Part II: The Concrete Countertop Project

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Previous: Part I: The Cabinet Refinishing Project

After that kitchen cabinet refinishing, my poor fingertips needed a break from all that tedious sanding.

Once I made up my mind to start the counterop process, I quickly realized the cabinets were just the beginning of my time with the sander during this kitchen project.

Let me back up.  I had intentions of replacing my well-worn Formica with the economic choice of new high-definition laminate countertops.  I’ve had these installed at numerous job sites, and I enjoyed their ‘ease of ownership’ factor (meaning first-time-homeowner-proof!), plus have you checked out the new modern patterns and prints? Formica(R) even has a Jonathon Adler line!

When the prices came back my jaw hit the floor – THIS is the price for LAMINATE?!

(In their defense, we have that weird angled corner that adds several cuts and seams)

Back to the drawing board. Er, the Pinterest board.  Try searching “cheap countertop alternatives” and a whole plethora of ideas come up with varying mediums.  I narrowed it down to three looks I felt I could work with:

  1. Building Wood Countertops.  Think butcher block look.  Ruled out because it wouldn’t work in a kitchen already boasting wood cabinets and wood paneled walls…
  2. Paint Kits.  Rustoleum has a great countertop kit that looks like a great alternative to breath new life into existing, solid laminate countertops. Ruled out after serious consideration because, well, I liked the third idea better.
  3. Concrete Countertops. So trendy. So cool. So contrasting to my current woody situation.

After I decided on concrete countertops I discovered there was a whole market of new products for concrete counters that include expensive concrete and edging forms, to build-your-own-box-and-pour.

Then I discovered Ardex. 

Oh it was love at first sight.  I read as many blogs as I could find on it – and luckily the blog world is so kind to link to other DIYers trying the same thing!

The folks over at Young House Love were the most thorough I found, and had follow up posts discussing different sealants and longevity.  They led me to other amazing sites that I suggest you read, take notes, and re-read before attempting this yourself!

With my decision made, here it goes…

Ardex Concrete Countertops Step-by-Step guide

Step 1: Get Husband’s Approval

I printed mood boards, examples, and finally told him “it couldn’t hurt?” He agreed. At least that’s how I remember it.

Kitchen Inspiration Board

I’m a mood board enthusiast. This was simply thrown together in Word.

Step 2: Source Supplies

For me this was one of the most time-consuming steps (and once you get to the bottom of the post, you’ll realize that’s saying something!).

Living in the middle of South Dakota, I had to order the Ardex (found it on Amazon) and the sealant (more on that later) online ahead of time.  I had no idea how much I’d really end up needing, and none of my trusty blog resources could really tell me.  For reference, I had approximately 40sqft of counter space and used 1.5 bags of Ardex.  In retrospect, I’d get an extra bag to be safe – as I mixed very sparingly to make sure I didn’t run out.

Step 3: Prep 

First and foremost, Ardex will get EVERYWHERE.  Dripping and dropping big splats of the mixture on your floors and cabinet fronts is inevitable, but the worst culprit is the dust. Fine, grey, light… dust.

It gets inside your closed cabinets.  It travels to the other end of your house into your bedroom. It settles in your ductwork; on your windowsills; in your carpet. So PLEASE. Seal your kitchen. I did not seal.  This is regret #1.

Step 4: Demo!

What day is it? DEMO DAY! (Anyone else a Chip&Joanna / Fixer Upper fan here?)

Replacing the sink and the cooktop was an easy decision for me since “we” decided both of these items lived through their useful life.  Couple things I learned from this:

(1) Look for any brackets, screws, or fasteners holding your appliances in place – taking out the stove resulted in a major chip in the laminate;

(2) Measure your new items and do a trail install to make sure your existing countertop holes are the right size. Both the sink and the stove were different than their predecessor… oops. Luckily we had some friends with the right tools to cut through the existing laminate;

(3) Take photos of the existing hook-ups – both electrical and plumbing.  This I did NOT do ahead of time, thinking the sink was pretty standard (because I know anything about plumbing…).  Come to find out that our sink drains were a bit of a headache and we had to hire it out in the end.

(Don’t mind the hideous state of my sink cabinet. Or the innovative duct taping of our dishwasher drain by my husband…)

Step 5: Sand

Wait… I thought countertops were supposed to be my BREAK from sanding!

HAHAHA. No. What DIY project would be complete without a bit of sanding and elbow grease?

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So I sanded by hand. Then my friend and co-worker (sounding board, craftsman, remodel extraordinaire…) convinced me a rotary sander was the way to go.  As little as I admit it, he was so RIGHT!

The process calls for lightly sanding the laminate countertops, followed by a light sanding between each layer. Ardex is specifically engineered to stick to smooth surfaces – the sanding was just to get any sealant and leftover food gunk that could come back up through the finish.

This is where I remind you about the fiiiiiinest layer of grey dust will end up settling over EVERYTHING in your house by the time you are done with this?  If you were smart enough to heed my advice and tape plastic over your doors and enclose your kitchen for this project, props to you.  If you’re like the rest of us, just leave it until the end.  There’s no winning in a war against air particles.

Step 6: Mix, Smooth, Sand, Repeat.

This part I found oddly satisfying.  Working in small batches,  I found it much like a recipe:

Ingredients:
1c Ardex Feather Finish
1c Water

Equipment:
1 Disposable Mixing Bucket
1 Mixing Tool
1 Spreading Tool

  1. Combine ingredients.  1:1 ratio Ardex to Water.
  2. Mix mix mix. This mixture only gets better the more you mix it – so give it your all!
  3. Rest. Leave the mixture alone for 10 minutes. Mainly for the Ardex to set a bit, partially for your arm muscles to recover.
  4. Spread. The goal is for thin, even layers. Remember (or maybe I haven’t told you yet…) this entire project takes 3-4 coats minimum!
  5. Touch-Up. Wet your fingers and lightly smooth out any imperfections, bubbles, humps, divots, or scratches.
  6. Cure. I left the countertop alone for a minimum of 8 hours – but I waited and did one layer each day after work.
  7. Sand. For this I used a mixture of rotary sander on the flat surfaces and hand sanding around the edges.
  8. Dust. You will want to vacuum as much the dust off the surface as you can, then use a  damp paper towel to remove any of the remaining particles.  Tack cloths can leave a residue, so I do not suggest using one.

It doesn’t set too quickly, but you do want to work fast.  I plopped concrete on the countertop and spread it across in a thin layer – as thin as I could without scraping the countertop.

The trick here is having a well-mixed, consistent mixture so that when you’re doing an excellent job spreading it thinly, you don’t get a hard chunk of concrete scraping through your smooth surface.

For the edges, I did my best using what professionals call an “extra-wide taping knife” to pull the concrete down from the surface, then I’d repeat coming up from the edges.  Eventually it dries a little to a pliable consistency like clay where you could use your fingers to smooth it out.

Step 7: Seal.

Much like the previous step, it consists of a series repetitious steps. This is where you follow the instructions of the sealant that you chose.  Not knowing much about this ahead of time, here’s what I concluded:

  1. Wax. Does not work. This is made for actual concrete countertops, not Ardex.
  2. Penetrating Sealant.  I saw a post use it and it seemed to work, but as I did  not quite understand it, I cannot speak to this method.  I worried it was much like the Wax and meant more for concrete countertops.
  3. Polyurethane.  Gives a high-gloss, hard surface when dry.  Can be very tricky, and if applied wrong it’s next to impossible to remove.
  4. Acryllic/Lacquer. A hybrid between an acryllic seal and a lacquer. Still glossy (although you can get Matte), a thinner mixture, but requires multiple layers to apply.

For me, my biggest concern was choosing a food-safe option and fairly idiot-proof in case I applied it wrong or didn’t like the affect.

After reading endless reviews of the sealants mentioned in the other blogs, I went with AFM SafeCoat Acrylacq found on GreenBuildingSupply.com

The product itself was very easy to use and the smell didn’t bother me at all.  It went on with a simple bristle brush and I ended up doing 3-4 layers.

*I’ve added my thoughts on my sealant at the bottom*

Step 8: Dust, Vacuum, Wipe, Dust.

I ended up taking every single item out of my lower cabinets and wiping them down before replacing since the dust penetrated every nook and cranny.  After this was complete, I was able to have the sink re-installed with the new plumbing and disposal; as well as the new stove placed.

I removed the tape, dusted again, and tore up the floor coverings.  Then swiffered the floors from all the dust.

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I added the cabinet knobs back onto the doors after a quick spray paint with Rustoleum Oil-Rubbed Bronze to make them pop against the golden oak and add more of an industrial feel to tie in my new countertops.  Oh, did I mention dusting again?

End Reviews + 4 Months

I love how these turned out. For a mere ~$300 I have modern, “new” countertops.  I produced almost no waste in the process, which is always a bonus.

Of note, the countertops are neither heat-resistant, nor are they meant to be used without a cutting board.

Standing back, the variations in grey color that is natural in concrete is exactly what I wanted.  I love the imperfections, the darker areas and the texture naturally created when I troweled it smooth.

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And… the *’s

I do have one problem: sealant.


I did the water-bead trick to make sure the sealant layer was thick enough and didn’t let water soak through to the concrete.  It worked like a dream.  Water is quickly wiped up and whisked away.

Oil and acid is a different story – and a huge problem in a kitchen.

At this point, I can sand (oh no…) off the sealant and top layer to apply one additional Ardex layer + new sealant.  I’m debating using a polyurethane this time, but am still terrified to use it for fear of permanently screwing it up.


The moisture along the seal of the old laminate concerns me as well. Wondering if moisture is coming up from under the sink cabinet and seeping through? We may never know… 

After 4 Months:

Would I do it again? Yes. Absolutely, yes.

What would I do differently?  Take more precautions against the dust; use an electric sander from the start; and obviously choose a different sealer.

Would I recommend it?  Probably.  If you have the time, patience and willingness to tackle a week-long project, then yes.  If you can afford an actual concrete countertop, then probably not.

Any and all comments and advice would be appreciated!

Thanks for reading about my Kitchen Remodel!  I’ll be sure to update with any new information I get from you readers ๐Ÿ™‚

Also, how do we feel about painting the cabinets a dark color (see mood board above)?

 

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