Now that the One Room Challenge is finally complete, I can finally get back to my regular DIY blog posts for y’all. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I had y’all vote on which project you wanted to see first – and this post is the result of that poll! So here ya go – how to install DIY concrete countertops with Ardex Feather Finish concrete!
I will also tell you, these counters are NOT impervious to scratches. My husband already opened two wine bottles (cue downward pressure in circular motion movement) on them and they scratched. Now, by “they,” I mean the SEALER scratched, not the counters themselves. And that is what the sealer is there to do, right? I’ll explain a bit more later, but I did already fix the scratches right up, and they are barely visible except in very specific lighting when you catch a glare off of them. That said, even marble and quartz counters scratch! With these, it kind of just adds to their character (though you can bet I have since banned my husband from wine bottle opening on the counters) 😛
But I digress… let’s get to the nitty gritty of the DIY process, and then we can return to the inevitability of USING your counters and what that might mean!
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What You’ll Need:
- Angle grinder (we rented ours) with a diamond blade (OPTIONAL) – see below
- Ardex Feather Finish (we used almost 2 full 10lb bags for 3 coats on about 30 sf, however we did have a lot of extra volume given the scoring on the counters. Regardless, I suggest ordering more rather than less – you can always return later)!
- A range of sandpaper – we used 80 grit to 220 grit
- Disposable buckets (we used several 2.5 quart ones – I suggest TWO buckets per coat, but you can get by with one)
- Paint Mixer drill attachment
- Several putty knives – we used a 4″, 10″, and 24″ – the 24″ one was a GAME CHANGER – you can find them with all of the other tape/putty knives at your local hardware store – look in the paint section!
- Painters tape
- LOTS of plastic tarps
- Utility/Exacto knife
- Orbital Sander (preferably square in shape to get into corners, but circular will do too, just expect to sand by hand in corners/edges)
- Caulk (matching your backsplash grout color)
- Silicone Caulk
- YOUR CHOICE OF SEALER – We used Omega Concrete Countertop Sealer (other options are TuffDuck and good ole Polycrylic)
- SEVERAL 6″ high density foam rollers (I think I used 10)
- Safety goggles and respirator mask
- Gloves (depending on sealer used)
[P.S. With 2 people, this project is totally doable in a 72 hour period (if you choose the Omega Sealer), not including the cure time for the sealer, which is 4-7 days, at least for ours. It was a lot of work, but for being able to completely transform our counters in less than 3 days?! I would do it again in a heartbeat.]
Ideally – remove your sink (this is a whole other project that may require several other/different tools – you can learn more about how we removed ours on my ORC Week 5 Blog post!) However, this is optional. If you don’t remove it, be sure to tape it off with painters tape. Also tape off your backsplash with painters tape as well.
Assess what your current counters are made of – if they are something like laminate, you can just sand them down a bit with 80 grit sandpaper. But if they are granite (or another smooth stone) like ours were, I highly suggest you rent an angle grinder and a diamond blade and score the counters before tackling this DIY concrete overlay.
**USE EXTREME PRECAUTION WHEN USING AN ANGLE GRINDER/DIAMOND BLADE – BE SURE TO HAVE A PROFESSIONAL AT YOUR LOCAL HARDWARE STORE EXPLAIN WHAT TO DO AND NOT TO DO WHEN USING, AND ALWAYS WEAR THE APPROPRIATE SAFETY EQUIPMENT!**
You can see the result of the scoring in the photo above – basically a ton of cross-hatched lines all of the counters (and backsplash).
As you can see above, also tape off EVERYTHING else you don’t want to get dusty, because there will be dust everywhere (i.e. cabinets, floors, applicances, etc). I would even suggest taping up a tarp over your ceiling if you’re able (because speaking from experience, scrubbing our ceilings with rags, water, and Cinch after this project was over really wasn’t that fun – and it’s still not fully clean). We also taped off our outlets, save for the one we used for the sander!
Mix your concrete according to the instructions on the package – mainly, this means adhering to the 2 parts cement powder to 1 part water ratio. We mixed our concrete using a drill with the paint mixer attachment add on, and we mixed SMALL batches of 2 cups powder to 1 cups cement at a time. It will dry out quickly, so you don’t want to make more than you can spread at one time.
Pour your concrete mixture directly onto your countertop surface and use your putty/tape knives to spread! I used my 10″ knife first to get things mostly spread out and around, and then used my 2 footer to really smooth things out and get rid of as many of the trowel lines as possible.
You’ll also notice that as you spread (and use PRESSURE to make a VERY thin coat), that you’ll pick up a lot of excess concrete on your knife. This is what the 4″ knife is for – use that to scoop off the excess concrete that builds up on your 10″ or 24″ knife as you spread and just put it right back on the counters. If you make a very thin coat, as you should, you’ll be pretty surprised how far one batch will go!
(If this sounds confusing to you, THIS video and THIS video are both super helpful to watch (and contain some great tips too). I highly recommend browsing around YouTube for several videos of this process before you begin – the more you know, the better prepared you are – but do NOT follow the videos that thin the concrete out to liquid! ALWAYS follow the ratio provided on your concrete bag!)
TIP: Tackle the tops of your counters first, and then take on the edges at the end of each coat!
Continue to spread the concrete in this manner until the entire countertop is covered. Be sure you mix as you go. Do your best NOT to alter the ratio of 2 parts powder: 1 part water; rather, mix a new batch if your concrete becomes too hard to spread. (We did add a bit of water at times, mostly for the edges, but it wasn’t much, and it is also because we were running low on concrete!) That said, do your best NOT to follow in our footsteps on this one, and stick to the ratio. This ensures the integrity of your concrete stays in tact!
Once the top is done, spread concrete on your edges. Honestly, using your fingers for this part is much easier than a putty/tape knife, so that’s what we did. There was no specific of exact science to this, mostly just spreading it on as smooth as I could, knowing that I was going to sand it down after anyway.
TIP: Swap out buckets as soon as you start to notice that dried concrete build up from the edges of the bucket is getting mixed into your new batches. This is why I suggest 2 buckets per coat.
Clean ALL your tools (but you can toss your bucket(s), that’s why you have more than one!), and then let the concrete dry. We waited about 12 hours between coats 1 & 2, and about 8 between coats 2 & 3.
Put on your safety goggles, respirator mask, and get ready to get DUSTY. Use your orbital sander with increasing grits of sandpaper (we started at 80 grit and then moved to 120, and finally to 220 grit (but only on the final third coat). If you managed to keep your concrete pretty smooth when you laid it on, the sanding shouldn’t take too long. Honestly, it will probably take you longer to CLEAN after you sand, than it will to sand itself.
Also be prepared to spend some time sanding the edges – I did a quick pass over them with the orbital sander, but then did a lot of that sanding by hand. They are FAR from perfect (aka smooth), but again, I love the character they add! Ours were also a bit more difficult because our counters have rounded edges. If you have 90 degree angles as your edges, applying and sanding them will be much easier.
TIP: If you sand off too much concrete (i.e. back down to your counters), not to worry, you can easily cover this up with the next coat, or with just a little bit of concrete as touch up!
Clean up! Trust me, you’ll be happy you did when you have to keep working in your space. First I swept the counters themselves and then the floor. Then I vacuumed the counters and the floor. Lastly, I used a damp cloth to wipe off the counters a couple of times to remove any excess dust and debris! It’s annoying to do each time, but very much necessary.
Repeat steps 4-9 one to three more times. We did a total of 3 coats of concrete, but I know of others who have done as few as 2 or as many as 4. Be sure your final clean up is a good one!
Use your utility/Exacto knife to cut away the painter’s tape from the backsplash – this will be a bit tricky at times because the concrete may have trapped some of the tape. But be patient, and work slowly with your knife to remove as much tape as possible. Whether you will be tackling a backsplash after this project, or want to keep your current backsplash, you should absolutely CAULK the seam where the backsplash meets the counters in a color that matches your grout. So, a little leftover tape shouldn’t be a huge deal, unless your grout is white! In that case, you may be spending a little longer on this step making sure ALL of the tape is removed!
TIP: You CAN remove the tape on your backsplash after EACH coat if you choose, before the concrete is dry. This will ensure no leftover tape. But, you’ll then need to re-tape it before each coat. I didn’t feel this was necessary for us because I knew we were going to do the backsplash after the fact.
Take down all of your tarps. I then suggest doing another quick once over with your broom, vacuum, and damp cloth. You want to be sure any and all excess dust is removed from the countertop surface.
Allow your counters to cure for about 36 hours (or more, depending on the sealer you choose). The Omega sealer did not require a certain “cure” time before application, so I just gave ours about 36 hours before I started in on the sealer (this is the time from the APPLICATION of the final concrete coat, not the final sanding).
Tape off your backsplash (and sink if necessary) again, and then SEAL! I won’t bore you with step by step instructions on the sealer we used, because honestly the Concrete Countertop Institute (the maker of Omega) has AMAZING resources if you go that route. But basically, we mixed the sealer accordingly, and then used a 6″ high density foam roller to roll on (and off) the sealer! Gloves were recommended too!
And honestly, I HIGHLY recommend this sealer (and nope, totally not a sponsored endorsement)! The biggest reason I recommend it is because it is EXTREMELY FORGIVING – that means, absolutely ZERO streak marks, zero bubbles, nada.
It went on smooth and I am super impressed with it’s stain resistance thus far (water, wine, spaghetti sauce, lemon juice have all already been spilled, and you would never know it). Of course, you want to wipe up spills relatively quickly, but as long as you aren’t leaving a puddle of wine there for 20 minutes, you should be good.
You’ll remember that earlier I mentioned we DO already have some scratches on these, so this sealer may not be the best in terms of abrasion resistance (though I am not sure, because I don’t know how other sealers hold up). That said, you can fix the scratches in one of two ways – either totally reseal the counters, which I may do eventually, or, use a CLEAR CAR SCRATCH REPAIR PEN (yes, you read that right), a toothpick, and a ScotchBright scrubbing pad, and you’re scratches are virtually gone! I say virtually, because like I said earlier, you can still see them slightly in certain lighting. But is anyone going to notice them besides me? Absolutely not! And how easy is that??
I will say, this sealer is a bit pricey (about $160 with the shipping). But it is food safe, you get oodles of tutorial videos, their customer service is top notch, and most importantly, is DOES IT’S JOB! It’s ultimately up to you when it comes to the sealer, but I cannot speak highly enough about Omega!
Remove the painter’s tape along the backsplash, and allow the sealer to cure for the appropriate amount of time (for Omega it is 4-7 days), and voila! You have gorgeous, conversation piece counters for VERY little money! (Don’t forget to put your sink back in if you removed it, and caulk around the edges with silicone – actually, caulk around your sink with silicone even if you DIDN’T remove it – this will make certain that the concrete and sink are seamless, and protect any little spots that may have not gotten sealed next to the sink).
So what do y’all think?! Is this something you would consider trying on your own counters? I can’t say it is a PERMANENT fix, but I expect them to last at least a few years, and at that juncture we can either decide to go over them with another couple layers of concrete if we are still loving them, or we can completely replace the counters all together. But for anyone on a serious BUDGET, this DIY is a fabulous was to transform your ugly counters into a gorgeous conversation piece in your home!
If you have questions or comments – feel free to drop them below! Until next time, my friends…