeling every inch and our first priorities were the flooring on the main level (not that I don’t like faux-brick vinyl flooring in shades of blue) and the kitchen. As soon as the floors were finished we started on the kitchen. Along with the house, we also got 41 years of “stuff.” (We promptly had a huge sale and sold 90% of it -including the kitchen cabinets!) Here is the kitchen before:
We had quite a job in front of us!
After reading many, Many, MANY blog posts about DIY concrete countertops, we decided to spend the money on countertop forms, rather than attempting to build our own. We also decided this was definitely a two person job, so find a partner because doing this yourself the first time would be pretty difficult.
We went with the Z Counterform system for cast-in-place concrete countertops from Concrete Countertop Solutions. Since concrete is so heavy it was easier for us to pour them in place, rather than make them and set them in place after the fact. The customer service at CCS is extraordinary! I strongly encourage you to call them (as many times as you need to, they are happy to help) and discuss what exactly you need. They will provide you with a list and help you place your order. You can buy your concrete from them, but they advised us to purchase bags of concrete at a local home improvement store because the shipping costs are astronomical. As it was I believe we spent about $400 on the forms, additives, screening, etc.
Had we hired a contractor to make our countertops it would have been upwards of $2000, so the expense of the forms was well worth it to us because the overall savings were significant. We love a good DIY project! (My grandfather built our cottage the year I was born, so it is important to me that we are “hands on” with our projects, just as he was.) After watching the CCS videos on their website several times, we were ready to get started!
To begin, you have to cover your cabinets and floors with plastic. The whole process is VERY MESSY! Take the time to do a good job because you’ll be re-doing it when time is of the essence if you don’t. We ha to pause and cover more of the floor, so be sure to have enough plastic.
Next, you will attach the base for the countertops to the tops of the cabinets. You can use MDF or Durock cement boards. We used Durock cement boards. These are screwed in place to the tops of the cabinets. Be sure to duct tape the seams or the concrete will seep through the gaps and into your cabinets. Once the bases are in place it is time to attach the Z Counterform Solutions molds to the bases. We chose the 90 degree angle forms, but there are many edge options to choose from.
Your sink should come with a template – be sure not to throw it away! You will need it to cut the mdf or cement board to size to fit your sink, and then you can also use it like we did (above) to seal the hole for the sink, so concrete doesn’t get all over your new sink. The edge forms will fit flush with the countertop base, and then you will tape them to the base on the inside. Once the edges are attached you will rroll out the fiber mesh reinforcement, screw in the Z-clips and stretch the mesh over the clips. This will strengthen the concrete.
Next it is time to mix the concrete. You will need a very large container – much larger than 5 gallons – to mix the concrete with water. We used a tub like this one, but bought it at Menards where it was much cheaper. Add the water very slowly so you don’t add too much. (If you have made Royal frosting to frost sugar cookies, you know what happens if you add too much water, so add with caution!) The concrete mixture should not be runny, but should be a consistency that is easily spread. CCS has put together this video to show how to properly mix the concrete.
Once the concrete is mixed, it is time to pour it onto the base and into the forms. (Top left.) This is the beginning of the time sensitive part, so have all of your tools ready. As you pour the concrete, Person #2 should follow behind with the screed, which is used to level out the concrete to the tops of the forms. You can see a 2×4 in the above top photos. We used a 2×4 instead of purchasing a screed and found that it worked well. Once the concrete is poured and leveled, you will go over the concrete with a magnesium float. This is where we got into Big Trouble, and ultimately ended up with less than perfect countertops. We bought our float at Menards. I do not know why, because the one offered by CCS is not expensive. The float is used to draw the excess water to the top of the concrete, which is what gives you the smooth finish you are looking for. This video shows how to use the float.
Our issue was threefold: This stage is time sensitive, as the concrete is naturally starting to dry at this point. Almost immediately our float developed a tear and as I was doing the “floating,” (I don’t know what it’s called, lol!) it began to look like I was dragging a nail across the concrete. It was Memorial Day, we live in a VERY small town, and the nearest big box store that *might* be open is 45 minutes away. There was not time to run to the store to buy a new float and get back in time to save the counters.
Sooooo I ended up using my hands and tried to do this weird hand ironing circular rotation to draw the water out. It didn’t go very well and therefore our countertops are not smooth. In hindsight, given that we live in the middle of nowhere, we need to be better prepared for the “what ifs” that may happen. Had I bought two floats we would have beautiful smooth countertops. (I now buy an extra or more than enough of whatever product I need and return the unopened products. Since I am at Menards 95 times a month, this is not a big deal.) Lesson learned!
After you use the float and the water is all drawn to the top you will need to use a hand sander (as shown in this video) to release any bubbles that are trapped below the surface of the concrete. The vibration of the sander used on the edge of the forms will shake the bubbles to the top.
Fortunately I was able to achieve a semi-smooth countertop by using a a sander starting with heavy grit sandpaper and working my way down to fine grit sand paper and applying (literally) about 20 coats of food-grade epoxy and a sealer. The edges are perfectly smooth, which is ultimately the look you are going for, but the tops are a *bit* rough. That said, I still love them! I would definitely do this again. It was relatively easy and aside from the weight of having to lift the bucket to pour the concrete, I think I would even attempt it on my own on a smaller scale, like an island top. I am also toying with the idea of making pavers and thick “steps” down into our lake from concrete, which is something I hadn’t thought of before, but would consider now because this was a pretty easy experience.
We still have a few small items to take care of in the kitchen, but for all practical purposes it is a kitchen that cooks!
Have you tried DIY countertops? How did it go? We are 90% done with the kitchen. The subway tile was a breeze, as was the installation of the open shelving. It is 100 times better than the old kitchen and WE LOVE IT!
Ready for more decorating ideas? Check out these related posts!
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Also be sure to take a look at our Kitchens That Cook board on Pinterest for hundreds of ideas from other great bloggers!