Friday, October 17, 2008

Concrete Countertops

This has been a busy couple of weeks! I've put together and installed my IKEA cabinets in 916 Oakwood, the first house. That was much easier than I thought it would be. I then got to work on the concrete countertops - my first experience with making them.
Setting up shop in the backyard, I made the forms from Melamine so the concrete wouldn't stick or get any impressions. They had to be carefully cut, then caulked. I included a blockout for the faucet and sink. The forms had to sit exactly level.

I mixed regular concrete from Lowe's in a wheelbarrow and added some color mix (Quickrete) to get to a brown color with some color variations that I wanted. I tried to splatter some color blotches on the form so the counters would pick that up. More on that later.

The forms also had rebar for strength suspended with wire so
when the counters were poured, the rebar would not settle to the bottom - which would become the top of the counters.

After the concrete was mixed, I shoveled it into the forms then troweled it out. I was worried about too much water, and I think I ended up not using quite enough - now I know for next time!

After that, I used a concrete vibrator to vibrate the forms and get out the pockets of air. That was quite a mess. Concrete (red/brown) splattered all over me. Later that afternoon, someone who had never met me showed up at the jobsite and said "wow" - you look like you've been in a war!
I let the tops dry for 3 days, then with some help carried the very heavy forms into the kitchen and placed the counters on the top of the cabinets. Normally you would take the counters out of the forms first, but I had a very narrow place with a hole in the middle of it for the faucet and I was concerned about that spot cracking.

After removing the forms, I discovered a pretty good look. There were a few things I will do differently next time. One, I will not allow anyone to talk to me while I'm measuring or making the forms. The sink hole ended up being 3" too big. I suppose that's better than too small, because I was able to add some metal trim and it looks ok. Also, I made the forms before installing the cabinet doors/drawers. I used the 1/2" overhang recommended, but didn't take into account the width of the doors. Next time I'll use a bigger overhang.
Also, the color splashed I tried to do didn't work out too well. They ended up causing some of the smooth concrete at the surface to chip off. I had quite a bit of work to do to get that looking good and smooth, but that turned out ok in the end. Next time I'm going to try making the counters without any color dye in them and using a stain after they are sanded smooth. I'll let you know how that turns out!

After the form was removed, I had to sand the counters. What a mess - I'll never do that inside again!

Once the sanding was done, I used a sealer on the tops. They really look nice now. They aren't perfect, but they are really pretty - and I think a good job for my first time doing this myself. They will last for a long, long time, and really add a lot of character to the kitchen.

I'm probably within a couple weeks of finishing the first house. The lighting is all in (thanks John!) and the exterior grading is done (thanks Jeff!). Next week we'll install the appliances and start getting final inspections. We'll also get the fences up on the first two houses and start some landscaping. Check back for more pictures soon!

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