It's a Concrete Countertop! Woo hoo!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Hey!  I did it!  Yay!!  Woo hooo!  I poured the concrete countertop!  And hey, it came out all right, so whewie, what a relief!!!

Yeah, knowing Mike had a day off and how anxious I am to get this master vanity in place, I opted to skip the continuing Battle Basement saga for a day.

Hang tight with me here as this might get lengthy.  It'll be worth it though, promise.

So here's how the countertop went down....

Having never done this before, I read up on how to make one from a zillion websites but quickly discovered they all pretty much tell you the same things.  I did my research so that I had a plan in place rather than winging it.  As we now know, instructions and directions good.

There was one blog post that stuck with me most from More Like Home as their explanations were distinctly understandable along with heaps of helpful photos.  Plus they also had a down to earth sense of humor about their process.  And ok fine, they shopped at Menards.  Busted I am.

Too though, I culled tips from multiple sites including the DIY Network.  There's an unlimited supply of info out there, folks.  I picked and chose and adapted what applied to my scenario based on what I already did know.

Ultimately the biggest help?  The bag of mix itself, the directions, yep.  And the structural engineer gene I inherited from my dad.  :)  But if you don't have that gene, that's ok, you can still do this.

Now, see, my process was sorta atypical, in some cases veering off a fork in the road plus I was extra paranoid about every step but hopefully you'll see that this thing can be done without adhering too hard and fast to directions.

Right, so here's my list in random order:


First order of business:  where the heck was I going to do this project??  Goodness, we don't have a single level floor in the entirety of this house.  Basement?  Ideal for the mess but worst out-of-level floor ever.  Plus I didn't want us carrying the counter up two flights of stairs.

The only other place would be the garage since the flipper had at least some wherewithal to hire one professional, but it's 2 degrees outside here all week.  No thanks.  Welp.  Yeah.  Picked the hall bathroom.  It has water.  It's not far from the master bathroom.  It's not level but ok, I'll make it work.

Luckily for me, the cool construction guys from Sirens (tune in January 27 for the season 2 premiere on USA!) built the form for me when they built the vanity.  There are lots of explanations on how to build this online so don't panic if you don't have a construction shop at the ready.

Form, hardware cloth, and steel rods.
Most all websites will tell you to use melamine for your form and hey, definitely.  The guys used plywood for mine so I had some figuring to do -- get some melamine or seal the plywood.  I sealed the plywood with oil based polyurethane after a failed attempt at a 2'x4' melamine panel.  Based on the way the frame was constructed, the short ends hung off and over.  I figured that's bad.

Bad overhang.  Ends not supported.  Back to before.
My next challenge was getting the sink block into the form.  The guys left it out for me so I could place it exactly where I (hopefully) want it.

The Sink.  AhhhHHHhhhhhh, glorious sink!  Kohler Vox.*
The sink came with a printed layout so after some fits and starts, measuring, remeasuring, fiddling and remeasuring, fiddling and remeasuring, I finally got the spot and screwed the piece down.




All righty!  So next was the polyurethane.  I glopped on maybe two to three heavy coats, trying to get the plywood as smooth as possible.  This is when I still had hopes of the counter turning out when-angels-sing perfectly.  Thankfully I gave that up.

All poly'ed up and ready to go!
And thankfully too, the holidays cropped up and kept me away from this therefore the poly could really dry.  The bonus of the poly was that it sealed up the seams pretty well.  Where it didn't seal entirely, I lightly filled with the silicone caulk and let that dry completely.


Ok, so next was the rest of my prep.

Leveling.  Omg.

Assistant is handy.
So maybe it's not the best photo to show you how out-of-level this bathroom floor is but if you look reaaaallll hard, you can see the bubble almost all the way to the right.  Nice job flipper!  Yeah!  Sheesh.  Idiots.

This step took forever.

I didn't have any shims so I tried using pieces of pallet wood I had around.  (And yeah, it was that un-level.)  But then I got worried about the form bowing.  So I slid that piece of melamine board under it, then propped it with the pallet wood pieces.  But again, got worried about bowing.  In the end, I used several cardboard boxes so that the whole form was supported, taking into account the compression of the cardboard from the concrete weight by sitting on it and rechecking level.

Ok.  With that done, I trimmed up the hardware cloth.  See, steel and concrete were meant to be together, like soul mates.  Concrete is inflexible, steel is flexible.  One can't go without the other if you don't want all your hard work to snap, crackle, and crumble apart.

Trimmed up hardware cloth.
This step also took a smidge of time.  Not only the snipping but since the hardware cloth comes from the store rolled, the folding, forming, straightening, flattening, blah blah blah.  Heh, as soon as you fold this stuff one way, you have to fold it back the other.  It can be amusing.  Be sure to wear leather work gloves when you work with this stuff so you don't end up looking like you got mauled by five cats.

Mesh all in!  Let's go!
Whewie!  All right!  Moving along!  Ok, let's haul in those two fifty pound bags of concrete!  Yeah!

Aw jeez louise!  Wow, that stuff ain't light!  Out of the trunk, through the yard, up the back stairs, through the first floor, up the stairs, down the hall....holy crap, man.

Of course I threw one bag on each shoulder and paraded through....No, please!  I plopped one bag on the kitchen counter, caught my breath, went back for the other, came in, plopped it down and noticed the first bag was burning.  Yeah, it landed on the toaster oven toaster switch, holding it down.  It was frying out.  Now we need a new toaster oven which sucks because I've had this one for like twenty years!  We've been through so much together!

Anyway....!

I stepped out again to give Finn a five minute jaunt in the cold and snow and to get the bucket.  Then it hit me -- dude, you're super pooped.  You want to pour this today?  Really?  That's crazy.  It's like 4:30 pm.  Ugh pooped!!  Let's do this Saturday.  The other half of my brain chimed in and said, hey, bug off -- you might be wiped but let's get this puppy poured.  I went with latter half.

Here's where it's most ideal to follow the directions on the bag.  Don't veer.

After a quick vacuum of the form, 5.5 pints of water into the bucket.  (That's it?  Yeah, that's it.  Crazy, right?)  Skootch furry assistant out of the room.  A quick spray of the mould release and it was game time.

On donut break in the hall.
Wearing a dust mask, slowly add the mix and blend but as I found out, not too slow as this stuff starts going for set relatively quick.

The mix, low on aggregate and much more powdery than other types of concrete mix.
Mixed!
I about fried the corded drill here as it's a pretty tight mix.  Lots of smoke.  Thankfully bathroom has exhaust fan.  Just be careful, ok?

I got about halfway up the 1.25" deep form, dashed about all sproingy placing the hardware cloth and the steel rods, then sprang back to the mix and got it all in there.


Part of the cloth was sticking out in one corner but eh, I'll get over it.  It can be trimmed.


Somehow one bag filled the whole form.  Whew!  I did not want to try and power up that drill again.  Next:  pound away and rattle that bugger with the mallet, buzz the whole thing with the sander sans sandpaper to wiggle out air pockets.

I covered it in plastic (I found one a' those plastic covers that go over Mike's suits, like from a dry cleaner) then plopped down on the floor, stared exhaustedly at the result, hoping and wishing to all get out that it works.  My assistant cuddled me.  It was a great moment.

Cut to: twenty four hours later.

"Hey babe, uh, it's uh 5:30.  Can you help me get the countertop out of the form?"

How it looked the next day, 24 hours later.
I don't think I breathed the entire time we were working to get the form off.


And there it is, flipped over and out of the form.  Holy crap, whew.

We briefly conferenced:  let the concrete cure more before removing the middle sink block since at this point, the concrete is still pretty tender and those are some narrow parts there.

There are some small pits and from what I read, most people fill them.  I'm going to leave them because I think they're cool.  Most people do some sanding and polishing here too but yeah, again, gonna leave it because I like it this way.

Here's one end.
Crummy photo, sorry.  Pitting by the front side, the people side.
I cheered.  I danced a little.  I was feeling proud.  :)

Here it is today, on day two:



It's a bit spotty so I'll see how that pans out as it cures more.

But I cheered again.  Did another little dance.  Yay!  I did it!  You can too!

In the end, it really was not that hard of a thing to do.  I over-worried, but hey, that's what I do.  Mike said, "wow, it's cool," so there it is my friends, my big stamp of approval!  Yay!

Because concrete is porous, I will need to do some sealing so stay tuned for that and then final vanity install!

Feel free to ask questions in case I left anything out!

*The sink link and mould release spray are an Amazon affiliate links.  Mwah, thanks!

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2 comments

  1. Holy cow, that's beautiful! What a lot of work... you're a STUD!! =) I can't wait to see it in place!

    Tania

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  2. Thank you Tania! It was a process though I think because I spent so much time worrying, it made the whole thing feel longer! ;) I can't wait to get it in place! I'm crossing my fingers for this weekend.

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