Someone should really stop me from taking on DIY projects too complex, requiring too many skills, that require patience, and are too heavy for me to lift. I’m not very bright, studying up on YouTube videos on making countertops from bags of cement does not make one that much smarter. But they did make me fearless.
I had built countertops around our free-standing pedestal grill about a dozen years ago. I loved them. They were slate tiles, grouted in a diamond pattern (like my checkerboard garden, dwarf pear tree espaliers, lattice panels, it’s a theme in the garden…). The counter had a built-in planter that was switched to an ice bucket for dinner parties. It also had a built-in planter below an iron grate affixed to the side of the house. We would grow flowering annual vines there each year. I even made a light from a wine bottle that hangs over the grill for late-night grilling. And wine bottle torches affixed to the arbor’s uprights.
Basically, I like everything– except for the fact that it was coming apart. Nothing made of wood lasts forever. And Buffalo winters can be tough on tiles. And there was much moss growing in between tiles. It was time to say goodbye. But I like the design, size, scale, features I built into it. I just needed something that would last longer.
I’d always liked the idea of making my own concrete countertops. This was my chance. We bought the grill first. I needed to know exactly what size space was required for a countertop grill (this time without a pedestal).
And I kept the planter/ice bucket hole for party switch-overs. And the planter under the grate. But I had some glass tiles left over from a bathroom renovation and I added the rectangular glass tiles to the plan. The intent is to add rope light under the countertops so the light shines up through the frosted glass. That’ll be phase 18d that I’ll get to in the spring.
So, armed with a YouTube full of concrete countertop videos, off I went. Seriously, I am much smarter than I look, but this project might have proved otherwise.
You know the expression, “measure twice, cut once“? We’ll when you have to make a concrete form that is upside down and backwards, you have to measure about 40 times. The only tip I can impart here was to make a cardboard template and build the form around that. The countertop was so large I had to make it in two sections. And, of course, the two sections met in the middle – behind where the grill would sit, so it had to meet up and be EXACTLY the right width in that area to accommodate the grill. There’s no fudging space, no quick fixes in case the measurements were wrong. That was enough pressure. Having them be upside down and backwards didn’t help. And I didn’t form them in place. I did all this in my garage, mere feet away. I felt as though I was guessing – and second guessing when it came to measuring.
I created the forms from white-paneled melamine boards. The edges are about 3″ thick, the rest of the concrete is really about 1.5″ thick. It’s not needed to be 3″ thick throughout, and would be too heavy to lift. It does have chicken wire throughout and rebar embedded into the concrete to keep the pieces whole. Despite that, I did break one countertop in half while lifting it to turn it over, Clean break though, you can’t see the crack unless you’re looking for it. And I did tell myself that if anything did break or crack, I was going to follow the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, or golden joinery, whereby I would fix the crack with gold paint to celebrate the countertops unique history. But since it’s a clean break, so concrete adhesive will do.
It took a few weeks for the concrete to cure in the forms — covered with tarps so they would harden slowly. I was able to lift them and turn them upside down (right side up, at this point). Doing that just let me know there was no way I could have lifted them on my own.
I had added some terracotta stain to the concrete mix when I was making them, but that came out as just a slightly less dull color of gray. I used a slough coat of concrete to fill in the craters in the tops to make them smoother. I painted them with a terracotta colored stain – three times – to get the color I wanted.
Once that was all done, it was time to move them. I ended up hiring two guys to move them for me. It took only about 20 minutes, but it was hard work. I spent and afternoon leveling them on the new structure I had built to support them, of 4’x4’s and 2’x2’s. Once leveled, I added the grill — which fit in perfectly!
I now have to coat them with a sealant, caulk up where the countertops and house meet, and do some finish wood work (and staining) to below the countertops to cover the 2’x4’s and shims. I’ll cover them with tarps this winter and do that stuff in the spring.
I also have to add the lights under them. I’ll have it spiffy-looking for our first barbecue of the season — and for Garden Walk!
Start to finish, including hiring two guys to move them, I probably spent around $300, definitely less than $350. (This does not include the grill).
I’ll post again in the spring when it’s all put together. The grill is working and we’ll use it through the winter.