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My Experience with Concrete Countertops

Posted by 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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  • ainhoavega

    They look gorgeous! We've considered concrete countertops since we'll eventually have to replace ours (they came with the apartment and they're awful) but I have a feeling our cabinets won't stand the weight. I love the though, and they have a great price!
    I also really like butcher block and quartz, but of course quartz is so expensive.

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      Thanks! I was actually pushing for butcher block first instead of the concrete.

  • AshleyLynnFHD

    This was definitely an interesting post, and something I'm going to tuck away for later – we've discussed the possibility of concrete countertops for our future (far away future) kitchen reno.

  • Kristen

    Honestly – if you hadn't said these were concrete, I probably never would've guessed it! They look really beautiful (I love the kitchen in general)!

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      Thanks Kristen!

  • http://www.buffalo-roam.com Amy@BuffaloRoam

    AWESOME! I love me some concrete countertops. We were definitely planning to do that in our kitchen, but we stumbled across an unbelievable deal on granite, so ended up with that instead. Love yours so much!

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      We were thinking the same thing with our first house and ended up with granite for the same reason.

  • http://www.buffalo-roam.com Amy@BuffaloRoam

    Also, we need to talk about the two lights you have hanging! Details, please. :)

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      I\’ll let you know… I think I remember where I got them!

  • http://www.drabtofabdesign.com Whitney@DrabToFab

    WOW they are gorgeous! I love the whole kitchen! It sounds like a ton of work, but definitely a budget friendly option.

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      Thanks Whitney!

  • http://attemptsatdomestication.com Ashley@AAD

    I love the look of concrete countertops! They came out beautifully!

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      Thanks Ashley!

  • http://www.decorandthedog.blogspot.com decorandthedog

    Fancy! I'd be afraid to DIY our own counters. My mixing bowls would probably slide right on into the sink. ;) Your counters are beautiful…….and they look level! Good work!

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      Thanks! Took a lot of shims!!

  • http://ahomeinthemaking.blogspot.com Jenn

    This post is fantastic. We're at the very beginnings of a kitchen remodel and concrete is one of the options we're throwing around. I love the look! I'll definitely be checking out the video.

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/john/ John

      Cool. Good luck with your remodel!!

  • Tyler

    John,
    Your countertops came out great! I am getting ready to do mine and can't decide whether I should cast them in molds like you did or cast the in place. I don't have much room to work with so I am leaning with in place. I found this really cool forming system called z-counterform. There website is http://concretecountertopsolutions.com/. There video makes it look really easy. My question is can you fore see any issues I may have with doing them in place like this? Also what did you use to seal your tops? How have they held up?

    Thanks again for this post!

    • http://www.ourhomefromscratch.com/members/lisa/ Lisa

      Tyler,

      Thanks for the comments. In my opinion, countertops poured upside down into molds have some advantages. You get a smoother finish and you can grind and polish outside of your kitchen without making a mess in the house. I do like those countertop edges you mentioned. The look pretty nice! I’m not a fan of coloring or staining the concrete after the counter is cured though, I personally prefer adding it into the mix beforehand. If you are limited by space, then maybe pouring into place is best for your application. Either way, best of luck! Let me know how it turns out.

      R,
      John

  • countertopresource

    John – as the editor of a countertop-related website, CountertopResource.com I have heard many horror stories about folks trying to create their own concrete countertops. However, in your case, I'd say it turned out pretty darn good. I like the look of particulate in it, but I'm curious if you added any coloring, or if you just went "natural"? Also, I wondered if you used a sealer on it afterwards, or if it has developed a unique patina from use? Lastly, I'm curious how it is holding up after 5 years. Please let us know, and thanks for sharing!

  • http://newlywoodwards.com Kim@NewlyWoodwards

    I didn't see this post the first time around and I'm OBSESSED with concrete counter tops so I had to stop over. I guess we gotta get this DVD now. I'm seeing these in our future.

  • Muhannad

    Hello, what color did you use from the Fu Tung Cheng stuff?

    • John @ Our Home from Scratch

      Muhannad, I used the charcoal color.