August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Jeremy Glasser

Replacing the old tile kitchen countertops of his Morton Meadows home had been on Jeremy Glasser’s to-do list since moving into the house in 2008. When a break between jobs afforded him a bit of time to tackle the project, Glasser went to work creating new concrete counters, which offer an earthy look and tactile feel while also being extremely durable and resistant to heat and scratches.

Glasser did not go this DIY entirely alone, seeking expert advice and step-by-step instruction from the book Concrete Countertops Made Simple by Fu-Tung Cheng. The how-to book also comes with a helpful DVD.

First, Glasser measured the counter space and drew templates for the countertops on 1”-thick melamine board. Then, using the melamine and silicone, he created the forms in which to pour the concrete to set. (Glasser says plexiglass can also be placed inside the forms to offer a smoother concrete finish.) Reinforcing rebar was laid inside the forms to help strengthen the heavy cement counters.

The kitchen countertops before Glasser's project.

The kitchen countertops before Glasser’s project.

Second, Glasser hand-mixed 10 bags of countertop concrete mix and poured the wet cement into the forms. “If I were to do it again, I’d rent a cement mixer, though,” he shares. “One dry/unmixed patch did make it through to the finished product.” Though casual observers might not notice.

Next came settling the concrete. Though Cheng’s book recommends using a stick vibrator to help level out the poured concrete, Glasser employed his “inner MacGyver” ingenuity and rigged up an old motor from an off-balance washing machine to the bottom of the form’s table. The gadget shook out the concrete and eliminated all but the smallest bubbles quite well.

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Once the cement had cured (this took about a week), he used a file to sand down the unfinished edges “because they can be quite sharp,” he adds.

Then came sanding. The process took three passes: first with 320-grit sandpaper, then 800, and lastly 1500, using an orbital sander hooked up to an air compressor. Finding the right paper proved to be a bit of a chore. Glasser was able to procure his supplies at an auto body shop, “though [the paper] was fairly expensive—$40 a box.”

Lastly, Glasser applied a top coat of penetrating sealant and later, a coat of auto wax to the cement for a smooth finish. “You want carnauba wax or something that is going to be food-safe,” he says.

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In all, the project took approximately $300 and about three weeks’ time.

Asked what challenges the countertops project offered, Glasser says creating the forms, which required great care and patience so as to not create wrinkles in the forms, which can transfer to the cement. Also, moving the cured cement pieces from the forms into place. “That concrete was horrendously heavy. You have to have good, strong help to move it into place.”

The natural cement countertops that Glasser and wife Chris now adore in their updated kitchen were well worth the effort.

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