These are my Ardex counter tops.
You may remember them from such posts as Faux-Crete Counters (From Scratch!) and To Faux-crete or not to Faux-crete? They were super easy, super fast, super DIY-friendly, and — my personal favorite — super cheap. I still appreciate them, for all of those reasons. But do I still love them?
Folks, it’s been over a year since we built these counters and skim-coated them with Ardex, and I’m here today to tell you: the honeymoon is over.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve recorded everything important that I’ve ever said about how awesome it is to skim-coat your counter tops with concrete, even if it scratches really easily. For instance, at the end of my last post on this subject, I included this little gem:
And you know what? I just realized that if it gets really bad, I could always strip the wax and put on a new coat of Ardex. It would be a one-day project, because the Ardex is so easy (and I have half a bag left over).
Well, last weekend, I’d finally had enough of the scratches, and I decided it was time to test this optimistic theory.
The counters, as you can see, were in rough shape. Wax alone was not enough to protect them from daily wear.
And it certainly wasn’t enough to protect them from what looks suspiciously like dog claws. I’ve never actually caught those dirty mutts in action, but the gouges you see in the picture below only show up on the edges of our counters when we’re not home and there’s fruit in the fruit bowl, which sits just out of their reach.
Kinda makes me want to get a nanny-cam, so we can see exactly what goes on when we’re not home.
Anyway, my plan was simple: Step 1) Strip wax. Step 2) Apply new, more durable top coat. Step 3) Write blog post about how easy it is. “One-day project,” right? Right.
So Sunday afternoon, around 2pm, I pulled out the wax remover.
The instructions go something like this: “For heavy buildup, mix one part Instant Trewax Wax Remover concentrate to one part water. For lighter buildups, one part solutions may be diluted with up to 5 parts water.” I wasn’t sure if two coats of car wax constituted “heavy” or “lighter” buildup. So I split the difference and went with a 1-to-3 solution, then used a foam brush to “apply it liberally” to just one of my counters. After letting it sit for the requisite “3-5 minutes” and “agitating with an abrasive pad,” I wiped it up with an old towel, then rinsed the counters with clean water. In other words, I followed all the directions perfectly.
It did nothing.
So I repeated the process with a 1-to-1 solution.
Which also did nothing.
So I did what I was really really really hoping to avoid: I started sanding.
I sanded with 60-grit sandpaper until my arms and shoulders were burning. I got all the wax off. Then I got out the 180-grit sandpaper to fix all the damage caused by the 60-grit. I cursed the idea of wax remover and the false hope it had given me. I laugh-cried at the idea of redoing counters in a kitchen that I JUST FINISHED. I prayed that I would not sand off too much Ardex and end up having to do a new coat.
Eventually, I got to the point where I felt I could call the bare counter “good enough.” I re-sealed it, using the same sealer we used the first time around.
And once that was dry, I put on 5 — yes, five — coats of GST International’s Final Coat.
Why Final Coat?
- Because the Satin Seal bottle says, “Makes a perfect base coat prior to the application of GST’s ‘Final Coat’ buffable floor polish.”
- Because the Final Coat bottle says, “Uniquely formulated for exceptionally severe high traffic areas where resistance to heel marking, soil retention, and scuffing are of prime importance…recommended for use in malls, hotels, retail stores, hospitals and schools.” And I bet my kitchen counter has less traffic than the floor of a mall.
- And because someone from GST International’s marketing department read my previous posts about my highly-scratchable counter tops, left me a comment saying “It sounds like you need Final Coat,” then sent me a bottle. And since I was considering Final Coat anyway, and I love the low low price of “free,” I went with it. (They didn’t ask me to write this post, though, and at $25 a gallon I would have happily paid for it, considering my second choice was Cheng’s TK6 NanoCoat Sealer at $125 per gallon.)
Why five coats? Because it just kept looking better after each coat, so I just kept going until it looked perfectly glossy all around.
Then I went to bed. Because it was 11 pm on a Sunday, and my one-day project was only one-third done after one day, and I was seriously debating whether or not refinishing the other two counters in the kitchen was worth it.
After taking a day to consider the situation (and compare the newly-refinished counter to the old ones), I decided that refinishing the other counters would be worth it…if I could avoid sanding. Because, damn — that one counter looked REALLY GOOD. But all that sanding was a real pain in the ass.
So I got the wax remover out again, and poured a little spot of the pure, undiluted concentrate on the counter. Then I walked away for about 10 minutes. Then I scrubbed that one little spot with a scrubby pad, rinsed it with water, and OH MY GOD, discovered bare concrete underneath. Success!
Except, for some unknown reason, the same method of wax-stripping didn’t work when spread out over a 2-by-3-foot area. Seven reapplications of undiluted wax remover and about two hours later, I was left with about 30% wax coverage in that small area, and a ruined paint job on my cabinets from where the wax remover dripped down and I didn’t wipe it off fast enough.
So I sanded. And sanded. And cried. And sanded. Then I re-sealed. And top-coated.
Except, for some unknown reason, the same method of top-coating didn’t work this time. Possibly because of the massive amounts of undiluted stripper absorbed by the concrete, but who really knows?
It’s really hard to get pictures of this. But here’s what happened: after 5 coats, only about half the countertop looked evenly glossy. The other half looked patchy and awful, like the picture above. My experience with the first countertop taught me that every coat makes the counter look less patchy. So this time, I added a 6th coat…which did nothing to make the patchy half less patchy, and instead made the pretty, glossy half look milky and weird.
At this point, I think our third and final counter will remain un-refinished. A 50% success rate isn’t enough to justify two more days down the drain. Sometimes, you just gotta know when to walk away.
The moral of the story? Go ahead and coat your counters in Ardex. Seriously.
Just make sure you choose a durable finish the first time around.
Update (Oct 27, 2014): I went ahead and refinished the third and final counter using the sandpaper-only method, and it turned out beautifully. Which leads me to believe that the issues with the second counter are a combination of wax remover and operator error, and not an Ardex or Final Coat thing. I may have finally stumbled upon the right sealer/topcoat combo. Stay tuned.
Update (May 7, 2015): The durability is definitely better this time around, with the sealer and Final Coat. I’m done with the countertops now; I will not be experimenting with any other coatings on these counters. Final Coat seems to be working well against everyday use, and that’s good enough for me. It can also be buffed and recoated if necessary, and 6 months in, it hasn’t been necessary.
However. If I had to do it all over again from scratch, I’d bite the bullet and spend a little extra time and money on a 2-part epoxy. I’m basing this on a comment left on this post, which you can read here. I suspected that epoxy was the way to go, and an industry professional confirmed it.
So. If “durable enough for everyday use” is good enough for you, and/or you don’t want to deal with the hassle of a 2-part epoxy, go with sealer and Final Coat. It definitely has my approval. But if you’re looking for “nearly bulletproof,” you might want to consider epoxy.