Have you been dreaming of an outdoor kitchen but are stuck on countertops? I hear ya. And that is how I felt just a few weeks back when I decided to expand my outdoor kitchen. Luckily, I came up with an easy and affordable solution to DIY concrete countertops for my outdoor kitchen and I am going to walk you through the full DIY tutorial from start to finish! Because I know you are going to want to DIY your own concrete countertops!
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DIY Concrete Countertop Tutorial For Outdoor Kitchen
First things first. Why concrete countertops? Concrete is frequently used outdoors and seemed like a natural choice to hold up to the elements. It is also rather inexpensive per square foot especially when compared to other stone options like granite. I also dabbled in making my own DIY concrete countertops when I turned an old hollow core door into a concrete table top, so I felt confident concrete was a good idea.
Last year I also used this self leveling concrete to level out the basement flooring and thought this mix would be great for a skim coated countertop. So here we are.
This concrete countertop was made for my built in Traeger pellet smoker. If you missed it check that out here.
Concrete Countertop Materials
1 sheet of Dens Shield Tile Backer
Drill & Driver
Self Leveling Concrete
Step 1 – Gather Your Materials
The first step is to head to your local hardware store and pick up your materials. I picked up all my materials at Home Depot. I mean it wouldn’t be a weekend without going there. They should really give me my own parking spot, haha. Seriously.
I chose to use this tile backer because it was the only material that was moisture resistant that came in 48×96 sheets. Traditional cement board is only 36×60. My DIY countertop needed to be 23×63 so I required a larger sheet. In theory I could have pieced two sheets together, but I was concerned about having low spots at the seams.
Step 2 – Measure and Cut the Top Piece
Because I made my countertop for the built in smoker area which is made from irregular stones, I laid the tile backer on top and traced it from underneath to get the exact outline.
Then I took the backer board back to the garage and cut it with my drywall square and a utility knife. This backer board is more like drywall on the inside than cement board so it cuts easily without a saw. But I will say the back is fiberglass and very itchy if you get it on your clothes or skin, so watch out for that.
Step 3 – Build the Support Frame
The next step is to build a frame for the backer board. Since this will be holding a very heavy smoker and the stone base is hollow, I needed to support the middle so it wouldn’t cave in and the concrete wouldn’t crack. I built this out of 2x4s I had on hand.
Flip the top upside down and measure the length. This will vary based on the size of your countertop. Mine was 63 inches long. I cut two 2x4s to length with my miter saw.
With the lengths cut, I measured the supports for the ends and the middle which was 16 inches long. I cut four pieces to 16 inches long.
After all my wood was cut, I arranged the pieces on the backside of the backer board, careful to line up all the edges as closely as possible. I then used my long clamps to hold it together while I attached all the pieces. You can see all the behind the scenes of this in my Instagram story highlights.
I originally planned to lay the 2x4s flat to make a total countertop thickness of 2 inches (1 1/2 inches from the 2×4 and 1/2 inch from the backer board). And when I laid it out I realized I didn’t have screws long enough to face screw these from the sides. So I had to improvise.
I used the exterior screws I had on hand to make what I am calling poor mans pocket holes. I drilled a hole at an angle with my drill and used these 2 1/2 inch wood screws to secure all the parts together. If you can use real pocket holes that would probably be better, but I didn’t have the right size screws for my jig. While my poor mans pocket holes did work, I wouldn’t use them on anything that would be seen because they are a little janky.
If you would like to face screw these, you will need 4 inch screws and need to fill your holes before covering it in concrete.
Step 4 – Attach the Backer Board to the Frame
Once the frame is built, flip it over (with the wood on the bottom and backer board on top). Use 1 1/2 inch drywall screws and a driver to attach the backer board to the frame.
I added screws along the edges and in the middle where the cross supports are. In total I used 18 screws. Just make sure all the screws are flush with the surface and not drilled too deep. This will ensure there are no large voids in the concrete pour.
Step 5 – Dry Fit the Countertop
With the frame built and the countertop surface attached, I wanted to make sure it fit my smoker platform before I moved on to the next step. Once the concrete is poured, no modifications can be easily made so I wanted to make sure.
Step 6 – Drill Holes for Electrical
This step will only apply if you are using this countertop with something that needs to have a power source or if you want to run a line for a propane tank. This is the countertop for my smoker which needs to be plugged in so I wanted to be able to hide the cord. You could do something similar for a propane tank like I did for the pizza oven table.
I drilled this hole with a 2 inch hole saw attachment for my driver.
Step 7 – Prep for Pour
PLEASE trust me on this part. Prepping your work area with plastic is vital! This is VERY messy and doesn’t come off once it’s dry.
I used my plastic folding table to lay out my countertop surface and pour my concrete on. I laid plastic sheeting under and around the table as well as on top of it. I placed my countertop frame on top of two longer scrap 2x4s to keep it raised off the table. It is important to keep it raised up or it will get stuck to the table when it dries.
I also recommend wearing gloves and clothes and shoes you don’t care about. This will not come off.
Step 8 – Pour Your New Counters
First you need to mix your concrete. I used Rapid Set Self leveling concrete for my concrete countertop mix. This needs to be mixed very thin with a concrete mixer or mixing paddle. It should be a very thin pancake batter consistency. DO NOT MIX until you are ready to pour. This starts to set in about 10 minutes and becomes difficult to smooth out.
For best results mix one big batch rather than multiple small batches. I think it’s more difficult to get the consistency correct when you mix a little at a time. Also, batches mixed at different times dry differently and you may not end up with a smooth surface.
Once everything is covered in plastic and your concrete is mixed, pour it all over your concrete frame. This is self leveling and will naturally run off the edges. If it doesn’t run, you mixed it too thick.
You can use a flat steel trowel to help spread out the concrete if you need to, BUT you do not have a lot of time. This dries very quick and once it starts to set up (about 10 minutes) using the trowel on the flat surfaces of the top will make it worse. You can see all the behind the scenes and watch the full pour in my Instagram story highlight.
I mainly focused on getting a smooth finish on the top of the countertop. After it started to set up I did not touch the top anymore and only focused on the sides. I scooped up the excess that dripped onto the table and used it to coat the sides more. This worked well because it was less runny at this point.
Note: My first pour was mixed a tad too thick and I had to spread it out a little bit. Barry mixed a second batch while I worked on spreading it out and coating the edges. This does work better with two people in case you need to mix more concrete. I used one bag for this project.
Don’t forget to clean your mixing paddle and bucket out right away. If you do not they will be ruined. I sprayed mine off outside with the hose. DO NOT CLEAN in the sink. This is concrete and you do not want this in your pipes.
Step 9 – Let it Dry
I let the wet concrete dry for several days before I did anything else. I wanted to make sure it was fully cured. When I used this mix in the basement I let it dry for a full 24 hours. I do not recommend any dry time less than 24 hours.
Step 10 – Sand
Once the concrete is completely dry, you can sand it with an orbital sander. I used an 80 grit sanding disk. This smoothed out some of the rough spots I had from drips on the top. It also gave it a more polished look. You can see the behind the scenes on this in my Instagram story highlight.
I only lightly sanded the edges. Because my original top piece was not perfectly flat along the edges, they came out a bit rough. But I went with it because it looks more like chipped concrete or the natural edge of flagstone and I didn’t want to take away from that.
Step 11 – Clean and Seal
After I sanded I wiped the new countertops down with a wet rag and some water to remove any debris. Then I put a coat of water based satin spar urethane on the concrete top and the edges. You could probably also use a concrete sealer but I have used this before and I already had it.
I applied my first coat with a brush and it came out pretty streaky. The downfall to water based top coats is they dry really fast so you have to work very quick! I apparently didn’t work fast enough. So I did a second coat but this time I used a foam roller and it came out much better.
The satin finish isn’t shinny but it isn’t quite a matte finish either. It’s got a slight sheen to it which I really like but it doesn’t look like wet cement.
I also flipped the countertop over and put a coat of the spar urethane on the wood on the bottom of the countertop to protect it from any water it might come in contact with from snow or rain.
Step 12 – Install
This step will vary based on where the countertop is going. Mine sits on a stone frame I built for the Traeger smoker. I did not glue it down because there is electrical in the center to power the smoker and I want to have access in case I need it. But the smoker weighs about 100 lbs, so my countertop is not going anywhere!
You many need to shim the countertop depending on how level your surface is. I had to shim the back corner to keep it from wobbling. To see more details on the install and the rest of this build, check out my Traeger outdoor kitchen station.
Step 13 – Enjoy!
The finished product is exactly what I wanted for my outdoor kitchen! The concrete countertops go perfectly with the rest of the patio and outdoor kitchen area and are super easy to clean! Who’s coming over for the next backyard BBQ?
What I would do differently next time
The tile backer was not as easy to work with as I had anticipated. It didn’t cut super clean and made the edges uneven which were harder to coat with the concrete mixture. If I were to do this again, and I probably will around the grill, I think I will use a plywood or particle board top instead for cleaner edges.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why didn’t you make solid DIY concrete counter tops?
For a few reasons. You need countertop forms or a mold for concrete slab countertops and you need rebar. This was a lot more than I wanted to take on. Not to mention traditional concrete countertops are very heavy concrete and they would be difficult to move. With this method I simplified the process and made them much lighter!
How much did this cost?
This only cost me about $70 to make because I already had the screws and scrap wood. However, you could easily make this for about $100.
How will this hold up outside?
Only time will tell. This was a cheap option for concrete countertops. I used a very similar method on the pizza oven table top and it has held up VERY well over the last few years. That one does sit under the patio though so I might have different results with this one but make sure you follow me on Instagram and I will share updates as time goes on.
Did you secure the smoker to the concrete top?
No. This particular smoker weighs about 100lbs so I am not too worried about it. While we are prone to high wind here, if it can pick up 100lbs, we are going to have bigger problems than the smoker blowing away, haha! If you live in an area with frequent tornadoes or hurricanes, you might want to consider bolting it down somehow.
Do you need to seal these?
I think it’s a good idea. Concrete is a porous surface and you don’t want to accidently stain or ruin them. I used a water based spar urethane that I had on hand which I also used with success on my concrete table top.
Can you make them white?
That is a great question and I do not know the answer. I am sure it’s possible to color the mix to create white concrete countertops, but I have not personally tried it and can’t give any advice on it. But I am sure there is a YouTube video 😉
Can I use this to update my kitchen countertops?
You can definitely try but I would personally be very nervous about the mess it creates! If you try it, make sure you protect your cabinets and flooring VERY well!
Will this skim coated version crack over time?
Maybe. Only time will tell. As I mentioned above, this was a quick and affordable solution for my outdoor kitchen. I am mentally prepared that this may not hold up. But it was much cheaper than paying someone to fabricate stone and I like the look of it. If the unknown worries you, I would hire your countertops out.
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