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Concrete Countertops


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 9/6/2005


Well, I went ahead and did this. I bought QUIKRETE 5000, melamine, lath, colorant, and this white stuff. All from Lowe's. I made a 46-1/4" x 23-1/4" top - 200 pounds. I ground it down with my $29 Harbor Freight grinder and eBay diamond pads. Red with black patch to fill in the voids. I ground to an 800 grit finish. Sometimes I even amaze myself. I tossed in some limestone before the pour a la Cheng. It looks unbelievably good. Wow. It's a lot of work, but it really looks good. Wow.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/6/2005


How about some pictures? I have seen some fantastic concrete countertops, definitely a viable option for those willing to put in the time.
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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 9/7/2005


I'll see if I can snap a few later and post them. A note: Concrete is stronger if it is poured with a high slump. But, that makes finishing the top much more work intensive. I poured the second one much thinner. I pulled it out of the form last night and flipped it over...almost no voids in a 46" x 23" top. Excellent. Much less work.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/7/2005


Don't you mean concrete is stronger with a lower slump? Higher slump equates to more water and less strength, unless you are using a plasticizer.
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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 9/8/2005


What I meant was this:
Less water = stronger. 
More water = weaker. 
But less water is harder to work with and produced too many voids which had to be filled and re-ground, which was a lot more work. Since this is only a countertop and semi tractors won't be driving over it, I decided to use more water to save my arms and back. 

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By Chris in GA on 9/8/2005


Hey Joe,

How did you learn how to do it? I've been thinking I might go this route on my countertops. What did the whole thing cost you? I would also like to see some photos if you can post some.
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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 9/21/2005


We did the concrete counters, but poured them in place. Sounds like you're doing it the right way. If we did it again we'd do it like you are.

Check our construction website to see ours.

Here's a picture.

Jennifer

concrete counters


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 9/22/2005


I finally snapped a picture.  Here it is.

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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 9/22/2005


and this...

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By Leslie in Jacksonville, FL on 10/8/2005


Does anyone know where I can order concrete countertops?

Thanks,
Leslie


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 10/10/2005


Try calling a few local concrete places. You should expect to pay over $100 per square foot. I just finished mine, and it's worth every penny of that.
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By Doug in Lawrence, KS on 10/10/2005


Hi Joe,

$100 sq/ft? That must be with a contractor finishing the counters? What is a ballpark figure on just the materials per sq/ft? Also, what is the advantage of pouring the countertop upside down? Seems like it would be much easier to finish it in place...

I am looking at doing a 4-foot by 6-foot island and two standard runs 8-foot each, planning on finishing all three in place. 

Doug


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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 10/11/2005


Doug

The prices can be quite high if you don't do it yourself. We did it ourselves and it ran about $500 for close to 20 linear feet (forms, concrete, rental of equipment, sealer, etc.). I used the QUIKRETE Non-Shrink precision grout product:quikrete.com/catalog because it flowed better and I had trouble with regular concrete with rough aggregate.

We poured our counters in place. I would not do it again. They weren't smooth enough and that meant grinding in the house with all that concrete dust. It also meant that when there was a problem we had to break out/cut out that part and pour it again. It was a huge mess in the house and the backsplash got damaged a bit with the pouring and grinding. (Oh, and there was the grinder explosion that put holes in windows and walls, and luckily not me)

If we'd used forms made of melamine, the top would have been smooth and we'd have put them in place like a granite top. We'd do them in smaller pieces and smooth concrete in the joints. There might have been small cracks, but we got that anyway where we had to redo the counters.

We put on a 2-part epoxy (increte.com) called COUNTER KOTE. It made the counters very shiny (as you can see in the pictures in my above post). This filled in any cracks and has made the counters impervious to stains.

Oh, and everyone told me to do them in forms and I didn't. We're very pleased with the results. I just have to learn for myself. We didn't have a garage or covered outside area, so it seemed it would be easier. I should have listened.

Jennifer

(See my construction website for pictures of the kitchen remodel.)


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 10/11/2005


Let's see...

4 sheets of melamine @ $35/ea, (Lowe's)

10 bags of concrete @ $3.00/ea, (Lowe's)

10 quarts of vinyl additive @ $7.00/ea, (Lowe's)

10 bottles of colorant @ $4.50/ea, (Lowe's)

2 sets of 4" diamond grinding pads @ $75/ea (eBay)

1 grinder @ $30/ea, (Harbor Tools and Freight)

5 sheets of wire lath @ $7/ea. (Lowe's)

So about $500. Google on "Cheng concrete." That's how I did it. It is EXTREMELY labor intensive. I'm glad I did it, but it took a lot longer than I wanted it to. But it totally sets off the kitchen. It is a LOT OF WORK. I tossed in some crushed limestone into the form before I poured, so when I ground it down the limestone pops out. Then I covered it up with black colored slurry mix to cover up the holes and imperfections and ground it down again. My wife is happy, so I am happy. All I did was watch the Cheng DVD a few times, then went off and did it. Cheng's DVD makes it sound easier than it really is. Trust me, it's a LOT OF WORK, and that's why people can get $100+/sf for it. It's all labor and time.


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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 10/11/2005


I just want to add that we would do concrete counters again in a second, what we would not do is pour in place. Next time I'd want all that stuff outside of the house while we're working on it. No lugging hoses and mixers into the kitchen with the cabinets already in.

Our concrete was close to $12 a bag, but I'm not a concrete person and I couldn't get the regular concrete to work for me. It would have been cheaper if we could have gone with the plain concrete.

Jennifer


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 10/11/2005


Right. I poured mine on the garage floor and then carried them out to the front yard to grind them on tables out there. I used the garden hose with water running during that process. I kept the table on an incline to carry away the mess. I can't even IMAGINE doing this inside - what a mess! My wife would have shot me. I poured mine in pieces, so that no piece was more than 200# (3 bags). 

In the "L" corner I made a serpentine seam that looks kind of neat. Wow. Grinding them inside, do you have any pics of the mess?


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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 10/11/2005


After the grinder exploded while I was grinding I couldn't pick up another grinder (don't think I ever will). So, DH put on a big face mask, surrounded the kitchen in plastic and went at it. I think the TV and VCR had their lives shortened because of it (they both went out with in a year or so), and the lemon tree barely survived.

I know I took pictures, but I guess I was so disgusted at that point, they didn't get posted.

Jennifer


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By John in Erie, CO on 10/11/2005


What type/model of grinders are you guys using for these? 

Great work. They look fantastic.
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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 10/11/2005


I went to the local pawn shop and picked up a grinder that felt good. The stone exploding had nothing to do with the grinder. I was using the pads that came with it and grinding was going slow. I took the grinder to HD and asked if there was anything that would work better. They put a big grinding stone on it. Well, after the explosion, it was commented that more than likely the grinder wasn't made to use a stone like that. HD doesn't know...

So, I got another grinder at the pawn shop, went with diamond pads and let my husband go at it.

Jennifer


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 10/11/2005


You were lucky, Jennifer. Grinding stones aren't supposed to be used like that. HD should have known that. The wet diamond pads I used attach with Velcro. Start with 50, then 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 3000 then buff. 

How tough was it to come by that epoxy stuff? How did you apply it?  How did you prevent it from leaking over the edges?


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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 10/11/2005


I just called the Increte company that sells the epoxy and they told me where a local dealer was. We drove over and picked it up. They told us how much we'd need for the area we needed to cover.

I had plastic all around the floor for it going over the edges and dripping. We wanted the edges covered, but the tile was already down and we didn't want it on the floor (yeah right-but only two spots that I can see). There were 4 of us, and it has a flash time of 15 minutes. Basically mix the two parts together in a bucket, get everyone positioned and pour. It self levels, but we rushed around making sure it spread all over the counters. Of course at 12 minutes or so you're supposed to stop touching it. I had a little problem with that in the back corner. Luckily there's a microwave and other things on top of it. You can see some rough, finger type marks if you look. We wiped at the lip edge a lot, but there are a couple of dry, hardened drips. I'd guess they could be sanded flat, but no one notices them except for me.

It filled in all the seams and cleans up easily. I sometimes cut on it, so it has a couple of knife scratches. I don't put hot things on it, because I doubt it'd be a good thing.

Jennifer


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By Ambryn in Santa Cruz, CA on 11/11/2005


Here is a picture of my countertops poured in the backyard on the deck. I used QUIKRETE 5000 with a water reducer and Stealth Fiber. I acid stained them a dark walnut brown. It was a lot of work but cost was very cheap, probably $500 for +/-50 sf. FYI the funny looking "clamps" on the edge made the thickened front edge.
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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 11/11/2005


I trimmed mine out with oak door trim, looks OK to me... This was SO much work that I would discourage O-B's from doing it until their house is completed, then taking this on as a "gee I wish I had..." type of project. My elbows permanently ache.
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By Ambryn in Santa Cruz, CA on 11/14/2005


I totally agree with the other posters on the time required to do this. I only worked on this during the weekends and it took about four weekends to finish the molds, one to pour, wait three weeks before pulling them out, two weeks to patch and grind, and two weeks to stain, finish, and install. It was a very time and labor intense project. If I had to do it again I would have done several things different, but I think that is the case with all projects!
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By Sybil in Leominster, MA on 11/16/2005


The Shelter Institute in Woolwich, Maine offers a weekend course on how to fabricate your own concrete countertops - shelterinstitute.com. Unfortunately their next class isn't until next July. They specialize in owner-builder courses. Maybe there are other courses out there in different regions? 


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 11/16/2005


Hey, the concrete countertops DO look good. Be prepared for tiny voids unless you fill them with that epoxy stuff, then they are as smooth as silk (see previous posts). They are also a conversation starter, and O-B's love to talk about their experiences. If you do not coat them in epoxy then you can sit a red hot pan on them with no worry. Same as on your driveway. I did not coat mine with epoxy, just sealer.

Basically you can finish them to the level of perfection you want. If you are willing to spend extra dozens of hours honing the edges to perfect 90 degree corners then have at it. I did not have that kind of time. I had a glass block shower to finish. 

Which gets me to my final point; when this was started (the house, not the concrete countertops), I thought "hey, I can trim it out, do the landscaping, lay the glass block, lay tile, do the concrete tops, paint, finish electrical. Why should I pay some sub to do THAT?

Well, those are all end-game items. By that time most of your funds have been borrowed and interest costs will exceed the amount you might save by doing it yourself (Read: Time Value of Money). Plus, you will be emotionally and physically exhausted. So you WON'T WANT TO DO IT, BUT YOU DIDN'T BUDGET FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT. Then it no longer is a labor of love, it is WORK. Pick a SINGLE project that you want to do, and do it well. DO NOT pick a dozen projects and do them all to 90% of your God-given abilities. You will hate yourself later. 

Do not get me wrong. We love our home. But I reasonably estimate that this took two years off my life because of all the worrying, frustration, grief, arguing with inspectors, two trips/day to the site. It swallows you up like Jonah in the whale. However, it is a beautiful custom home; ICF, central vac, whole house audio, custom water drainage, skylights, solid core doors, oak trim, custom painting, glass block shower and slipper-soaker tub, walk-out basement, many things you don't SEE IMMEDIATELY but are designed in to make the home more livable -- the whole nine yards. 

Pick your battles. Don't get caught up in doing everything yourself unless you are independently wealthy and have a virtually infinite amount of time to finish the project. That's my best shot. Would I do it again? Sure, but not for about five years as I need the rest.


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By John in Erie, CO on 11/16/2005


Joe,

Well put. Absolute poetry. I've not heard anybody describe the big potential pitfall of getting too deep in owner-building so well. Yeah, you might be able to do each of these better than most of your subs... But can you really afford it, and is it worth what it can do to the rest of your life?

Smart advice.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/17/2005


Joe,

This is a topic in and of itself, and I couldn't have said it better (gave you a 5-star vote for it as well ;). In the end, you are so tired you simply cannot bring yourself to work on the house another day. I did interior paint, finish electric, finish plumbing, tile, hardwood floors, countertop, deck, exterior siding, landscape, etc., all finish items. When you work on projects for your existing house (say remodeling one area at a time), it is manageable. When you are looking at a whole house, it becomes a daunting task. When you are looking at all the finish, it becomes really daunting and tiring.

If I was doing this again and still planning to do a lot of my own labor, I would put my labor entirely into the rough-in, and subcontract out the finish. At the end of the project you are simply too tired to take on a significant amount of labor. Just managing the project and supervising the subs is a lot of work, combining this with additional labor is not good advice.

Ken


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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 11/17/2005


Joe

So true. We didn't build an entire house. We considered it (builder said it would be a piece of cake), but are so glad we decided on the remodel where we can go as slow or fast as we want. The kitchen wasn't so bad. DH and I did it together, and we work well together. Our problem seems to come with subcontractors. Even on the kitchen they didn't do what they said they would, or did things wrong that needed to be corrected.

On the tower, it just about drove us crazy. Now that we're at the finish work, I thought that I could do the texturing, painting, etc. I can see now it's just not going to happen that way. I can't get anyone to do the texturing how I like, so that I'll do. One floor almost finished, two to go. I've hired someone to paint. They're going slow, but hey I don't have to do it, so that's fine. My father is helping with the flooring and lighting. Once that's done we'll see where we are. So overwhelming and it's not even an entire house. We'll have to take a year or so off to regroup before we finish out the 'castle.'

Jennifer


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By Lori in Reno, NV on 1/7/2006


Leslie,

If you have not found concrete countertops yet try concretenetwork.com, they list by type and state.

Lori


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By Wade in Denver, CO on 9/28/2006


I am trying to find a mix ratio for slurry. Can you help me? You may have used Cheng's slurry mix. I'd like to avoid buying Cheng's products.
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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 9/28/2006


Quikrete.com Non-Shrink Precision Grout is the product I believe we used. I think it was around $12 a bag.

Jennifer


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By Wade in Denver, CO on 9/28/2006


What a great resource. The counters look really good. I have a couple of questions that I haven't been able to figure out.

First, sealant. If you use epoxy, you can't set hot pans on the counter, correct? Is there a foodsafe alternative sealer? Joe, what sealer did you use? Any opinion on Cheng's new sealer/wax system?

Second, did you use just a regular angle grinder with the wet diamond pads or did you buy a special wet-grinder?

Ambryn, nice work on the brackets to create the overhang. This is real innovation, and it worked. I had given up on the overhang...


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By Jennifer in Ft Worth, TX on 9/28/2006


We have cork trivets and one wood countertop that we set hot stuff on. We don't set it on the epoxy. Not sure what would happen. The epoxy we used was a foodsafe epoxy used in restaurants.

We didn't grind ours wet. Might have gone faster. Just used regular angle grinder.

See "My Construction Website"

Jennifer


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By Steven in MN on 9/28/2006


Room & Board sells precast concrete table tops that are dirt cheap. I'm going to use them for my bathroom countertops and just cut them to fit.

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By Leslie in Jacksonville, FL on 9/29/2006


Joe,

It has been almost a year since you posted your message about managing time and picking your projects wisely. But it's impact is just as weighty today as when you wrote it. Unfortunately, we were too far down the road of personal experience before we could truely understand and echo what you said. We are the finishing stage and are DOG tired. We are so looking forward to getting to the end and just sleeping for about a month. We are trying to make the decision now about purchasing countertops or trying to make them ourselves. Actually, our budget at this point will probably make the decision. We are considering the purchase of some very cheap laminate tops from a surplus home improvement store. We thought we might be able to coat the top of them with a thin layer of concrete and then stain to the right finish.

Has anyone tried this?  Leslie


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 9/29/2006


I don't think the concrete would adhere well to the laminate. It might be better to get tops w/o laminate and do the thin crete over the wooden base. But if it chips or cracks, there is no mesh or rebar to reinforce. Especially if you drop something heavy on it. I wouldn't do it. Just buy laminate tops, use them for a year or two, rest up, then take your time on the concrete tops you want. You will neither be exhausted nor hurried. The material cost is minimal - I have less than $500 in mine. I used a BLANCO black granite slurry sink, top mount. Looks great. I got it off of eBay, I think. At first I wanted to do bottom mount, but if I had the bottom of the sink would have been 2-3/8" lower, breaking your back when you do dishes.

Thanks for the validation. In EVERY project I did I see EVERY imperfection, and it bothers me. Now there are problems in other areas that I didn't do, and those don't bother me. Go figure.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/2/2006


Thanks for the validation. In EVERY project I did I see EVERY imperfection, and it bothers me. Now there are problems in other areas that I didn't do, and those don't bother me. Go figure. 

Joe, I am with you on that one. Every person that has seen my house comments on how well it is detailed out, including the professionals I know. My tile layer comments on how well the DIY portion of the tile came out (he did the mud bed shower floor, something a bit more complex than I wanted to tackle), among other examples. However I can show you every imperfection in every piece of work that I did. I can show you many in the professional jobs too, but these don't seem to bother me. However my eyes are very well trained, and I can walk in any house and immediately start spotting flaws and workmanship I would have never been satisfied with in my house.

An example is the solid surface countertops in the kitchen. I have ~80 s.f. of very well seamed (not visible) seamless solid surface, I also have about 3" on the island that you can see the seam as it is solid color. So what do I see, the 3 linear inches of flaw and not the 80 s.f. of near perfection. However whenever I see solid surface in any installation, I can see the seams in professional jobs close to 50% of the time, and I never could find them before.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 5/14/2007


In some parts of the country, concrete countertops can be had for $65/s.f., but I have seen some go over $175/s.f. Yes most of this is not in the materials. The way I build mine, I have a little over $5/s.f. in the countertop itself, but when you add in the costs of the molds, the equipment necessary, hired help, other business overhead, the time to design, measure, fabricate and install the tops, $100/s.f. is reasonable. Some counter guys are worth it, some are not. If you sub it out, be sure to see sample of the guy's (or gal's) work. I should add, that when one buys granite, they usually add for edging, sink cutouts, demolition of old tops (if not a new install), plus installation. When I quote a price, all of that is included.

Why would somebody want concrete when they could have granite? A question I hear from time to time. The answer is, not everyone does. People who want concrete want something a bit different. Everyone is getting granite, 20 years from now we may think of it like we think of Formica now, LOL. With concrete, you can get custom shapes and colors and patterns that you cannot get in granite or other solid surfaces. Like one poster said, it is quite a conversation piece. For some reason people gravitate to it, and have to touch it. It has a warmth to it, very earthy, although some people make them in bright colors, of embedded fossils, glass, or other objects. It can be imprinted, textured, glossy or dull, smooth or like natural stone. It is very adaptable.

This ability to vary these parameters makes each piece unique, much like artwork. It is artwork for some of us who approach it that way.

I'd love to give you details on how to make these yourselves, but the guy who taught me swore me to secrecy, and I will honor that. Some of you are on the right track, but I would be concerned about cracks from the minimal reinforcing.

By the way, is there a part of this forum, where people barter services? It seems a natural for O-Bs, but I haven't found a thread like that.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 5/15/2007


I was asked if I would be a little more specific without divulging secrets. OK a few things. You can cast in place or off site; both have their advantages. Cast in place means that the finish side will be up. For most beginners, their troweling skills will not be all they can be, and with this method, grinding and polishing are required. The worse the cured surface, the more you will have to grind. As a professional, I would spare my customers the inconvenience of the mess, noise, and my presence. For the O-B, this is not as important an issue. Casting in place has the benefit of not having to transport and install as such, and the fit is pretty much automatic.

Making a mold to dimensions of an existing kitchen, or whatever can be done either final top side down or up. If you do it top side down in the mold, you will have less grinding, sanding, and polishing to do. You may be happy with it as cast, depending on the finish your require. Be sure to vibrate the mold if you don't want voids in the top from trapped air bubbles. In a top side down casting, you must measure very carefully, and build your mold as a mirror image, be careful if you try this, people get confused trying this sometimes.

If you cast one which is not cast in place, be extra certain to consider strength issues. High strength concrete, metal reinforcement, and fiber reinforcement  are all good things.

They guy that pours your driveway is making a slab that is only in compression. It will never be moved, and it will never function as a beam. Concrete makes crummy beams without reinforcement. Keep this in mind when you make a slab for a countertop, it needs good reinforcement. Also, transport in on edge and when you install it, make sure you shim it and get even support on your cabinet tops.

I agree with the posters on the subject of hot pans and cutting boards. Don't cut on a concrete top; use a cutting board. And while some epoxies might be up to the heat, why take a chance? It is easy to place a pad on the top before a pot goes there. Silicone potholder/trivets work well. When I make a top for a customer, I make a butcher block cutting board to go with it as a bonus. If you cast in place, you can carefully push some stainless rods halfway into the wet concrete top. After it cures, you can pull the rods out while you grind the top, and then put them back into the slots. If you try this, make sure that you do not push them more than half-way in, or you will not get them back out again. Also, press them all in at the same time, with a board or something else flat, so that they are level. If you do this, you will have a built-in trivet, which looks high end, you will not misplace it, and it will always be ready for use. 

One poster mentioned getting concrete precast tables and sawing them into countertops. Something to think about there - there may be steel reinforcement inside which will not look good exposed. Also, some people do not like the exposed aggregate look, there may be gravel (rocks) inside. This will certainly give the edges a different look than the top surface has. I doubt that that would even result in a savings in time or labor compared to casting your own, but I have not tried it.

I hope some of this is useful, that is about all I feel I can divulge. Good luck.


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 5/15/2007


Terry-

do you have some pictures you could share with us? 

One word of advice to others; pour it loose, add mesh to reinforce it, and be certain to vibrate it. This will make your life much easier later, because there will be much less grinding. Grinding is the worst part.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 5/15/2007


Joe,

Believe it or not I don't have any pictures. I get my work by word of mouth, and I don't bring pictures, brochures, or anything like that because they do not do them justice. What I do is bring samples (usually 1x1 squares) so they can see the colors, feel the texture, and try staining it etc, since many think it will easily stain. I took my clue from the Charmin toilet paper commercials; "Don't squeeze the Charmin." The theory behind the commercial is to get people in the store to pick it up and feel it, once it is in their hands it is almost in the shopping cart. Same thing here, once they see it in person they want it.

That being said, I am in the process of getting my current home ready for market, and I will be doing countertops for it probably in another month or so. When I do, I will take pictures at that time and put a few up here for you to see. Mine look nothing like the ones you see on this thread, but that is the fun thing about concrete tops, they are very individual and sometimes they surprise you. They do not always come out exactly like you expect they will (concrete is variable itself), and as often as not I find that the surprises are better than I anticipated. The funny thing is, and almost everyone says this, they grow on you over time.

I use commercially prepared coloring agents and try for the earthier tones, as I think they have broader appeal and go with more colors schemes in the kitchen. If I were doing one for my own home, and I thought there was a remote possibility that I would someday sell the house, I would go this way. Making one in a blue or green, while it may look nice, may not go well with a future buyers tastes and could potentially kill a sale or devalue a home. Where as a nice concrete counter top in a more neutral tone is a selling asset. I have heard that you can use tints that paint stores use for tinting house paint. I have not tried it, but I suspect that it would work fine. One thing about coloring concrete though - if you are making several tops to go in the same room, be careful to keep your ratios consistent; measure carefully, or the tops will not match. I would also make 1x1 molds and sacrifice a few bags of concrete, and try different colors and 'dosages,' keeping good notes, and then letting them cure. You can then seal them to see what they will look like, then make your choice. You could, alternatively, mist a little water on them after they cure, and let the water evaporate until the sheen is similar to the sheen you will be going for on your finished top. Gloss, satin or flat, all affect the apparent color. Even without doing this though you will probably get a pleasant result.

You can also use the small sample method to see how it all works for you before investing a lot in time and materials, and see if you want to go through the work, how it turns out, grinding etc. I would hate to to go into this without knowing what is involved or what the problems are, investing a lot of time and money and then coming back and blaming me for encouraging you if you do not like the result. If you try these one foot by one foot samples, make them as thick as you plan your countertop to be. Most people make them from 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. If you make them a different thickness they will cure at a different rate, and the results will not be representative.

Actually, I have been using the word "curing" in these posts, when I should have said hardening. Curing takes place over a long period of time, while hardening is much quicker - forgive me. I am not a concrete guy, I am an artist who uses concrete as his medium. Let the concrete harden in the molds a few days at least, more will not hurt. Don't be in a hurry, you have other things you can work on while this hardening takes place. Since most of you are not 'concrete guys' either, and will likely be using concrete in other areas of your O-B projects, you might want to get a quick overveiw of this material just to enhance your understanding and vocabulary. There are many sources on the web, but a nice overview is on wikipedia at wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete. Again, good luck to all of you.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 5/15/2007


OK, I went out to the shop and picked up a couple of samples. The first one is a prime example of why I do not use pictures. Upon seeing a picture like this, many say, "why so many defects?" In reality, those are not defects (though they would be if they we not intentional); they are features. The idea here is to create something that does not look like a driveway, but has a randomness that one associates with natural things. In a picture it is, "I don't want that in my kitchen"; in front of you it is "how much will that cost me?" Big difference.

The second picture is also not flaws, but intentional features. Different technique, different look. This one would probably be easier to sell with a picture, but in person it is "that can't be concrete!" When I do my kitchen, and you can see all the countertops in scale and in context, I think you will get it. For now it takes more imagination. Even here, I had to use a graphics program to enhance the color to where it matches what the eye sees. Something about the way the light scatters makes them look gray if unretouched; but what you see here is a pretty accurate reproduction of the way the colors appear.


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By Joe in Elkhart, IN on 5/16/2007


Terry-

Do you pour top-up or top-down like Cheng? I poured top-down to use the melamine surface to smooth out the top. 

How much grinding did you have to do? Where did you get the grinding pads? I used eBay.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 5/16/2007


Generally top down, unless it is cast in place. Top down I mostly knock off the high spots on the bottom to remove stress points when sitting on the cabinet tops. I usually go for a natural (not polished) rock appearance, so it is not necessary to get a perfect finish unless that is what the owner demands. I just make sure there are no thin or sharp places and only disturb the surface as a prep for sealer. Pads? Yes, from eBay, local suppliers, sometimes disks from Harbor Freight tools.

I have a picture of a previous top where you can see it in the context of a whole countertop - you can better gauge the effect in this pic. It shows pretty good in this picture, but what the picture doesn't do is invite you to touch it. For some reason these have that effect on people, they have to run their hands over it. If the picture seems small, click on it, and it should pop up a larger image.

At his point, I don't think there is much I can add to this topic without breaking my promise, I have not given out any info here that cannot be found on the Web, but it might be a little more concentrated here. I know that some will want to know about the look, the pattern, the colors etc., and that really gets into the area of my agreement not to divulge. However, think about products that are available. Tints, acid stains, transparent stains from places like Home Depot. There is no need to copy, no need to conform. Use your imagination, experiment, press leaves or sea shells into the surface, the options are unlimited. When you make a countertop, make it YOUR countertop. When you do, show us what you have done.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 7/3/2007


I know this is too late to help Leslie, but the question might be of general interest. Theoretically preformed countertops could be made, ordered, shipped, and installed. They weigh about 25 lbs/s.f. The shipping cost would add a lot of cost to an already pricey item. Unless the item is made custom to match your ideas of color, texture, sheen, edge details, etc. you will not get the maximum visual benefits that concrete can offer. It is an item best done by a local craftsman. You can save money doing it yourself, but many who try give up before the job is completed.  If they have the stamina to complete the job, they may love the results, but found out that they underestimated how much work it would be and how much they actually invest in materials and tools.

Now having said all of that, I really came here to show you all a product:

sonomastone.com

That is a link to a website where one can see (and I presume purchase) concrete countertop tiles. These are not tiles which are set into mortar on another surface, these are countertop pieces that you set on top of your base cabinets; a set of which creates a concrete countertop.

As you can see on their site, they come in different colors. You can also see they are rather plain and unimaginative, at least that is my opinion. Some people, no doubt, find them attractive and would reject mine as too gaudy perhaps.

I wanted to bring this to the attention of the readers of this thread because of the discussion of cost. While custom concrete countertops around the country usually command around $100/s.f. installed, give or take $35 (though occasionally $150 to $300 s.f.), these tiles go for around $48/s.f. While this represents a savings, it is not custom and it is not installed or delivered.

Even I would not have guessed that you could get $50 for a foot of concrete precast in a (probably) reusable mold. Supply and demand is a strange thing sometimes. I am in the wrong business, LOL.


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By Homewithaview in Mountain View, CA on 7/17/2007


Terry, I just wanted to say thanks for all the info you have shared. That's great stuff you're doing! I'm probably sticking with granite, but this concrete stuff is very intriguing, especially that last picture you have of it looking like a marble slab.
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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 7/17/2007


Thanks for your thanks. It has been my pleasure. Concrete is not for everyone. I see it for people who want a more rustic look, special shapes, a more modern look, a more ancient look, a more ornate look, a more solid look, a more unusual look, a special pattern, special textures, special edges, special colors, or even a way to display collectibles, etc. Sounds odd that concrete can be all of those things, but it can because it is a flexible material.

If you like the look of granite, and who doesn't, it is a great choice. Granite is a natural material, and as such has it's own appeal. It cannot be customized to the same degree, but you can pick your slab and know exactly what you will get. Where I live, there are hundreds of granite dealers, people around here can have granite very easily.

Perhaps that is why people are choosing concrete in greater numbers, because granite is getting so commonplace. I mentioned that I would put pictures up here of the countertops I will make for my own kitchen. That will still happen, but I am caught up in other projects at the moment so it may be a while. On the other hand, I have some ideas I want to try out to offer more choices to my customers, hopefully I can put some of those here also, they may give O-B's some ideas for their own applications.

Good luck on your granite, did you know you can do that yourself and save some money too? But I think the general theory of the book about being the planner and organizer and letting someone else drive the nails is a valid one. I do not think that DIY on concrete or granite is the best use of one's time, but I would say this:

For those who want to tackle a concrete countertop, you will have something that most people will not - the joy and pride of knowing that it is your creation, you work of art. When people say "I love your countertop," you get to say "I made it myself." With most other choices you might get to say "I chose it myself." Big difference.


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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 7/17/2007


I said in an earlier post that I had heard that you could use paint pigments in concrete. Here is more information. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The alkalinity in the concrete attacks some pigments, changes the colors of some, and seems compatible with some. At this juncture I'd have to recommend against using paint pigments. 
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By Terry in Victor Valley, CA on 11/11/2007


In an earlier post I said the I had about $5/s.f. in actual materials. As I am making them now I am usually in the $7-$8/s.f. range, even more if the situation warrants extreme colors or particularly high strength (can exceed 20,000 psi). I can still make them for less, but the added expense in materials reduces shrinkage and improves workability, finish, and strength. It dawned on me that those benefits save me labor and are worth the cost. This brings up what I wanted to let you know - QUIKRETE has entered the countertop game, here is a press release about their countertop mix.

The problem with it will be finding it. Home Depot is a dealer. However, they do not stock the product, and I doubt they ever will. They will special order it, but my suspicion is that there will be a minimum amount, more that the DIY homeowner will want to buy. I'll follow up on his and let you know what I find, I would like to try this out if I can procure a small amount.

Stay tuned for a new picture of a countertop, this one will be blue!
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By Terry in Victor Valley, CA on 11/11/2007


Jennifer,
Your tops look great. Looking at your post, I can see that it is some time ago. If you are still monitoring this site/topic, could you let us know how that epoxy has held up?

Thanks,

Terry

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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 11/12/2007


I am monopolizing this topic now it seems - sorry, about that, but I need to follow through on the new pics.

The customer wants blue, but they have cabinets that are sort of a maple color - I think the combination is not quite right and would look better with white cabinets, but we'll see within the next couple of weeks.

For now, here is the color/pattern conception for their top:

They have decided this is the color they want, but want more mottling and to leave out the veins. I think they are right on that. They have decided that they want a large backsplash in the same color, we will see how it turns out.

This is the fun of concrete - creating the look you want.
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By Terry in Torrance, CA on 12/4/2007


Done!!!
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By Justin in Chandler, AZ on 12/4/2007


Terry,

Awesome job. You are quite the craftsman. I don't like the color either but regardless - it looks great.
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