Wednesday, July 17, 2013

DIY Cement Countertops Part I

by Sheila

My son Alec has what we sometimes refer to in my family as the "genetic defect".  He likes to do projects and fix up property, and he has recently taken this to a whole new level.  He has become an expert at DIY Cement Countertops.  He started with his bathroom vanity counter, and progressed to his upstairs bar top.  He is going to do his kitchen next, and I was gracious enough to offer up my Cairo property as yet another test zone.  He agreed to help me (this really means that I will assist him, as I have no idea what I am doing, but I am willing). And so the fun begins.  

Now don't get the wrong idea here.  This is a lot of work.  It's messy.  There are a lot of steps involved.  It takes lots of muscle to move the countertops around to polish them and put them in place (as in call my son's friends and my Dad).  It takes patience and time to have your kitchen torn apart. But, if I haven't scared you off, I think it's a really beautiful, affordable option for a durable counter surface.  

There are a number of tutorials for concrete countertops available online.  Alec watched a lot of You-Tube videos, also.  He recommends starting with a smaller project and then working your way up. This was our process:
The kitchen "before".  Hard to see the chips in this old formica, but they are there, making it look dingy and worn.
After removing the old countertop, sink and cooktop, we cut plywood to screw down as a base for the cement to rest on.

We then made "templates" out of 1/8" plywood strips.  These strips are glued together with a glue gun and used to build the forms and strategically locate stuff like the sink, faucet and cooktop within the form.

Here is the master at work.  He is marking out the location of the sink and faucet.  Note the glue gun heating on the counter.  Makes it seem kind of like a craft project, huh?
Yeah, that's me, lest you think I didn't get my hands dirty.  I am cutting out the cooktop and sink openings in the plywood with a jigsaw.

When the concrete is poured in the form, the bottom surface will become the top.  Therefore, it's really important to know which side is what, so that you polish the front edges and not the back, etc.  This is where detailed labeling comes in handy!
No sense polishing the back edge against the wall!  Label all edges.

The forms are made from melamine, providing a smooth surface.  The blue tape lines here are creating a clean line for a bead of caulk all around what will become the top edge of the counter.  This makes for a softer edge/corner and less grinding later.  The tape will be removed after caulking and prior to the pour.  The caulking will easily peel off after the cement is hardened and removed from the forms.
A close-up shot of the taped off area for the 1/4" caulk line to soften the finished edges.
3/8" rebar and 4x4" metal grid provide extra strength and stability within the concrete.  This is tied together with additional wire.  This one is for the sink.  Also strategically placed, because the faucet has to fit in along the narrow edge as well.

An easier one - the long slab with no cut-outs. Note that we used a sheet of plywood on sawhorses for pour tables.  These were covered in plastic and leveled before we poured.
This foam is cut to the exact size needed for the sink and cooktop cut-outs.  It is then screwed directly to the base of the melamine form to hold it in place.  A large washer around the head of the screw keeps it from disappearing into the foam.
I chose to add black and clear reflective glass to the cement countertop mix.  This will give it a little sparkle, but remain very neutral.  I didn't add color to the cement either - yielding a "bone" white/beige color.  There is no limit to the colors you can add, or the glass sparkle.  Alec used broken up beer and wine bottles in his bar top, giving it a beautiful brown, earthy color.

Best to used mix specifically designed for this purpose.  This is from a local supplier in Phoenix.

This is when it gets fun; mixing the cement, adding the sparkle.  Remember making mud pies?  This is a giant one!

Glass added.  There is "aggregate" or small stones already in the mix that will add color and texture, so this is just added sparkle.
After it is shoveled into the form, a screed board is used to level it off.  A 2x4 using a back and forth motion does the trick.  This is when you definitely need extra hands.  I really am working here, but stopped to take photos!
An old sander is used against the edges of the form to vibrate the air bubbles out of the cement.  The more of this you do, the smoother your concrete will be.  Work your way around all of the edges several times.  I thought my teeth might vibrate out of my head at the end of this day ;-)

This is the mess at the end of the pour day.  107 degrees in Phoenix.  Good thing water is involved, so we could squirt each other to stay cool!
This project so far has taken two long days. I am kind of glad that my son and I both have to go to work so that we can get some rest!  He works like a madman.  Check in next Wednesday for the grinding, installation and the finished product!


  1. Wow- so much work but I bet it's going to look amazing when it's completed.

  2. I can't wait to see what it looks like! My husband and I have been talking about doing this for two years, and it might be the right time to do this! Thanks for some inspiration! Ana

  3. Can't wait to see the finished product. Y'all are so talented!