A thorough step-by-step tutorial with useful tips and advice on what not to do when installing DIY feather finish concrete countertops.
There are days I wish DIY had an undo button. Last week, we had one of those days.
At the beginning stages of our kitchen makeover planning, when I showed my amazing I-don’t-even-deserve-him hubs my plans to put in DIY feather finish concrete countertops, he was just as excited as I was.
Maybe too excited. Because so often we have this “let’s jump in & kick this project’s butt” mentality and are ready to rock a DIY like nobody’s business. #HandyHusband4TheWin
But then we learned… DIY concrete countertops are not the type of project that you can dive into with that kind of heart pumping energy. They take time and patience. Lots and lots of patience.
Before I tell you about our “oopsie” moment though, I’ll give you the low down on the supplies and steps that you DO need.
There are a million and one tutorials out there for DIY concrete countertops, some are poured and others are with a skim coat. Since we already had formica countertops in place, we went with the skim coat route. They’re so much cheaper and simpler than the poured kind but are still durable.
I researched all over the place to find as many of the best tips for this method as I could. (And if only I’d communicated all of them to my partner in crime, we probably wouldn’t have ended up in a pickle.)
Supplies Used: (Affiliate links are provided below for convenience. For more information, see my full disclosure here.)
- Henry Feather Finish (We needed about 4 boxes to cover 60 square feet, and I picked it up at Home Depot for about $17.)
- 3-4 disposable 2 quart sized buckets
- Paint stir or something to mix with
- Mouse sander
- 50, 120, and 220 grit Mouse sanding pads
- 50, 120, and 220 grit sanding sheets
- Protective safety glasses
- Vacuum or ShopVac
- 12 inch taping knife
- 6 inch taping knife
- Putty knife
- 511 Impregnator Sealer (I was only able to find this on Amazon.)
- Safecoat Acrylacq
- Paint brush or roller
Our existing formica countertops had a very glossy finish to them, so I roughed them up as best as I could with the my Mouse sander using the 50 grit pads. It felt like I was barely making a dent at all in these things, but it gave them just a little “tooth”.
For mixing the concrete, we just followed the directions on the back of the Feather Finish box and measured using two of the buckets with a 1:1 ratio of concrete powder to water. We only mixed a small batch at a time because this stuff dries fast. REALLY fast. I mixed about a quart at a time and that was the perfect amount for me to have about a 10-15 minute window to work with it before it set.
But before I get any further, here’s where we messed up. We started this whole huge project on Mother’s Day weekend, which also fell on my birthday. And my super sweet best-hubby-ever said, “I’ve got this. You go have a fun mani/pedi. I’ll take care of the kiddo and put on the first coat of these countertops.” Like straight out of a Ryan Gosling meme, I tell ya.
So then I went skipping out the door before he could wise up and change his mind because HALLELUJAH! TREAT YO SELF!
But when I got home, and it was time for the sanding step, here’s what we were faced with.
It turned out, I didn’t inform Robert that we needed to apply the concrete in a thin even coat and follow it with another coat or two after that. He just slapped the stuff on there, spread it out, and laid it on really THICK. Oops.
And he used this trowel at first thinking it was the best tool for the job, but we later figured out that was a little part of the problem.
So the whole countertop was crazily uneven and super rough to the point of no return, and I sanded for 2 days to try to fix it. Nope. It was bad. And I felt terrible for not communicating the whole process better to Robert.
Big important tip: Wear safety glasses and a mask as that sanding dust is not so fun to get in your eyes and lungs. Use a vacuum to remove the dust from the countertop after each sanding session too.
After the big sand-a-thon, it ended up looking like this. Ew.
No bueno on the splotchy countertops. All of those dark spots were the humps in the concrete that my sander wore down over time.
So to fix the problem, I got the first humpy bumpy layer as smooth as I could manage and applied 3 MORE COATS the right way over the course of the NEXT 3 DAYS, sanding each layer to help level the counters in between as I worked. (And I’m type-screaming that because I was to the point of don’t-mess-with-momma-she’s-gonna-snap frustrated.)
So as for the right way to do the concrete coat, here’s the skinny-
I emptied the majority of the contents of my bucket (about 1 quart of concrete) into the middle of the space where I was working.
And this time, instead of a trowel, I used a 12″ taping knife to smooth it all out. It was so much faster and smoother that way. For any of the smaller areas, I used the 6″ knife. And for the sides, I used the putty knife. It was better to wait about an hour or two after the coat on the countertop was dry before applying it to the sides so that I wouldn’t remove any from the top that I’d already smoothed out.
This video from Young House Love was a big help in seeing the best way to apply it (and made me really wish I’d seen it before we’d created this big mess.)
I discovered it was best to start sanding about 3 hours after applying a coat of concrete since it wasn’t completely dried but still dry enough to make it easy to work with.
I started out after each concrete coat by sanding with the 50 grit and worked my way to the 120 grit and 220 grit as I smoothed everything. I went back over it by hand on a few places too that needed extra TLC.
After applying the concrete, waiting for it to dry, and sanding, sanding, sanding for days, our kitchen was nothing but a giant cloud of concrete dust. Behold, the final smooth concrete coat!
And this was the aftermath.
Everything in our house had a layer of concrete dust on it, so we had to take a day to recollect ourselves and get everything back to a dust-free zone. Because seriously, I felt like this kid from The Sandlot when the vacuum exploded in “The Beast’s” backyard.
This was certainly the messiest projects we’ve ever done to date.
So then to seal this baby!
I attempted a sealer at first called Cheng Concrete Sealer, but after three coats and it still not finishing the job and being a big ordeal to apply, I wasn’t really a fan. Plus, it was on the pricey side. Maybe it would work for someone else, but I found a Plan B that worked out better for me.
The dynamic sealer duo.
I brushed on 2 coats of the 511 Impregnator Sealer first, which penetrates the concrete and helps ward off stains. I just followed the directions on the back and waited 24 hours between each coat.
After the 511 Impregnator had set in for 24 hours, I brushed on 3 coats of the Safecoat Acrylacq 24 hours apart and followed the directions on the back for applying it. I just brushed it on evenly and let it cure to a hard, glossy topcoat. I didn’t think I would like a gloss finish originally but I absolutely love how this final step looks. Our countertops almost feel like granite.
Normally, I’m all about the distressed look, but it really took me a day or two to get used to the character in the concrete. Considering the week-long ordeal in getting the snafu straightened out, they came out amazing. All in all, the final cost was about $250 for all 60 square feet of our countertops.
We still have a good bit to do in here like going back and sealing around our kitchen sink and painting the bajillion cabinets we have in here (Which are currently in the middle of a priming treatment as I type this. Eek!), but there’s one other little change I may not have mentioned.
We have a whitewashed brick backsplash! I’ll be explaining more about that later, but I’m so glad we went this route instead of with subway tile. It’s really surprising to me since I’d wanted subway tile since Day 1, but the charm of the brick with the concrete countertops seems to be a great match without being too sterile.
I can’t wait to show the next step of this space, but it’s coming along much more quickly now that the messy countertops are out of the way.
I’ve never been SO glad to be finished with a project! Whew!
Have you ever put concrete countertops in your house before? Or had your heart set on them? Even though they are messy and exhausting, they’re completely worth it.
In case you missed any of the other kitchen makeover adventures in here, you can check out these previous posts and projects:
- Kitchen Makeover Plans and Mood Board
- DIY Industrial Pendant Lights
- Installing an IKEA Farmhouse Sink
And if you want to save this post for future reference, you can pin it here: