Concrete Overlay Island top - behind the diy



Concrete Overlay Island top

- Wednesday, August 15, 2018. to read...

We built a house that was finished this February as I documented in previous blog posts. One thing we opted out of having our builder build was the island that came with our house. It was tiny and nothing to be excited over. My dad owns a cabinet shop and while they wouldn't let us use him for our kitchen cabinets we could forgo the island they designed and design our own. So quickly after moving in we decided to get to work on our island, our kitchen seemed too open and boring without it!

Deciding what to do for our countertop was the biggest research and planning of the whole project. We didn't want to match the countertops we had currently because the 11 ft quartz slab would either be extremely expensive or have a seam and still be more than we wanted to shell out. So then we tossed around butcher block and concrete. Butcher block makes me a little nervous as its hard to seal completely and harbors bacteria and making it ourselves would take a tedious amount of time to piece every piece together. Then there is the color that wouldn't easily match our gray toned home that would cause an issue. So then we decided concrete it was... and after more research we decided to go with a concrete overlay used famously on pinterest on existing laminate counter tops. There aren't a ton of tutorials on doing the overlay AND building the substructure. The two most helpful blogs I found that we used were Sarah's Big Day: Easy DIY Concrete Counters and Bless'er House: DIY Feather Finish Concrete Countertops. Sarah's Big Day helped us decide what we would do for the substructure and we used the helpful hints and the sealing process from Bless'er House.

First thing we did was decided on what exactly we wanted. I used these two islands as my inspiration. I wanted a workable space at one end with cabinets and drawers and an eat in table at the other end that we would use instead of the dining room on a daily basis.

I should note: our island cabinets are still in construction. We waited a while for the cabinets to be ready with an empty kitchen but then decided we'd build a "table" as the island base until the cabinets were ready so we could build the island top. 

Then we taped it all out on the floor to make sure our measurements made sense in the kitchen. DONT SKIP THIS STEP. Originally our island was going to be 12ft and we actually changed the design to 10.7 ft because I didn't like how much it stuck out past the existing kitchen cabinets, We also moved it further away than what is "normal" from the oven. 

The two different squares are for the table at the end and the cabinets toward the stove.

Because we had only officially planned out the table leg (The one closest to the camera) We honestly just threw together two "leg" supports for the other end that will eventually be supported by our cabinets. We didn't really care what these would look like because they (hopefully) won't be used for long. The support closest to the camera will have shiplap all around it and our matching trim around the base to tie into our fire place and the rest of our house. 

Now on to the concrete.. well first the substructure. 

 My husband had Home Depot cut our particle board to size because as you can see in the first picture our garage still has some work to be done since moving in. Because of the length of this guy we couldn't get one seamless full length piece. So we put the small piece at the table end of the first layer (we did two for structure as we will have quite a bit of space underneath the "table" part of the island with no support) and we put the small piece on the bottom layer on the oven side of the island to stagger where the seams would be and therefor the weak points as well.

We were going to just try the concrete overlay with just the particle board but more research lead us to buy concrete board so that the particle board wouldn't swell with the moisture of the concrete and thus adding a third layer to the top.

This shows the layers of the table top nicely and then the 1x2's we added as the table trim. One thing I would note since we have completed this and see things we would have done differently, The more screws and edge pieces the harder it will be to cover with concrete and the more likely you'll have cracks and flaws in the concrete. Another note... put the concrete backerboard down, not with the grid and words facing up. 

This is the top substructure all put together! We then put concrete seam tape around the edges of the trim pieces and table top. I am not sure this step helped, but it definitely made my job ALOT harder when trying to cover it with the overlay, and to be honest it still has cracks which I will mention below. (But the cracks to me add to the character and don't bother me at all, and i'm kind of OCD so...)


Then we taped off EVERYTHING with tape and plastic sheeting because many many reviews claimed that sanding the layers in between would cause a HUGE mess and they were not lying. Don't skip this step or you'll regret it. I didn't do the upper cabinets the first sand and boy that was a mistake!

We used Ardex feather finish (I got mine on amazon) and one medium trowel for the main spreading and a small trowel for the edges. We also used a drill mixer to mix the cement with water in a small bucket.  I wore gloves because this stuff will dryyy your hands out. 60, 120 and 220 grit sandpaper. You'll also want a mask for sanding otherwise you'll breathe in a pound of cement dust. Because our surface area was so large we needed two people or it would dry too fast and become crumbly when trying to spread. 

Before spreading the concrete layers I watched 1000 YouTube tutorials on anything similar. My husband watched100 on how to mix the Ardex as well. HERE was the best video on how to spread this effectively on the counter top. We did very very thin layers and as you can see in the pictures above the grid and the letters of the backerboard were showing through as it dried which FREAKED me out! But I kept chugging along PRAYING it would go away with the next layer. After letting it dry we palm sanded with 60, then 120 then 220 grit sandpaper. I did find that too much sanding would cause the screws and even some of the backerboard to show through so make sure you lay the sander flat when sanding and don't sand for too long in one area as to cause it to go to deep. It became super obvious after the first layer that the screws and concrete seam tape were going to be a pain to keep covered. My next two layers were done very cautiously to cover these areas heavily but not unevenly... which is a feat.

Getting the sand particles off of the table is extra extra important before adding the next layer we literally used my vacuum and vacuumed the tops off before adding the next layer.

The second layer of concrete seemed easier as we knew what to expect and how fast to move. This time less of the letters and grid showed through which was a relief however I can tell you that I still now with it done can see a spot where there are letters from the backerboard... nobody else notices and I think it adds to the industrial look but if I were you I'd definitely put the words and grid down. My husband and I both thought the words and grid were to add to the structure and grip of the concrete but I'm now thinking it wasn't necessary for this project.

Im going to confess that I was soooo sick of sanding that I did less sanding on the last coat. 1. I kept accidentally sanding some of the concrete off of those darn screw holes and 2. I was tired and ready to be done. Not a great reason to not do the full shebang right at the end but it happened... and I honestly don't think it changed the outcome. I always wanted it to look like it had character and trowel marks so I think this is why skipping a little of the sanding before the third coat really didn't change the outcome much. If you want less trowel marks and want a more "finished" look don't skip out on the sanding routine. Every mark and color difference is made even more dramatic when you seal it which I will get to in another post.

I really really love how it turned out we let the last coat dry for 3 day before sealing (click here to jump to how we sealed our counter top) and I loved the outcome.  It felt industrial and modern and perfect!!

a few important tips to remember (aka learn from our mistakes):

  1. Mix the proportions of the concrete EXACTLY how it says on the bag. Changing it will change the chemistry and cause cracking. We thankfully learned from others mistakes and didn't make that mistake.
  2. Try your hardest to screw from below if creating a substructure, the concrete wont cover the screws as easily as you'd think and makes sanding a pain because those buggers want to keep showing their metal head!
  3. I would forego the seam tape... but we used it so I don't know if it will cause more problems with out it. Using it made it hard to sand as it would pop through at some points and we still have some cracking where the seams were even with it. 
  4. Put the backerboard face down
  5. Add one extra layer than you think you will need. I wish we would've done one more but we honestly had a time constraint that didn't allow me to do the 4th. 
  6. Cover EVERYTHING with plastic sheeting, I would've even covered my bare walls if I would've known the mess the sanding would create. ITS NO JOKE. 
  7. Have fun and don't expect it to look perfect, that's the best thing about the concrete, it looks different for everyone and has tons of character!

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