Saturday, October 23, 2010

DIY Concrete Web Resources, a Review

In my last entry on do it yourself concrete countertops, I made the point that fabricating concrete tops is not as simple as many DIY advocates would have you believe.  As mentioned before, there are innumerable resources on the web for someone considering such a project.  Just to check the quality of the guidance, I checked out a few.

1.     DIY Network – How to Create Custom Concrete Countertops.  Well, this one won’t take you far.  It details the whole process with just four steps.  There are three sentences that tell you how to build the form, and then the reader is given the following guidance on how to make the concrete itself:
Mix together a combination of quick-drying concrete and Portland cement, making sure to follow the directions. Determine the amount needed, based on the measurements of the area.”
Proper “mix design” is the most technical challenge of making a good top.  What ingredients and what proportions are needed to create the optimal concrete to pour for your top?  Most countertop pros use detailed spreadsheet programs that calculate down to the gram how much of each ingredient should be added to the mix.  The advice above doesn’t even include what aggregate to add to the mix.

2.     Ron Hazelton’s House Calls – How to Build a Concrete Counter Top, Use an existing vanity or base cabinet to create your own concrete counter top.  This resource has a lot more information, particularly since it includes narrated video of an experienced craftsman casting a vanity top.  Like the DIY Network site, however, key information never finds its way into the presentation.  For example, the mix process is shown, but there is no mix formula or recipe given.  An even more problematic omission is that there is no information given about how to seal the concrete as the final      step – this after telling the reader that the top will be easy to clean.  I do recommend checking this link out, however, since it gives a much better view of the complexity of making your own top.

3.     Suite – How to Make a Concrete Countertop, Cement, Pigment, Gravel, and Sealer Instantly Upgrade a Kitchen.  This sounds too good to be true – four ingredients can “instantly” upgrade a kitchen.  This blogger, Kelly Smith, like many other bloggers, found an interesting topic, did some research (like you are), and then wrote a blog entry.  Kelly’s background info states that he has “been a woodworker as long as he can remember”.  Woodworking experience helps with concrete countertop projects, but you can bet that Kelly never made a top himself.  As a blog reader, you already know that the source of web based information has to be carefully filtered, and in the case of concrete tops, this is especially true.  Concrete tops are a hot topic, and many bloggers      and DIY sites feature stories on them.  Just remember that writers with little or no experience with concrete will tend to glamorize the fabrication process and minimize the complexity (because they have no idea how hard it is to make a good top).

4.     Concrete Countertop Institute.  This organization is focused on teaching professionals the business of making concrete tops, however, many who attend their courses are new to the business.  If you plan to make just one top, then spending the time and money for a course doesn’t make sense.  However, many who make their first top get the bug and go on to make more.  If the thought of making multiple tops describes you, consider taking the two day Fast Track Concrete Countertops course which is offered in different parts of the country.  As an alternative, for under $500 you can purchase the self-study training program from CCI which includes detailed information on each step of fabrication.   Most of the pros in the concrete countertop business carefully guard the knowledge base accumulated over years of making tops.  As with any other craft, you will make many mistakes as you progress through the learning curve.  With training, you can bypass some of the mistakes, however.

If you decide in the end that you are better served by having a professional fabricate your top, the CCI website has a “Helpful Information for the Consumer” link that will help you find a qualified contractor and give you some design ideas.

5.     Something Better Company, Decorative Concrete Training in Concrete Countertops.  If you are an “artsy type”, this company has videos that show concrete used as a painter's canvass. Like CCI, SBC offers courses, but they also provide some of the same information through DVDs.  Just a note of caution – it is much easier to watch a skilled artisan create complex and beautiful items than it is to do it yourself, but you can sample some of SBC's videos on YouTube, so check it out.

Conclusion: Making concrete tops is technically complex.  Like sewing – it may not look hard, but how many people actually sew their own clothes?  If we had no stores, most of us could cobble together something to block the winter wind, but it would likely look a bit “caveman” – far from “store bought”?  So in deciding whether to attempt to make your own  concrete countertop, it comes down to what’s important to you – the joy of making something for yourself by hand, or the satisfaction of owning a professionally made top that will last for years.

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