Concrete Kitchen Counters ~ Part 2

With some tears-of-frustration and a lot of joy and excitement, the concrete counters in the kitchen are all but done (I still need to find some carnauba wax and polish the counters).

In my last post, we had just removed the forms from the countertops. The concrete looked good, but there were hundreds of tiny holes — professional concrete guys have concrete vibrators and vibrating tables to coax the air out of the mix. But I don’t, so we had to deal with the holes the hard way.

I made a mix of cement and black colorant. We didn’t mind if the holes were filled darker, it would only add interest. Cynthia and I spent a morning troweling the paste over all the surfaces.

The next morning, I started wet-grinding the smallest counter top. As I ground away the cement filler paste, I realized that the filler had filled virtually none of the holes. Oops! Damn! But now I was faced with grinding all the counter tops back to ground (pun) zero — two days of filling and grinding for naught. I was wrought and fraught (hey, it rhymes). The wet grinding was very slow, so I tested the orbital (dry) sander with coarse sandpaper. It worked better than the wet, but still took the entire tiring day.

We considered our options. Tile over the concrete — absolutely not! Apply that glossy bar top epoxy — toxic, it will scratch, and it doesn’t have the natural patina that we wanted. No.

Finally, the winner — what we did was to partially seal the concrete with an acrylic polymer concrete sealant. Then I made a paste of black grout mixed with water and the acrylic sealant (I figured that there would be a good bond between the sealed concrete and the acrylic-modified grout). I made a small plastic spatula from a plastic jug and spent the day tediously spreading the grout in at least six directions over each and every hole. I had to beg and coax the air out of the holes as I introduced the grout. I kept the grout as thin as possible on the surface. Did I mention that it was tedious? I kept the grout moist with the occasional teardrop.

The next day I put a 220-grit sandpaper disk on the orbital sander. Happily, the sander made quick work of removing the residual grout layer, and with only a handful of disks left a very smooth surface.

Then I spread more of the acrylic sealer on the concrete, keeping the surface wet while the concrete drank its fill. I kept the sponge moving for about six hours and used a gallon-and-a-half of the sealer. Eureka! We now have a really smooth surface that we can protect with wax.

Here are some photos:


As the concrete absorbed the sealer and began to dry, we were delighted to see that the black concrete mix had retained much of its color.






Cynthia and I commented almost simultaneously how the concrete looked “rustic.” We tossed out words and it was odd how the word “nostalgic” came to our minds. The counters look as if we had re-purposed some old counters from a farmhouse or a nineteenth-century factory. They look durable, like they were made in a time now past. They go well with the recycled, industrial-strength aspect of the shipping containers. And with our eclectic style, we can’t wait to see the high-tech aluminum-faced cabinets below the massive and hand-wrought counters.

So even with the distress of not knowing what to do about the air holes, we have emerged completely jazzed with the look.

In Other News: One day I woke up and was really tired. Cynthia asked, “Why don’t you just take the day off?” That sounded like a great idea. After my shower, I went into the dry room/walk-in closet to get my clothes and get dressed. Struggling to get a shirt off the packed-and-temporary closet rod I said to myself, “Boy, it would be nice to just have more room on the closet rod (that Cynthia and I were sharing).” I thought that it would only take a short while to install one of the new closet rods. “I’m just gonna do a quick project,” I told Cynthia.

By bolting through the container wall with some short screws, I installed two brackets. I cut a piece of one-and-one-quarter-inch galvanized tubing, sanded it smooth, and attached it to the brackets. Total time: about a half-hour.

I moved my clothes to the new rod.

It wouldn’t be too much more work to put up the second rod, the one for Cyn’s clothes, so I did that, too. Another half-hour or so.

We had been using those wonderful and ubiquitous chrome steel shelving units that PriceSmart (and probably Costco, etc.) sells. But now, with the new rods in place, the racks didn’t fit. So I took another hour; Aramis working on one side of the container wall and me working on the other, we screwed some adjustable shelving standards to the container wall. But now there were no shelves.

So I dragged out the table saw and changed to a fine-toothed blade. I had Aramis help me cut sheets of diamond-plate aluminum that I bought some time ago for this purpose. The shelf brackets measure 18-inches, so we cut strips of the aluminum 20-inches wide. We cut enough strips to make four, eight-foot shelves and four, four-foot shelves — three 4’x8′ sheets of aluminum with just a small amount of scrap that I can use for baseboards or other trim.

Aramis and I took the strips into my shop and made one-inch, 90-degree bends on each of the long sides of the strips. Like this:


I could bend the four-foot shelves solo, but it took two of us to bend the eight-footers. We applied so much force that one of the welds on my brake popped loose with a resounding BONG. A quick re-weld got us back in service.

I used the saber saw to cut notches on the back side of the shelves so that they would fit over the shelf brackets. Then Armando and I washed the processing oil off of the shelves and dried them to a nice shine. I installed the shelves on the brackets:


Cynthia and I then populated the shelves with our clothes and other stuff that we need to keep in the dry room so that they don’t grow mold. I will make a few more shelves, especially over the closet rods:


These new industrial-style shelves work just fine for us. I am capable of making a wooden, high-end closet installation with fancy drawers shaped like socks and racks for all the ties that I no longer own, but in this climate, open shelves and plastic boxes work the best in our experience.

Cynthia and I finished about 5:00 in the afternoon. And a fine day off  it was!

We discovered a weak point in our window security bars, so Aramis and Armando spent two days welding in an additional curve to each window, grinding the welds, and painting the new metal.

Additionally, Aramis has installed the last of the loovered windows, and Armando worked with me for a day cleaning the concrete dust from the kitchen.

Jabo has found the closet under the stairs and thinks that this would make a swell dog house. It is only temporary, Jabo…


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Happy new year!

8 thoughts on “Concrete Kitchen Counters ~ Part 2

  1. Happy New Year Fred And Cynthia. Your work remains outstanding as usual Fred.
    To be in your position would be so nice, but alas somebody has to stay in this crappy place called California.
    The best to all in the republic of Panama.

  2. Those counters are a treasure!
    Great closet too. No time to say anything else, I should go organize my closets…
    Happy New Year to you both!

  3. Well Fred I have to admit, you have outdone yourself with your concrete epoxy/grout mix solution… they look fantastic! and I have to say that I am also impressed with your “day off” work in the closet… kudos to you my friend in the great north! 😉

    Happy New Year to you, Cynthia, and all of your fine team in Panamá!

    JB in the “true” deep south!

  4. My God!
    The term Superman comes to mind. I first started looking at what you were up to about a year ago I think, and from the progress I see on your blog leaves me speechless, and I talk too much. If you don’t mind just a little about my wife and I. We’re currently living in Long Beach, California and we have over the past year and a half purchased some land up in the hills of Lajemina, Los Santos, and we have a small house in Pedasi. We’ve been looking at building a container house on our property up in the hills, but hey man after looking at your blog, I’m truly scared. We would like to come out and see your place one day to get a better idea of how crazy we really are even thinking of such a project. Keep up the good work you two, three, four, five……Hell there must be at least a hundred ya’ll.

    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks very much for your superlatives. I’m speechless too, but only because I am so tired! I truly believe that a container project can be done quickly and fairly easily, but at every turn we have chosen the hard way! You are always welcome for the twenty-five cent tour. Thanks again for the compliments. Fred

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