My Experience with Concrete Countertops

Posted by John on April 10th, 2012

Hope everyone had a Happy Easter!!  Ours was filled with great family and great ham!  So great in fact, that we skipped our normal Monday post to sleep in!!  It was worth the wait though, because today we’re going to talk about concrete countertops.

Thankfully, this post isn’t about another project that Lisa and I are starting.  It’s about one we finished quite some time ago.  I’ve been itching to post about concrete countertops since I started blogging, but I finally got around to taking some new photos and digging up some old photos from the project.

Way back in the summer of 2007, my family and I were renovating a new-to-us vacation home a few miles from the Beach in the Jersey Shore.  In retrospect, the whole endeavor may not have been the best idea at the time as my father was very sick with his stomach cancer and the house ended up being a giant burden in those days.  We had hoped it would keep him busy with small projects and for the most part it was a success in that regard.  I’ll post more on the before and afters of the house later this week, but I thought I’d start with the counters.

On top of all the projects, we were trying to stretch out the budget and needed new countertops.  So, granite countertops weren’t exactly in the cards.  I had seen some cheaper options for DIY solid surface counters like soapstone and concrete, but hadn’t had any prior experience.  Then after a discussion with a co-worker who was also considering concrete, he let me borrow a Fu Tung Cheng How-to DVD and I was sold.

My folks were initially reluctant, but then after I told them I’d be able to get the counters in for only a few hundred bucks, they were okay with the project.  I immediately started ordering supplies and got to planning.

For those not familiar with the Fu Tung Cheng method, you basically make reverse molds of the counters out of melamine, pour in the concrete and then install the cured counters like granite.  You use regular store bought concrete bags and add some colorant and strengthener.  The hardest part is building the forms.  I don’t want to rehash the instructions, just share some of my pointers.  The DVD is a necessity if you’re thinking about attempting this and the book is informative as well.

Back in 2007…

Here they are today…

Concrete has a lot of imperfections and it’s prone to some small cracking, but that’s part of the character.  If you’re considering a concrete for your counters, here’s what you need to consider.

1.  Your molds need to be very accurate and dead flat and even.  If your mold is slightly bent or crooked, the concrete will imitate that as it cures.  The molds can bend under the weight of the concrete as well, so it needs to be done on a sturdy table and not two saw horses like I used.  If the mold sags down, when flipped over, the concrete will have a curve upward.

2.  You’ll need some specialty tools: wet grinder, cement mixer, cement vibrator, good quality table saw.  I wouldn’t used a hobby table saw as it’s too hard to cut 4×8 sheets of melamine for the molds.

3.  You will make a huge mess, so either do the project outside or use tarps inside.  Better grind outside though.

4.  When you design your counters, thicker looks better.  We chose ours to be 1.5″ to get the look of a granite counter, but we would’ve probably been better off with a 2″.  The advantage of concrete is that you can get whatever you want.

5.  Your cabinets need to be able to take the weight of the material. You may need to reinforce your cabinets to prevent them from buckling or breaking.

6.  You need to design your counter into sections.  If your countertop is going to have a long section and it’s going to be 2″ thick, you’re going to need more than a few people to help you lift it.  I’ve included a concrete countertop weight estimator here.  That sink section shown above took about four people to lift and install and it was only 1.5″ thick AND was missing the sink hole!!  DO NOT think you can make a huge counter 3″ thick and you’ll be able to throw it on yourself.  The longer the counter, the more prone it is to warpage and cracking.  Small sections are better the thicker you go.

7.  When you transition from one piece to the next, try to make the junction as sharp as possible.  If you use the melamine form method, you caulk all your seams before you pour the concrete.  The thicker the caulk application, the more rounded your edges will be when you add the concrete.  Try to minimize the curvature, i.e., the amount of caulk you use where one counter meets another.  You don’t want to butt two counters up against each other and have two big, rounded corners.  You want a sharp transition.

It won’t turn out perfect, but that’s okay… it’s even part of the look.  It’s not supposed to look like granite or soapstone. Plus, you can save huge $$ and have a great time if you’re up to the task.  Just be warned, it’s not as easy as it looks!!

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