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Part 1: Setting up for DIY concrete countertops

Concrete countertops are a great alternative to other more expensive stone countertops for the price point alone. With shipping and all the tools we needed to do this project, our countertops ended up being less than $1200. The other main advantage of concrete countertops is the timeline. You can get your countertops poured as soon as you’re ready compared to the standard 4+ week lead time for other stone countertops. That convenience factor was what sold us on the concrete, but it’s a bonus that we also love the look!

Prior to diving in to this project, we did a good amount of research, and I have not found a better source than the Z Counterform website. The Product Information page and this video answered a lot of questions for us, and we continually referenced these throughout the process!

The first step is to gather supplies.

*My supply list is what we used for 48 square feet of bright white Euro style countertop (1” thick) on top of an Ikea SEKTION cabinet. There will be slight variations in products and setup for different kitchen setups and thicker countertops.

*Be careful to know the dimensions of your faucet. Ours was slightly too large for the knockouts, so we ended up having to modify them.

**If we did this project again, we would use 1/4” cement board because we eded up having a tiny bit of cement board show under the overhang of the countertop. I show our solution to this problem in Part 2.

In addition to supplies, you’ll need a few tools for this project. Usually I suggest tools that will make your project easier, but these tools are absolutely necessary for this project.

Tools

  1. Carbide scoring knife

  2. Drill

  3. Lexan Float

  4. Chrome Finishing Trowel

  5. Mixing Paddle

  6. 5 Gallon Bucket

  7. Screed (we used a straight piece of scrap wood for this) 

Prep

Before getting started, you’ll want to make sure your cabinets are level and you’re completely satisfied with their position.

When you’re happy with the placement, cut cement board down to size with a carbide knife, and adhere to the cabinets with silicone caulk.

If you’re using the Ikea Sektion cabinets, you’ll need reinforcements in the cabinet frame. These can be simple 2x4s cut to support the cement board and will be removed after the concrete cures.

Cut and attach Z-forms

Cut the forms to size and miter any corners. This can be done on a miter saw making sure to hold the front edge of the form tight against the fence.

Attach the Z-forms with #10 1/2” pan head screws spaced every 10-12 inches, and tape the corners/seams with painter’s tape to eliminate the risk of any leaking.

Cut the rear form to size and attach in a similar fashion. If you have longer counters than a single Z-form, either butt up against another form and tape the seam, or miter the pieces together and tape.

You’ll need to build custom forms from plywood when counters end at a stove or fridge. These will make sure the counters end with no overhang. Make sure to get the height from the bottom of the cement board to the top of the forms consistent.

Plan for your sink and faucet

The sink can be done in a number of ways. We took a non-traditional approach with our apron sink and wrapped it with the flexible sink form after we set it in place. A more traditional installation would be without the sink in place and using the counter forms to create an overhang. We didn’t go that route because our sink was about 100lbs and it felt too risky to move in in after the countertops were in. If you’re having a hard time bending your sink form, heat from a heat gun or hair dryer can help the form bend more easily.

We used a hole saw bit to drill holes in the cement board. We purchased faucet knockouts, but ended up having to modify them to accommodate our faucet and the depth of our countertop so much that we didn’t use the knockouts at all. We instead wrapped painters tape around the knockouts until we reached the width we needed for our faucet and then slid the tape off and used that as a knockout. We caulked at the base of the knockouts to prevent any concrete from leaking through. Our tape knockouts felt flimsy, but actually worked really well!

Cut and fasten reinforcing mesh

We used Z counterform’s treated fiberglass mesh and attached it via z-clips. this can also be done with a more traditional steel reinforcing mesh, although this is not as easy. The mesh was easy enough to cut with regular scissors, and then flipped to make the curl of the sheet go down. Cut to about a finger-width away from any edge to prevent the mesh from showing through (we had this happen on our sample piece). Attach your clips with the same screws used elsewhere and space them every 10-12 inches making sure to any curl is taken care of.

The final setup task is taping off everything. Completely cover any flooring you want to protect with cardboard or contractor paper. Don’t forget about covering your path from where you mix your concrete to where you’ll be pouring it.

Make sure to check out Part 2 of this blog post for the steps about pouring and finishing!

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