A few months ago, my husband and I decided we needed new countertops in our kitchen. We had tile, and between the constant grout cleaning, the cracked tiles and the eroding grout around our sink, we vowed that we would never have tile countertops again. Granite and solid surface have become so ubiquitous that everyones kitchen looks the same. We wanted something that didnt have the high maintenance of tile or the busy patterns of granite. I saw concrete counters in a friends house, and loved the clean, modern look. I began researching the various methods for creating concrete countertops. We didnt have a lot of money to spend on this project, and knew we would have to do the work ourselves.
We are semi-experienced DIYers, but have only a little experience with concrete. I found the Z-Counterforms website, watched the video, and was impressed by how user-friendly it is. I called for information, and Ed was extremely helpful. I took three pages of detailed notes and ordered the products we would need. We ordered the square edge package, (it seemed the easiest edge for a non-professional) counterpacks, the sink form, the gem pads and the faucet knockouts. We hired my cousin, who has construction experience, to help us with the forms. If we hadnt, we would have also ordered the edge expert set, because even though we have a miter saw, it is essential that the corners fit together well. Everything arrived very quickly, and was packaged nicely.
We attached the Durock, then the forms, then we mixed the concrete in our backyard. We used a big plastic tub that is made for this purpose, which we purchased inexpensively at a home improvement store. We brought the tub inside on a flat furniture dolly.
- Make sure the corners of the forms fit exactly, and cover them with duct tape the way the guys do in the video. Our corners look really nice because my cousin cut them so well.
- Do the forms one day and pour the concrete the next. You want the forms to be as perfect as possible, and this takes time.
- It takes much longer to mix and pour the concrete than you think it will. Once you start pouring concrete you have to finish the job, (you cant go back and add more later) so allow yourself a whole day for this.
- What not to do: Do not have your cousin help you mix the first batch right before he leaves at the end of the day and think that it will take just a couple of hours to mix and spread all of the rest. We worked quickly and were still up until after midnight. The last section does not look as good as the first because we fell asleep and did not float it as well as we did the first. It would have been so much better if we had just started the concrete the next day.
- Follow the instructions on the video and vibrate the edges several times. I used our palm sander for this, and our edges look very good. We have a few spots that are rough along the bottom, but it looks nice.
- It would have been much easier if we had had a third, or even fourth person helping with the cement. Recruit extra pairs of hands for this part of the job.
The next day we removed the forms. It is just as easy as it looks in the video- we were amazed. Here is the crucial part: you can either sand all of the top, or dont sand the top at all. Ill explain why below, but this is very important. In our case, we had some uneven spots on the counter and we wanted the edges of the island to be smooth, because we also use it as a table. We used the gem pads, which are a great product, and the sanding went very quickly. Next, we moved on to staining.
For concrete countertop stains and sealers, we bought the Z-AquaTint and the Z-SiAcryl14. We wanted a less shiny finish, so we did not order polish, although we can always use that later. The stain is very easy to use. I bought disposable liners for my paint tray and hot dog rollers with a 3/8 nap. The stain rolled on very easily.
Here is why you should either sand all of the countertop or none:
In retrospect, I would not have sanded our countertops at all, because the stain gave the unsanded parts a really beautiful, natural look. Because sanding opens up the pores of the cement, the stain really took to the parts we sanded, showing all of the sanding marks in a darker, blotchy, uneven-in-a bad-way look.
We fixed the problem by re-sanding the whole countertop and applying another lighter shade of stain and adding a third color in places to give the whole countertop more variation. If you want your counters to have a more uniform, solid, less stone-like look, then sand the entire surface. The stain will absorb more and have less variation in color.
Here are some tips regarding the stain and sealer.:
Be prepared to do all of the staining at once, or at least all of one color at once. Its just like staining wood, only it absorbs and dries much, much faster, so its even more important not to walk away in the middle, or the color may be uneven. The stain is very easy to roll on, and dries almost instantly. I used it in temperatures in the high 80s, with very little humidity and it dried within 30 seconds. Keep in mind that your counters will look much different when you apply the sealer. I knew this and was still very surprised by how they looked when they dried. When you first apply the sealer, it will look very dark, and you may not be able to see the color very well, but it will dry lighter. I rolled on three layers of sealer, waiting a half-hour between each. I put a fourth coat around the sink to really keep the water out.
Z-Counterforms are a great product and make it possible for non-professionals to create beautiful counters. Ed is very knowledgeable and helpful, which makes the process even easier.