Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Art of Concrete Countertops...

So sorry for such a delay in updates. I am playing catch up and have lots of pictures to add to the blog, but for this post I will focus on the concrete counters... I have been traveling, but even so I've still managed to get quite a bit done on the cabin. I hope you enjoy! A big thank you to Matt Blocher, for coming out on several occasions to help me do the counters. I'm not totally sure why I decided to go with concrete countertops because I have had granite in my mind for several years, but when it came time to do it, concrete was my choice.

So, the first step was to take the measurements upstairs, then we began building the forms downstairs. We decided to pour the counters downstairs rather than in place so we could get them really smooth, but also because the wet sanding can be a mess.
Matt building the forms out of melamine board
Forms ready to go
Forms ready with foam board in place for sink holes

Matt getting ready to mix some concrete
Cheng's concrete mix. If it's good for Cheng, it's good for me

We built the forms out of melamine board which helps the counters to get really smooth. We also secured foam board in place to create cut outs for where the sinks would go.

Once the forms were ready, we mixed some concrete samples by hand in a wheel barrow to figure out which color to go with. I went with charcoal gray.

Now it's time to start mixing... My Harbor Freight concrete mixer has really come in handy!

From what I've gathered, Cheng is the man for concrete anything, so we went with his mix. I also went with his line of sealing products and got my hands on some of his books on the topic to get a good grasp on what to expect during the process.
Concrete poured and setting
Me vibrating the concrete to get the bubbles out

Once we mixed the concrete, we used a shovel to pour it into the forms. When poured into forms like this they are actually upside down, so what you see is the bottom of the counter.

After we poured them, I used an electric sander to vibrate each form. I had to keep vibrating and vibrating... While doing this you will see bubbles rise to the surface as it is getting all of the air pockets out of the mix and getting the bottom surface really smooth (which is actually the top).
Once the forms were smooth and no more bubbles, we pushed rebar and wire into the forms. Then let them set.

Once the forms had set for a week, I got a group of friends to come out and help me carry them outside so we could wet sand them. Quite a messy job. Carrying these babies is no small task! The biggest piece for the kitchen island weighs roughly 600 pounds! It took 6 men to move it. Some of the pieces that are not quite that heavy had holes cut out for the sinks, so they are heavy and delicate. But we did it. Thanks guys!!
Matt wet sanding the counters

Matt then did some wet sanding with a diamond pad to smooth them down. You pretty much have to keep it constantly wet as you do that.

So after they were wet sanded, we let them sit another week, then I gathered some friends again to help us carry them upstairs.... I was really curious how that was going to go and nervous about the 600 pound island!

But, I was very impressed when Bim Gill had the novel idea to use a dolly with some of the left over foam board to  pad the counters as we rolled them up the stairs... I wasn't sure if it would work, but it actually worked great! Thank you Bim, Janet, Jonathan, Tanner, Dan & Matt for your help. Below is a picture of the 600 pound island as we strapped it to the dolly to move it upstairs. That one was a beast!!
The awesome people that came out to help carry the counters
Up the stairs we go

All the guys setting them in place

Matt cutting off a knot so the counters will fit snug
All the guys helped roll them up the stairs one by one with the dolly, then we were able to set them in place. Matt had to do some cutting on the cypress knots so the counter could fit nice & snug. Watching him cut into that wood hurt. I think this cabin has become a part of my flesh. As he cut in that log, I was like, "ouch, ouch..."

The island in place!
We got the big island in first and after carrying that beast up the stairs, the rest were a breeze... For the most part.

Check out that concrete island... I love it. Below are just a few pictures to show the layout of the kitchen counters.

Looking good!

Sealing the counters

Once they were in place it was time to start the sealing process. I went with Cheng's sealing products. First I did two coats of a wash solution that seals the counters. Then I put a wax on them that I buffed out. That really makes them shine.

I'm loving the look of the concrete. It has a nice earthy and rustic feel to it. And apparently it ages over time and you kind of just have to go with it. Things will get spilled on it, water drops will leave marks, but from what I've heard, how that contributes to the evolution of it gives it character. Sounds good to me...

Where the kitchen sink will go

Bathroom counter sealed and ready
The counters are sealed and have a nice sheen to them

I'm very satisfied with the way the counters have turned out... Up next, I'll be catching you up on more photos of what I've been doing over the past few months. Trim, trim and more trim... Everything needs trim. Stay tuned!