New Technique for Finishing Concrete Counters Adds a Unique Touch

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I wish I had done this project right when I moved in because it had such an enormous impact. It took me over a year to get around to attempting a feather finish concrete counter after living with these white tile countertops for over a year. I do not understand why anyone would want mosaic tile countertops; the grout is impossible to clean, and whoever installed mine didn’t do a good job transitioning from the flat surface of the counter to the front edge.
I thought an industrial look concrete counter would be a good choice, since I already had exposed rafters, and I love any reason to DIY. To learn how to apply feather finish concrete over tile counters, continue reading.

When I saw the feather finish countertops that John and Sherry did in their temporary kitchen on YHL, I fell into a research spiral, absorbing everything I could find about feather finish countertops. (You know how easily I become obsessed with things, right?)

I couldn’t find any information about applying feather finish concrete over tile counters, so I improvised! I went with Henry’s from Home Depot instead of Ardex Feather Finish since they had it in stock (I’m pretty sure it’s the same thing with a different name) and I was too excited to wait for it to ship.

Supplies

The Tile Counters

The Tile Counters

Prep Work

I tried to wash all the counters to remove all the decades of grime, but I couldn’t since the white tile and grout were disgusting. Since I moved in, I had washed them, but they never looked truly clean. After securing the cabinet doors with trash bags, I taped them over to prevent any drips. Because I was tearing out the green and white plaid flooring, I wasn’t worried about dripping on it. However, if you want to protect your floors, you should put down a tarp or some plastic.

Feather Finish Concrete Consistency

Using cheap buckets from Home Depot and wooden paint stirrers, I mixed up my concrete to a pancake batter consistency. Using a ten-inch flat taping knife, I spread it out on the counters.

One Million Layers

Feather finish concrete can be applied over tile counters in a different way than it can be applied over smooth surfaces. The first million layers are simply filling in all the grout lines and building up the counter surface to be smooth. As well as the grout indents, some tiles were set up a little higher than the surrounding ones, so there was a lot of space to fill.

 

This layer will have some bare tile spots showing, so don’t try to apply it too thickly. We lightly skimmed the first couple of layers to fill in all the low spots, as we want to gradually build up a solid surface.

On the first couple of coats, I used a hair dryer to speed up the drying of some stubborn grout lines. It took about 45 minutes to two hours to dry each layer. You may want to start cautiously and give yourself a little extra time between coats if you are going to attempt this. Make sure everything is completely dry before you put it on the counter so it won’t crack.
As I spread each layer with the taping knife, I pressed the leftover concrete onto the front edge of the counters. The concrete had set up a little bit, so it was easier to mold and adhere to the vertical surface. Additionally, I used the slightly thicker concrete on the tile backsplash and applied it with a thin putty knife. I applied the concrete with my finger to any tiny areas, like behind the sink.
During the initial “building” layers, I did not sand. The tiles had to be covered in about three or four layers. During application of these layers, I was pretty nervous because the grid pattern could still be seen after it had dried.
Thankfully, another couple of skim coats fixed the problem. Feather finish concrete hides any errors or unevenness thanks to all the layers and trowel marks.

Sanding (AKA Making a Huge Mess)

After I was no longer able to see any white tiles, I added another layer of concrete, waited for it to dry, and then used my orbital sander to sand the top smooth.
The kitchen doors were covered with plastic drop cloths, and the stove, sink, and vents were covered as well. There was a lot of mess during this step.
Safety goggles and a serious mask are recommended. As I was planning on replacing the floors, I did not cover them, but you might want to cover yours if you like them. Later on, I worked up to 220 grit sand paper.

I had to keep adding layers of concrete because the first sanding went through all the concrete in a few areas and I could see the white tiles again. Then I wiped down the dust with a damp paper towel, added another layer of concrete, sanded it, and repeated those steps until I could no longer see the white tiles. Next, I added a final layer of concrete, just to be sure it was all covered, and sanded the surface with 80, 120, and 220 grit sandpapers.

The front edge was sanded with a sanding sponge since the power sander was too hard to control and I kept accidentally sanding off all the concrete.

On the backsplash, I used a Dremel/multi-tool since it had a small enough sanding surface to fit into that space. In that area, I did my best to sand behind the sink.

In order to get the Dremel into the faucet, I wedged a sanding sponge behind it and then used regular sand paper to knock down the rough spots.

Sealing That Surface

Having wiped up all the dust and made sure everything was smooth, I taped a piece of plastic to the counter as a moisture test. Concrete must be completely dry before sealing, so if you see any condensation under the plastic, you will need to wait longer for it to dry. After waiting a few days, my counters were dry when I did this test.

Other DIY feather finish counter top tutorials suggested Cheng’s Concrete Counter sealer and concrete wax, but this stuff is expensive, so I started looking for alternatives. I wasn’t going to prepare food directly on this surface, so food safety wasn’t the most important factor to me. Initially, I bought this impregnating sealer from Home Depot, but subsequently read that you shouldn’t apply topcoat sealers on top of impregnating sealers as they won’t adhere properly, and I got lost in the whole impregnating vs. topcoat sealer discussion and ended up purchasing this Tile Lab gloss sealer from Home Depot (also available on Amazon here). Since it was cheap, I figured if it didn’t work out, I would sand it off, maybe add more concrete, and pick a different sealant.

Once the counters were very clean, I poured a little of the sealer onto a paper plate and wiped it up with a large sponge. To seal the counters, I used a sponge to apply a light-medium coat of sealer. Since I chose a glossy finish, I could easily see when I had enough product on the counters, and quickly spot areas I missed due to the non-glossy finish. I waited a few hours between each coat and did not sand at all during the sealing step. It probably took about four or five coats of sealer to get a solid glossy look when it was dry.

Finishing with caulk

When I removed the tape around the stove, the edge was not very attractive. Enter caulk! For the edge of the stove, I got white caulk, and for the sink I got biscuit caulk, since it is an off white color. Usually, I use the damp rag/wet finger method to clean up the caulk bead, but since I just spent forever making perfect DIY feather finish concrete counters, I taped off my caulk line to keep things neat and crisp. This step made such a huge difference around the stove, it looks much more professional now. My next step was to recover the Formica bar top with marble contact paper and that also made a huge difference in the kitchen, so stay tuned for a full how-to!

A Few Months Later

I’m still in love with these counters! The first month or so I babied the counters, but now I am much more relaxed about them. Since they vary so much, little scratches don’t stand out as much, and they’re way easier to clean than tile counters.

I taped a piece of plastic to the counter as a moisture test after cleaning up all the dust and making sure everything was smooth.

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