We loosely followed the instructions of the smiling Buddy Rhodes, who is apparently the concrete countertop guru of the internet. I say "loosely followed" because we did not use his concrete material. His mix is different than the Quikrete product we used and Buddy's mix was waaaay drier than ours. Ours was a little too wet, but it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference in the finished product. If you want to do one of your own, I recommend watching all of Buddy's tutorials.
The countertop would have been just as great if I'd not marbled it, and I was torn about the decision, so I polled some friends and family. The feedback I got was about 50/50 for and against the marbling. In the end, I decided to do it just because I wanted to. To the homeowner who may be reading this, this is the price of having me redesign your kitchen. Faux finishing is fun and sometimes I need to do something just for fun.
If you want to try something like this, here's how I did it. After the concrete was dry (in our case, three days after we poured), and after we sanded it very lightly, but before the sealer was applied (because, obviously, if you put a sealer on, it will repel stains rather than accept them), I used a concrete stain called SmartColor , in black, and I painted it on with a feather. Yes, a feather is way better than a paint brush for this application. SmartColor is a water based stain that comes in a four ounce bottle. It's pretty thick and dark, so I diluted it with water so that I could get varying shades of gray. After I saw what color the countertops were going to turn out to be - more of a tan than a gray - I had a little buyer's remorse and wished I had gotten a brown for the marbling. But, I didn't want to wait (typical), so I made do with the black.
Concrete does not accept stain evenly. I learned that when I acid stained our barn apartment floor. That's why concrete looks so natural and stone-like when you stain it and it's beautiful that way. But, that worked against me somewhat on the marbling. So, be prepared for the concrete to sometimes do it's own thing while you're applying your stain. I think our slab was particularly cantankerous because we didn't know what we were doing and our surface, although very smooth, was not uniformly sanded, or...something. I think it had something to do with some spots have more sand on the surface and some spots having more "cream" (watch Buddy Rhodes if you want to know about concrete cream).
And, that is what contributed to our main issue...
So, when I say "not perfect", the issue is this...the concrete does not have an even sheen.
Since I wanted a food safe finish, I chose to use Buddy Rhodes' sealer and beeswax finish. I put two coats of sealant, which was a liquid that I just sprayed on and then wiped up the excess. It's very easy to apply and it protects the concrete from stains, but it has no sheen. After it dries, you can't tell anything is on it. He has another sealer, to be applied over the first one, that is supposed to give the concrete a satin sheen. I didn't buy that one mainly because it is expensive and I didn't see a need for it. Instead, I went with the wax. It's like a puck of wax that you just rub over the surface, then buff.
As you can see in the above picture where the light is reflecting, the concrete looks spotty, and that is because some areas shined up nicely and some remained dull. I think a couple of more coats of wax will make it uniformly shiny, but that will have to be a project for another day because the most important thing is to get this kitchen finished and functional.
So, it's done! Except for a couple of small items, I've done all I can do and the rest is up to Nephew. All that remains is the trim work, installing the sink and dishwasher and electricity in the island. It could all be done by this weekend. Or not.
If you want to follow along with the whole kitchen remodel, go far, far back in time to here.
Oh, and as a post script, I did add extra fine glitter (a clear glitter and a silver glitter) to the wet cement. You can see it in person, but not in the pictures. I thought it might be sanded off in the final sanding, but we got enough down in the cement so that the sanding revealed the glitter underneath the surface.