Updating a kitchen with concrete countertops is an inexpensive way to add new counters without the expense of marble or granite. Concrete countertops make use of a traditional material in a non-traditional way. Concrete makes an excellent counter surface, because it is extremely hard and extremely durable. Installing a concrete countertop takes time, but also gives the homeowners an excellent opportunity to eat out during the construction process.
Begin by putting on safety glasses and gloves to protect eyes and hands during demolition and installation. Then remove the current countertop. This may mean removing the sink and the sink hardware if the counter there is also being replaced. Once the countertop is removed, if there is a base underneath it, brush it clean and wipe with a damp cloth. If there is no countertop base and the cabinet is exposed below, cut an appropriate size length and width of plywood to create the surface. Most traditional cabinet bases will easily bear the weight of a concrete countertop.
Building a Frame
The next step will be to build a frame using two-by-fours around the outer edge of the cabinet. Any countertop edges that are against a back splash or wall should be heavily taped with black electrical tape. Although this may sound odd, the concrete will not stick to the black electrical tape and the tape itself will not leave a residue on the walls or back splashes. The inside surfaces of the two-by-fours should also be taped with black electrical tape, so that they will detach more easily. The height of the boards and taping should be about 2 1/2-inches to allow for the concrete.
Strengthening the Surface
After the frame has been built, cut a piece of steel mesh to place in the framed out box. The steel mesh acts similar to re-bar, in that it provides the countertop with strength and stability. The addition of the mesh also reduces the chance of cracks and fractures of the surface.
The process of building a concrete countertop requires two applications of concrete. The first application is of a thicker, more crumbly mixture of concrete. The water to concrete ratio should be reduced so that the concrete needs to be shoveled into the space due to its thick, oatmeal like consistency. Shovel enough of the concrete into the box so that it is half full. Press the concrete down with a float to get rid of air bubbles that could damage and weaken the surface.
After the first batch of concrete is shoveled in, mix a second batch in a clean pail or wheelbarrow. This second batch should be smoother in consistency and can include pigments, slag for sparkle, and other additions before it is mixed. Add water and mix the concrete so that it can retain its shape even when scooped up. Shovel this batch of concrete into the form, filling it up about 1/3-inch from the top. Tap it in place and level it. Pour a thinner mixture of the concrete along the edges of the form to help eliminate air bubbles and smooth the edges. Be sure to thoroughly work the concrete into the form and create a tightly packed surface.
Let the concrete dry and then remove the wooden form and tape. Wipe the countertop surface down to remove any residue. After the concrete has completely dried after a few days, it can be finished with a special seal-coating that will protect it from moisture.
Concrete countertops are durable and provide an interesting focal point in a room. They are relatively easy and inexpensive to install. Taking the proper time to compress the concrete and smooth the surface will result in a stronger, more durable, kitchen countertop.
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