Faux-crete Counters (from scratch!)

Updates: I wrote a post about the durability of my Ardex counters around the 4-month mark, which you can read here.  Or read about my attempt to refinish them here.

Hey guys!  Remember those counters I showed you on Saturday?

Easy DIY concrete countertop how to

Awww yeah.  Wanna know how I made them?  Okay!

First let me tell you a little bit about why I chose Faux-crete counters.  And also why I keep calling them Faux-crete (I’m capitalizing it, it’s a word, patent pending).  Ummm, I hate laminate and I can’t afford stone or solid surface.  That’s pretty much it.  And 10 months ago (back when I thought I was going to be totally awesome at DIY and the whole reno would take 3 months), I figured that I could handle making concrete countertops.

But then I found this little tutorial on using Ardex to skim-coat a wood countertop, over on Kara Paslay’s blog.  And we were somewhere around the 6-month mark on our 3-month remodel, and Kara’s way was fast.  And our basement was so full of kitchen stuff that I had no room to make concrete forms, and Kara’s way is done in place.  And we were over budget, and Kara’s way was cheap.  And Kara’s way required no special skills, like knowing anything at all about concrete.

So.  I was sold.  And then Jenny from Little Green Notebook used Kara’s skim-coating technique on her laundry room counters, and made it sound even easier.  Sign me up!

Only two little problems stood in my way.

  1. These tutorials assume the pre-existence of countertops, albeit ugly ones.  We did not have said countertops.
  2. Chris was not sold on the durability or strength.  He was overly paranoid concerned that the concrete skim coat would crack if there was any flex in the countertops (especially our breakfast bar, which has a 12″ overhang).  He was also worried about cracking if water somehow got through and made the wood underneath swell.

This tutorial is about how I solved those problems.  But I also have helpful hints along the way that you can do to make these even easier, if you aren’t encumbered by the same problems that I was.

Oh, and if you haven’t guessed it, I call it Faux-crete because it’s not concrete all the way through.  It’s mostly wood.  But you’d never know by looking at it.

Okay, here we go!

Helpful Hint #1:  If you do not have pre-existing counters but you are NOT worried about strength and durability, you can simply buy a particleboard countertop — essentially a laminate counter that hasn’t been laminated yet.  That’d save you Steps 1, 3-5, and 7-10.  There, didn’t that just get a lot easier?

Step 1: Build your frame.

How to build easy concrete counters

We used 1×2’s laying flat as our frame.  Why?  We wanted our counters to be one-and-a-half to two inches thick, and we used 1/2-inch thick OSB (to satisfy my need for “cheap”) and 1/2-inch thick cement backerboard (to satisfy Chris’s need for stability and water-resistance), so we had 3/4 inch to spare.  1×2’s are actually 3/4-inch wide.  Perfect.

And that’s the last time you’ll see me do math correctly in this post.

Here’s an important detail to bring up now: you’re going to need a trim piece around the edge of your countertop, like so:

How to build easy Ardex countertops

The trim piece will cover the different layers that make up the countertop and give the Ardex a solid surface to stick to.  I wanted a beveled edge on the counters, so we used a 1×2 with the corner cut off (a table saw or router will do it).  I suppose you could use any kind of decorative trim that you wanted, but keep it simple because the concrete will obscure any little details.  I suggest a bevel or chamfer (like we did), a round-over, or simply keeping the square edges of the 1×2.

Why is this important?  Because when you’re measuring for your frame, you want to measure the exact outside dimensions of your cabinets.  You don’t have to add anything for an overhang, because the trim piece will provide the overhang.

We cut our pieces and attached them to each other as we went, using clamps to hold the growing frame in place while we measured and cut.

How to build skim coated concrete countertops

Most of the joints are held together with long trim screws (the same ones we used to attach the cabinets to each other).

building a frame for concrete counters

On a couple of joints that weren’t going to be supported directly by the cabinets, we used pocket screws for an even stronger joint.

how to build concrete counters

While you are building, make sure you leave enough room between the cross-pieces of your frame to put your sink in.  If you have an undermount sink, leave enough room for the entire sink, including the lip.  We did not leave enough room, and didn’t discover it until the counter was already attached to the cabinets.  Luckily, it was nothing my Ryobi JobPlus multi-tool couldn’t handle.

installing an undermount sink in concrete countertops

Remember what I said about me doing math correctly?

Step 2: Attach the frame to the cabinets.  Or if you’re just using an un-laminated countertop and avoiding Step One, attach that to the cabinets the same way that we attached our frame.

how to build DIY concrete counters

Run a bead of construction adhesive or silicone around all the top edges of the cabinets.

attaching counters for concrete skim coat

Place your frame in position, lined up with the edges, and use clamps to hold it down while you use screws to attach the frame from underneath.  Most pre-fab cabinets have some sort of corner piece to put the screw through.

attach the counter tops

Step 3: Cut your OSB.  Once you’ve got your frame attached, you can use it to get exact measurements for the “sub-counter.”

Concrete countertops over OSB

We cut and dry-fitted the OSB panels, making sure that they fit on top of the frame.  You want them as exact as possible, but a little bit smaller than the frame is okay as well.  (Small gaps can be filled with Ardex.)

Step 4: Attach the OSB to the frame.  Run a bead of adhesive or silicone around the top of the frame, just like you did in Step 2.  Set your OSB panel in place, and secure to the frame through the top with screws.  Make sure your screws are slightly counter-sunk, so their heads don’t stick up past the surface of the OSB.

DIY concrete skim coated counter tops

Congratulations!  The first two layers are done.

building counters for a concrete skim coat

Step 5: Cut your cement backerboard.  We used our old circular saw, fitted with the diamond blade we used to cut through the stucco way back when.  If there’s an easier way, I’d sure like to know.  Anyway, you want to make your cement board the same dimensions as your OSB, but — and this is a very big BUT — the seams in the cement board should not line up with the seams in the OSB.

using cement board for easy concrete counters

When it’s all cut and dry-fitted, the cross-section will look like this:

cross section of a skim-coated Ardex countertop

But before you attach the cement board to the rest, you’ll want to make a couple more cuts.

Step 6: Cut the hole(s) for the sink.  Our sink came with this template to tell us exactly how to cut.  Undermount sinks usually do.  If you have a top-mounted sink, you won’t have to be quite so precise, but it doesn’t hurt.

how to cut out a sink in an Ardex counter top

We traced the template out on the cement board.  Then Chris took the cement board outside and cut the straight lines with the circular-saw-diamond-blade combo, and finished the curved lines with a jigsaw.  The jigsaw did not appreciate cutting through cement board.  But it made it.

Then we put the cement board back in its place and traced around it, onto the OSB.

sink cutout in an Ardex counter top

But before cutting the big hole, we thought it’d be easier to cut the holes for the faucet and soap dispenser first.

Cut the cement backerboard for the Ardex counter top

Once those were cut, we removed the cement board and used the circular-saw-plus-jigsaw method to cut the OSB on the line we had traced.

installing a sink in an Ardex countertop

undermount sink in a concrete countertop

Now there’s a hole in your hard work!

Step 7:  Attach the cement board.

using cement board on a concrete counter

Helpful hint #2: Personally, I think screws alone would do the job.  But Chris went online and discovered that the manufacturers of the cement board recommend using mortar as well.  I didn’t argue because we had plenty of mortar left over from our floor-tiling adventure.  I’m no expert, but if it were up to me I would have skipped this step.  Don’t tell anyone I told you that.

We used a 3/16″ V-notch trowel to spread the mortar on the OSB.

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First I would spread the mortar…

building a counter for Ardex

Then we’d set the cement board in place, using a straight-edge to make sure that it didn’t overhang the frame anywhere.

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Then Chris secured it with screws.

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I set a few screws along the way as well, and this was my first time using Ryobi’s impact driver.  I gotta tell you, that thing would have come in handy when we were still framing out the kitchen.  I didn’t even know what an impact driver was a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m pretty sure I’ll never build anything without one again.  It counter-sunk those screws into the cement board with almost no effort, and without stripping the screws.  Ryobi #ForTheWin.

Alas, my mad skillz with the trowel meant that Chris got to have most of the fun with the impact driver.  Efficient division of labor strikes again.

Step 8: Fill in the seams.  Mesh tape — the stuff you use for drywall — works well here. Just stick a strip to the seam…

Before coating with Ardex, patch the seams with mesh tape

…and fill in with the same mortar you just used to attach the cement board.

use mesh tape to fill holes before coating counters with Ardex

Step 10:  Cut and attach the trim pieces.  Look out, there’s math involved here.  You probably won’t have this problem, but I have these angled cabinets.

Counters ready for Ardex

You might have heard me mention them before.  Possibly in the context of me not being able to figure out how to build things with angles other than 90 or 45 degrees.  This was no exception.  It took me 3 tries to cut the trim pieces correctly to fit around those angles.  First there was this:

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Then there was this:

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But finally, I got it.

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And I wrote the correct angle right there on top of the counter, so that I wouldn’t forget it before I cut the next three awkward corners.

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Anyway, once those four were done, the rest were easy.  I cut all the pieces ahead of time, but I left them all just a tiny bit long just in case.  Because I’m not good at math.  And as far as I know they haven’t invented a board-stretcher yet.

We used wood glue to attach the trim, because we figured the frame-to-trim joint would be the strongest.  We put a couple of screws through the trim into the OSB, but we figured that wouldn’t be as strong.  And we didn’t want to put any screws though the trim into the cement board.  With that in mind, we pre-drilled the holes.  I used a straight-edge to make sure that the top of the trim didn’t stick out over the top of the cement board, while Chris drilled.

trimming out an Ardex countertop

Then we glued.

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And Chris got to use the impact driver again while I was relegated to the job of “clamp,” making sure the trim didn’t move when the screws went in.

Hey look!  A countertop!  And guess what?  The hard part’s over.

A countertop built for Ardex

Step 11: It’s concrete time, baby!  This is where Kara’s and Jenny’s tutorials came into play.

Do it yourself Ardex feather finish countertops

I wanted black counters, so I added pigment, as Kara suggested here.  Then I just used the flat side of that V-notch trowel I mentioned earlier to spread it on.

Ardex over plywood counters

A smaller putty knife was a bit easier to work with on the edges.

Counter tops with Ardex concrete skim coat

Then I let it dry for a little bit.  This stuff goes on in thin layers, and dries really fast.  You can move on to the next step within a couple of hours.  And that step is…

Step 12:  Sand and repeat.  You don’t have to do a meticulous job…yet.  You’ll probably do three coats, so this first sanding is just to knock down the high spots or ridges left by the trowel. After each of the first two coats, I used medium-grit sandpaper on a hand-sander.

Use a sander to smooth the Ardex over the counter top

Each time I sanded, I vacuumed and wiped the dust off before putting on the next coat. When it came time to sand the final coat, I used a much finer-grit sandpaper (220) and I sanded by hand to get it as smooth as possible.

Sand the final coat of Ardex by hand

The Ardex sands really well, and you can keep as much or as little of the concrete texture as you want.  My rule was that it had to feel smooth to the touch.  But that still left a lot of really cool variation in color.

Ardex feather finish coated counter top

Step 13:  Seal the concrete.  Once you’ve got as many layers as it takes to get the look you want, it’s time to seal.  It just so happened that I had the exact same sealer sitting around that Kara suggested in her tutorial.  (I bought it to seal the brick in the newly exposed chimney, but I haven’t even cleaned the brick yet, so this was a better use).  It’s a pretty high-gloss sealer, but that’s the look I was going for: shiny black.

seal the Ardex countertop

I just used a foam brush to apply it.  We ended up doing 3 coats.

Sealed Ardex countertops over plywood

Step 14:  Wax your new concrete counters!  The sealer will make it water-resistant, but it’s still highly scratchable.  For a more durable finish, channel Mr. Miyagi and the Karate Kid:  wax on, wax off.

wax the Ardex skim coated counter top

We used actual car wax for this step.  This Formula 1 stuff is almost pure carnauba  wax, with minimal solvents.  I decided that was “food-safe” enough for me.

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I figure, I’m not going to be licking my countertops.  And I’ll be using cutting boards anyway, so I won’t worry about chipping pieces of car wax off the counter and into my salad.  But if you’re concerned, you can buy this stuff from Cheng, specifically made for concrete countertops.  It’s also $22.  Just sayin’.

And that’s it!  I know it’s a lot of steps, but trust me when I say that even if you have to build your countertops from scratch (or even heavily overbuild them, like we did), it’s way faster and easier than pouring real concrete countertops.  Start to finish, this whole project could be done in less than a week.  Oh, and it’s cheaper.  Did I mention that even though we spent a bit more to use cement board, all our counters — about 45 square feet — came out to about $150?  My estimate for pouring concrete was $400-$500.  And in the last 10 months, we have all seen how woefully inadequate my estimates are.

So I’d say it was worth it.  Wouldn’t you?

Do it yourself faux concrete countertops made with Ardex Feather Finish

Gratuitous money shot (taken after the final kitchen reveal)!

DIY Ardex skim coated concrete counter tops

***UPDATE Jan 21, 2014*** If you’re wondering how durable these things are, click here to read my 4-month report.

***UPDATE Oct 25, 2014***Read about my attempt to refinish the counters here.


        • Sarah says

          Hi Karen! We actually just finished this project about a week ago. So far, so good! I’m planning to do updates here on the blog in 3 months, 6 months, a year, and beyond. When I do, I’ll leave links back here on this post. So come on back and check once in a while! Thanks for stopping by!

  1. says

    I love our ryobi impact driver too! I used ours when we hung our cement board for our shower tiling project.

    Great job on the countertops on such a modest budget! I like the look a lot better than the Rustoleum Transformation kits that everyone seems to be doing right now.

    • Sarah says

      Thanks Becky, I’m glad you like them! I haven’t seen the results of one of those Transformation kits in person, so I can’t judge…but it seems like if you already have a countertop in place, this concrete skim-coat method would be almost as easy, with the added bonus of looking like concrete. 😉


    • Sarah says

      Hi Megan,

      We just used a concrete sealer that I bought at Menard’s. The brand is GST International, and the product is called Satin Seal (take a look here). I’m not sure yet whether I’d recommend it though — we’ve only had our counters for a little over a week, so I’d consider it untested. That being said, it definitely keeps the water beaded on the surface; and any sealer will need to be reapplied occasionally, so for $17 per gallon, I’m happy with our choice.

      If you’re interested in a product that is specifically meant for concrete countertops, Cheng makes a complete line of sealer, wax, and care products for concrete countertops. They seem to be the authority on DIY poured concrete counters. You can check out their sealer here. It’ll run you about $27 for 500ml.

      Just make sure that you use both a sealer (for water resistance) and a wax (for scratch resistance). Good luck with your counters — let me know how they turn out!


    • Sarah says

      I say, do it! What’ve you got to lose? If concrete will look better than what you have currently, then go for it. If it only holds up for like a year, well…the process is so simple, you could just re-coat it. That was my justification, anyway. 😉 Not that I always do the most rational things…


  2. Charlotte Head says

    Where did you purchase the Ardex? I checked out the website and it doesn’t have anything but suppliers/contractors on there and the closest one to me is 90 miles away :(

    • Sarah says

      Hi Charlotte! Good question. (I can’t believe I forgot to say where I got it — blogger fail!) I ordered it online from DiscountContractorSupply.com. The nearest supplier to me is about 15 miles away, which felt too far if you can just have it delivered to your doorstep. 😉

      Thanks for asking!

  3. John says

    Nice writeup and an entertaining read! :)
    I am in the process of skimming over my existing laminate countertops with Ardex FF, based off the two other nice tutorials, and I just stumbled across yours today! -Really nice job start to finish! Thanks for sharing details like the grit of sandpaper you used, wax, etc. I just finished my fourth and final coat last night (on only 2 runs of my countertops so far), and after sanding the third coat down I was in love. I hope it doesn’t change color/sheen-wise too much after the sealer (Tamms Luster Seal 150). I’m thinking I will follow your lead and pick up some Formula 1 – Thanks for the tip! I’m assuming it might be tough to notice w/ the dark color, but did it change visually much between applying sealer and wax steps? I’m assuming mine will look like Karen’s…another question is does the wax prevent the sealer from getting down in the ‘crete when it becomes time to reapply? -or are you expecting to just have to wax for maintainance? Thanks, John

    • Sarah says

      Hi John, thanks for stopping by! To answer your question, nothing changed too much between the sealer and the wax. If anything, the wax might have added a little more sheen to the counters, but it wasn’t super noticeable. And as far as maintenance, I’m just expecting to wax. After a couple of years, if the sealer needs to be reapplied, you can buy wax/sealer stripper that will take it back down to bare concrete, so you can start over.

      Hope this helps!

  4. Kasha says

    What a great idea. We have been thinking of remodeling with concrete but the skim method seems so much easier. I have one quick question though. Do u skim the trimmed edges too or are they just stained to match?

    • Sarah says

      Hi Kasha! The trimmed edged are skim-coated, too. But they look like they have a different texture than the rest of the counter because we didn’t do a great job of coating them evenly. (Looking back, I think it would have been easier to do just a square edge, or a rounded edge like you’d see on a typical laminate counter top. The more detail you have, the harder it is to preserve.) Luckily, we ended up liking the uneven edges — it makes the concrete seem a little less industrial and a little more organic.

      But now that you mention it, maybe it would be kind of cool to leave the trim piece naked. Or stain it a different color (like light gray counter top with a dark-stained wood edge). If I were to try this, I’d attach the trim piece so that it sits a tiny bit higher than the rest of the counter (like 1/8 inch, tops). Then as you skim the top, you’ll fill in that area; by the time you do your final sanding, you’d have a smooth joint between the top and the trim.

      The only problem with that little idea is how to seal it. Would the concrete sealer+wax combo work on the wood too? (that’s probably what I’d try.) Or could you polyurethane the whole thing, including the concrete? (doubtful.) Or maybe some sort of resin?

      An interesting idea! If anybody out there tries it, send me pictures! :)

      Kasha, I hope that answered your question instead of just creating more questions. 😉

  5. Paula says

    Your countertop is beautiful! Can you give some details about how you finished the area where the undermount sink is? Did you just skim the Ardex around the opening edge and seal as you did the countertops?



    • Sarah says

      Hi Paula! Yes, you are exactly right. We treated the edge around the sink just like the rest of the countertops, skimming the Ardex over it, then sealing it. The sink wasn’t installed yet, so it was easy.

      Hope this helps! If you’re planning on doing this in your kitchen, let me know how it turns out. :)

  6. Karen says

    Hi Sarah, I know it hasn’t been three months yet, but are you still happy with your counter tops? We are thinking about starting this project next week. Thanks, Karen

    • Sarah says

      Hi Karen! Yes, I am really happy with the counter tops. Warning: they DO scratch easily, even though they’ve been waxed (I haven’t tried re-waxing yet, to see if it will fill in the scratches). But we have a high-gloss finish on our counters, and I think if you went with a more matte finish, the scratches might not show as easily.

      I think we abuse our counters more than most people, though — we’re still working on the kitchen, so the counters get used like a workbench sometimes — and we’ve discovered that when we’re not home, our dogs stand up and put their paws (and claws) on the counters to try to get at anything we leave sitting out. So there are A LOT of scratches right on the edge of some of the counters, where they scrabble with their claws. If you use cutting boards and don’t have misbehaving dogs, most of the scratches could be avoided.

      That being said, I don’t mind the scratches. Concrete naturally looks imperfect, so the scratches fit with the theme. If you want a super smooth, glossy, evenly-colored surface, concrete is not a good choice. Even with perfectly-made concrete counters, you’ll see trowel marks and variations in color. But that’s what I love about them.

      I have not had any issues with staining or water marks. We’ve used trivets and hot pads to set hot pans on the counters, and so far that’s worked fine to protect them from heat.

      For me, the pros far outweigh the cons. The biggest “pro,” of course, being that our counters cost less than $200. If you’ve already got counters and all you need is the Ardex, you can get this project done for less than $50, which is a particularly good deal if you’re just saving pennies until you can upgrade to something like granite or quartz.

      One more warning: concrete counters of any kind DO require maintenance. If you don’t want them to stain, they have to be sealed and waxed, and you have to be prepared to re-wax every couple of months.

      But I love them, and I still think they were the best decision for us. I hope this helps! If you decide to go for it, let me know how it turns out. :)


  7. Carrie says

    Hi Sarah; I’m sold! I’ve been building a little house for three years and finally I am to countertops. I saw Karen’s post and immediately began searching for new construction application and stumbled upon your post-bingo! I have two questions, if you don’t mind. The first, when you drew your sink template, did you draw it slightly larger to allow for skimcoat? Second question relates to your Concern #2 in the beginning of your post, if that concern had not have been a concern, what would you have used in place of both the 1/2″ OSB ‘and’ 1/2″ cement board? :) I ask because I hate the idea of having to work again with that stuff!

    • Sarah says

      Hi Carrie, thanks for your great questions!

      1) We did not make our sink template larger. The main reason is that I wanted the edge of the sink to be either flush with the counter or slightly underneath it. I’ve seen undermount sinks that have a little bit of a reveal, and that tiny little ledge is always dirty. The other reason is that even 3 coats of Ardex doesn’t add that much material, just like a layer or two of wallpaper doesn’t make a room smaller.

      2) Instead of building a frame+OSB+cement board, I would have just used 2 layers of 3/4-inch OSB or particle board (particle board is slightly cheaper, and it’s the same stuff they use under laminate). Chris hated working with the cement board, but I made him do it because it was his idea. I think, before we started, that I did not do an adequate job of explaining to him how the entire process was going to unfold; after seeing how solidly the counter is attached to the cabinets, and how the concrete is all sealed up, he might agree that our counters are a little over-built. But I shouldn’t put words in his mouth. I’m actually glad we used the cement board, particularly because it adds more rigidity to our breakfast bar — but I’m not the one that had to cut it!


  8. Carrie says

    Thanks for answering my questions, Sarah! I picked up my Ardex Feather Finish and SD-M today in Austin, TX ! I may have to skip cooking a Thanksgiving dinner this year because my kitchen will be a mess :)

    • Sarah says

      Good luck! It goes really fast…you may be able to cook for Thanksgiving after all!

      One quick word of advice with the Ardex: mix it thin, and in very small batches. It sets up quickly, and once it gets lumpy it’s much harder to work with. I found “pancake batter” to be the best consistency.

      Let me know how it turns out!

  9. Margie says

    I applaud trying new things, and y’all did a great job with the templating! As someone who used to be very involved in the concrete countertop industry, not gonna lie, it gives me a big nervous to think about spreading concrete on like paste. But hey, as long as it works for you and you like the result, why not!
    If you want more info on DIY concrete creations, Cheng is not the best route. He’s a gifted artisan, but is more along the lines of providing you with his work, rather than giving you the tools to get out on your own. If you want to be independent, try product from Buddy Rhodes or Blue Concrete, or even take a beginner class from Jeff Girard (The Concrete Countertop Institute), or Brandon Gore. Also, this blog is helpful: http://concretecountertops.ning.com/
    Good luck with future ventures! :)

    • Sarah says

      Hi Margie, thanks for the input! If it makes you feel any better, Ardex is designed to be spread on like paste — I wouldn’t do this with any old concrete! But if you’re gonna pour your own counters, the sources you mentioned are great. I came across all of them while I was researching the process, and actually ended up purchasing the pigment from Blue Concrete.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      xo, Sarah

  10. Tricia says

    Great blog post! Thanks for providing so much detail! We are looking at an inexpensive and quick update for our laminate countertops, and concrete is at the top of the list. We like the look of terrazzo and wonder if the Ardex application is too thin to even consider adding some glass chips to it. What are your thoughts on that based on your experience with the product? Thanks!

    • Sarah says

      Hi Tricia! I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t recommend adding glass chips to it. My guess is that it would be pretty difficult. The Ardex goes on really thin, and I think the chips would stick out and leave a ragged surface. Plus, the Ardex needs to be sanded after each coat, so even if the surface felt smooth enough, the glass would get sanded as well and probably lose its slick, glossy look. I don’t think glass is a good idea.

      However — and I’m just going out on a limb here, I have never seen an example of this — you might be able to use those “color flakes” that come with epoxy floor coating. You know, the type of stuff you’d put on a garage floor? I’ve never used it, but it seems like those little flakes might be thin enough to sprinkle on before the last coat. Maybe. Again, I’m just spitballing here. 😉 One more warning: I have no idea if those color flakes would be food safe, so if you’re doing your kitchen countertops, that’s something you’d have to consider.

      Whatever you decide to do, good luck! Keep me posted.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Wendi! We only used about half of a 10-lb bag for the entire project, despite the fact that I mixed the first batch WAAAYY too thick and ended up throwing most of it away. It doesn’t take much!


  11. Venessa w says

    Hi Sarah! My hubs and I used Kara’s tutorial as well and just finished our countertops! So beyond happy w/ the results. So easy and sucha great look! We had PINK (I know, so gross hu) laminate and couldn’t wait to get rid of it! My hubs removed the laminate and then applied the Arden ff to the wood. So easy! And I totes agree w/ u, this look is very rustic! I don’t mind if they get scratched a little! We plan on resealing if we have to. No biggie! I do have one question….how long did u let the sealer dry b4 using your countertops?? We have let the bar sit 15 hrs. We r about to start the other areas and I’m worried about not being able to use my sink and kitchen for a few days?? Thx again for this awesome tutorial and info!!

    • Sarah says

      Hi Venessa! It might depend on the type of sealer you used. We just waited for a couple of hours after the sealer was dry to the touch, then we waxed and started using them right away. We were using the counters in the evening after sealing them in the morning. But I would check the label on your sealer and see what it says about dry time or cure time. As long as you follow their directions (and the sealer feels dry) you should be okay!


  12. Venessa w says

    Wow, thx 4 the quick response Sarah!!
    So We used a concrete sealer (sika) from Home Depot. It just says let dry for 24 hrs b4 parking your vehicles on it hahah! So we figured it wouldn’t even take that long to dry for just countertop use. It seemed to dry fast! And BONUS we live in arizona so we have our house open (74 degrees today) and the air flow and celing fans seem to help speed up the drying time as well.
    Thx again girl! Do u have an Instagram?? I’d love to follow u if u do!!

  13. Lori says

    Hi Sarah, Your counter tops look amazing! I am planning on starting mine this weekend. How did you figure out how much pigment to add to the feather finish to get that beautiful charcoal color?

    • Sarah says

      Hi Lori! Short answer: it doesn’t take much liquid pigment at all.

      We did a bit of experimentation with the pigment, and each coat ended up being darker than the last. I think we started with one tablespoon of pigment per batch (2 cups of Ardex). Then we did 1 1/2 tablespoons, and the final batch was 2 tablespoons.

      I was worried about getting it wrong, too, but it turned out to be very forgiving. Just start with a tiny amount and keep adding tiny amounts until it looks like the shade you want. After that first coat dries and you see its final color, you can adjust the second and third coats.

      Hope this helps, and good luck!

      • Tammy says

        Another question for you regarding pigment….what shade do you buy from BlueConcrete.com? Looking for darker grey shade.

        • Sarah says

          Hi Tammy, we used HydraBlack from Blue Concrete (see it here.) The more you use, the darker it gets, so if you only want dark grey, use only a tiny bit.


  14. Alexandra says

    I know y’all have an undermount sink, so you didn’t have to worry about this, but do you think it would be possible to cleanly do this project with a drop-in stainless sink? I am dying to do this to our old laminate counters, but I worry the edges by the sink will look funky.

    • Sarah says

      Alexandra, I think you’d have to take the sink out, do the counters, and re-install the sink. Otherwise I don’t see a way to do it cleanly.


  15. Jenna says

    Hi Sarah,

    This has been so helpful in the planning of kitchen remodel. I was wondering how much sealer and feather finish you went though? I have about 60sq of countertop to cover!!

    Thanks so much!!! Jenna

    • Sarah says

      Hi Jenna! I bought a 10-pound bag of Feather Finish and only used about half of it for waaaay more than 60sqft. I think 10 lb is the smallest you can buy. The sealer came in a 1-gallon size, which we used a fraction of. If you can find it in quarts, that would probably be enough for your project.

      Let me know how it turns out! Email me some pictures, or post a link back here. :)


  16. says

    I LOVE this! We gutted our kitchen a week after we moved into our new fixer this fall. I’ve been without any cabinets and a counter ever since! I love concrete countertops, but your method looks a lot easier (and cheaper). Thanks for the inspiration. Hopefully I can give it a go within the next few months.

    • Sarah says

      Nicole, if you do it, email me some pictures or add a link here! I’d love to see how they turn out. :)


  17. Katy says

    Thanks for the detailed tutorial! Our counters are tile so would necessitate ripping those out and building from scratch like you did if we go the concrete route. You mention that you might be able to skip the cement board and just use OSB – my only concern would be that the wood would absorb some of the water from the concrete and warp/mold/etc? What do you think? Would you have sealed the OSB before applying the concrete?

    • Sarah says

      Hi Katy, I’m glad you found me! I have to start by saying I’m not an expert. And I can’t tell you what to do with any authority. But I can tell you that in my own house, I would be okay with just using OSB (or particleboard, which is even cheaper), and I wouldn’t seal it because I’d be afraid that it would keep the concrete from adhering properly. If the concrete is then sealed/waxed properly, water just beads on the top (it does on ours, at least). So I don’t *think* it would penetrate, at least not in the amounts that could cause problems.

      This is all just a theory. But all the tutorials I read before doing my counters were done on particleboard, and they’re not reporting problems with water penetration. The main reason we used cement board was to add strength to the overhang of the seating area — not for extra waterproofing.

      Good luck! Let me know how it turns out.

      • Katy says

        Thanks! I meant the water/dampness from the initial application of wet concrete, but good to know on the sealer as well. I think we’ll try a bathroom counter first as a test run and then replicate in the kitchen if all goes well! Thanks again!

  18. Lynette says

    HI Sarah,
    You’re counters are amazing.
    We are just finishing Ardex over ugly laminate in a new rental. I am so confused about sealers and which one would hold up best to stains and water. How is your sealer working for you?


    • Sarah says

      Hi Lyn! Our sealer/wax combo seems to hold up very well to stains and water. We haven’t had an issue with that at all. Our big problem is scratches, though. They’re not very durable at all. BUT I may have found a solution to that: GST International, the manufacturers of the sealer I used, recently recommended that I try their “Final Coat” product, which is supposedly very durable and tough. I have to do a little more research into it, but I hope to have another update pretty soon…hopefully with a solution to the scratching problem. :)


  19. Zoe says

    Hi Sarah – Was curious if you used the new GST Final Coat product on your countertops? I’ve been reading up on Ardex Feather Finish and wanting to get information from current users and how durable the countertops are. I have 3 young boys so I’m not sure if they would be more durable than my old laminate countertops. Any additional information or updates would be appreciated!

    • Sarah says

      Hi Zoe! I haven’t used the Final Coat yet. Only because I just called the kitchen “DONE!!” last week, and I can’t bear to take on one more project in there. Give me a couple of months before I’m ready to re-do anything in the kitchen. 😉

      But. The way we did them, they are NOT as durable as laminate. If you do them and you want them to measure up to laminate’s durability, try the Final Coat, or even better, a 2-part resin or epoxy. I think they absolutely COULD be as durable as laminate, but they need more than sealer and wax.

      Hope this helps! Let me know how they turn out.

  20. Lyn Morales says

    Hi Sarah,
    I wrote to you a couple if months ago. My counters look amazing but I am having a problem with two things water penetration and grease. The water penetration happens if I leave something wet for too long maybe an hour. The grease stains are caused by any amount of oil that falls on it. I was thinking to fix this I would sand down this areas again and then re-coat with sealer. Have you had any experience with this yet?


    • Sarah says

      Hi Lyn! I haven’t had any problems with water penetration; wax seems to keep things out even if it sits for a while. As far as grease spots go, I know we have a couple here and there but they’re really not noticeable, maybe because our counters are so dark.

      Chris says that if you’re having water penetration problems, there’s probably not enough wax on the countertops. I think maybe you’re supposed to re-wax once every month or two.

      Honestly? I would embrace the lovely new patterns. If the grease has penetrated the sealer, then it’s probably penetrated the Ardex as well. So if you sand it down, you’d have to sand a lot more than you think, and re-coat with Ardex AND sealer AND wax. It’s possible that the only way to make concrete impenetrable is with an epoxy, which is a lot more difficult to work with.


  21. Pamela Pruitt says

    Hi Sarah,

    You asked for an easier way to cut the cement board. If you are using the Hardi-backer type you can use a straight edge and a heavy duty box cutter and then score and snap. This will obviously work only for straight cuts.

    Clamp the straight edge down on both ends and apply a goodly amount of pressure as you score. Keep your other hand away from the straight edge. :-) Slide the score to the edge of your work surface and press down to snap the score line.

    We used it for our shower enclosure and I also made a countertop for my lampwork torch area. The scores all snapped evenly and I love James Hardie’s products. (No, I am not affiliated with this company in any way).

    PS, loved this tutorial and I may be using this in the house we home to build this year. Thanks!


  22. Andrew says

    I know you’ve addressed the sink in a previous comment. More specifically, did you put Ardex underneath the counter so that there was no uncovered lip between the counter and the sink?

    • Sarah says

      We did not put Ardex underneath the counter. The edge of our sink sits flush with the edge of the counter, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the sealant/adhesive. I think most undermount sinks are flush-mount like this, or the sink sticks out a bit beyond the counter. If, for some reason, your counter sticks out beyond the sink (as in, the hole for your sink is actually smaller than the sink itself), you might want to wrap the Ardex around underneath to cover any bare wood that might get wet.

      I hope that answers your question. I wish I could be more helpful, but I’m kind of making this up as I go. 😉

      • Andrew says

        That’s what I was looking for. Thanks. Also, we have had fantastic results with TK6 NanoCoat sealing the counters we have done so far. It is extremely durable as a flooring sealant so for counters it is extremely resistant to stains and scratching and there’s no need for anything like wax on top of it since it isn’t a penetrating sealant but sits on top of the surface.

  23. evan says

    Do you think it would be fine without the cement board? I’m doing a 32″X106″ bar? Going to frame it with 2x4s on there sides then follow your steps! They look awesome!

    • Sarah says

      I’m not an expert, and I’ve only done this project WITH cement board, so I can’t say for certain. But my original plan was to just use two layers of 3/4-inch OSB (or particle board, or plywood). We went with cement board because Chris thought it would be more rigid. My personal, non-professional opinion? The cement board was overkill, but I have no evidence to back it up.

  24. Tracy Bates says

    I absolutely love readingI this you made it so easy and simple and you’re very witty and you also encourage me to do this myself thank you so much and it looks absolutely beautiful I’m excited to get started:)

  25. Christine says

    Would you happen to know, can I add an acrylic paint to the ardex mix to change the color? Or can I add glowing powder pigment or fine glitter to the sealent for a fancy effect? Just curious is yo played around with colors and sealents before committing to the black countertops. Also, did you use a heat gun on the sealer? I have seen some diy videos where the sealer is applied with a sponge and others a thick coat with a brush and a heat gun? Thanks

    • Sarah says

      I would not add paint to the Ardex. I’m no expert, but I do know that paint and concrete have different chemical properties, different drying times, and who knows what else. I would just use concrete pigment, which is pretty easy to find, comes in liquid or powder form, and is specifically made for the purpose of coloring concrete. But hey, they’re your counters, and I’m all for experimenting, so if you pioneer the paint-and-concrete process, let us know how it turns out.

      I also wouldn’t add any powder, glitter, or anything else to the sealer. The sealer is about as thin as water, so anything you add to it will leave you with a gritty or sandpapery texture.

      I didn’t use a heat gun. As far as I know, heat guns or torches are used to get bubbles out of epoxy, and I didn’t use epoxy. So…whatever sealer you choose, read the directions. If it says “use a heat gun,” then use a heat gun. If it doesn’t say “use a heat gun,” then don’t use a heat gun.

  26. Edwin says

    I am using Henry’s version of Ardex from Home Depot because it’s all I can find local. The directions on it say one part water, to two parts concrete… which turns out to be thicker than pancake batter. I think that is where I am running into trouble getting it even.

    Are you adding more water than it calls for? Or are the instructions on the Ardex different? I think I may need to thin mine up a bit.


    • Sarah says

      I’m pretty sure the Henry stuff is exactly the same; I used more water to thin it out to the right consistency.

    • Sarah says

      The original tutorials I found were both done over laminate, and you can read them here and here. If the laminate is super old (50 years counts as super old, right?) I would say just make sure that it’s all securely glued down first. Other than that, it should work just fine!

  27. sam says

    Great tutorial, I’ve learned that laminate will be the go for me a this is way too time-consuming !!! Looks great though.

  28. Angie says

    Love! Love! Love the countertops. I went to the site to see about buying the pigmented color and there are several black options. Can you please tell me which color specifically you used as well as the ratio of pigment/concrete mixture? I am in the process of doing my kitchen and can’t wait to try this. Thanks

    • Sarah says

      This is the color I used: DVD101-EXF Liquid Black, from Blueconcrete.com which is now part of Buddy Rhodes. As far as the ratio goes, I don’t remember exactly what I used, but I do know that it was a very small amount. Like, a tablespoon or less for every 2 cups of ARDEX powder? To be perfectly honest, I mixed all three coats in different ratios, because after every coat I realized I wanted it darker. Which turned out pretty cool, because as I sanded I exposed those different layers which gave it some interesting variations in color. Which I liked.

      Anyway, it’s hard to mess up. The color of the wet concrete, as you mix it, will be the color of your countertops after they’re sealed. So, when you’re mixing in your pigment, start with a tiny bit and just keep adding until it’s as dark as you want it. Your final counters will look like whatever’s in your bucket.


    • Sarah says

      If you’re using laminate counters as the base, I don’t think you have to build anything. The ARDEX tutorials I read were both done over laminate: here and here.


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