Caleb Lawson: Alumnus Success Story

Outdoor Grill Countertops

Caleb Lawson of Price Concrete Studio in Orlando, FL spends a lot of time educating people about what concrete can bring to their building plans, whether he’s talking to homeowners, architects or designers. Aside from spreading understanding about the versatility of the material, the time he spends educating people is also good for his business. Even the architects and designers he regularly reaches out to often have no idea what types of creative challenges can be addressed with concrete.

“A lot of these architects are looking for what we do, but they’re unaware that concrete can do it,” he says. “They’re left with trying to make workarounds with other materials when, really, concrete could do it.”

Lawson met one designer he works with by chance. The designer had an office near Price Concrete Studio and took it upon himself to see what Lawson’s company had to offer. It just so happened that Lawson’s company was the ideal provider for the kind of creative work the designer prefers.

Price Concrete Studio

“He just stopped by one day and, through that conversation, we got two jobs,” Lawson says. “He likes to push the envelope. I love it.”

Price Concrete Studio has created some truly innovative pieces for that designer’s firm, including a green concrete table with brass inlays, a pink console table and more. Lawson continues to work with the designer, and several others, today.

Starting With An Advantage

For many people starting out with their own concrete countertop business, such luck might be harder to come by. Landing their first clients is a significant and, sometimes, very intimidating challenge. Lawson had something of an advantage in that regard. Price Concrete Studio had been in business for ten years before he purchased it, so the firm already had a client base.

Initially, Lawson, who says he “loves working with his hands,” approached the owner of Price Concrete Studio and proposed purchasing the company. The owner wasn’t ready to sell, but Lawson started working with the firm.

“Getting projects was a bit easier for me than it would be for someone starting from scratch,” Lawson says, “but I had to learn the trade. My challenge was to maintain the reputation that my predecessor had built over the last 10 years. After about eight months [with Price], I realized I was in over my head and needed to be trained better, so I went to CCI,” he says.

Color Treated Concrete

Six months after finishing CCI concrete countertop training in 2013, Lawson took over Price Concrete Studio as the full owner.

Maintaining the company’s reputation turned out to be no small endeavor. Price Concrete Studio routinely partners with builders who work on multi-million-dollar construction; a clientele that demands the highest-quality. “Because of CCI, I was able to provide that,” Lawson says.

Building on Existing Business

“It’s all about relationships and education”

To keep the business growing, Lawson used an educational outreach effort to architects and designers. He hosts what he calls “lunch and learn” events. At those events, Price Concrete Studio provides lunch for a group of architects and designers. In exchange, Lawson gets the hour to tell the attendees about what custom concrete work can add to their projects.

“To me, it’s all about relationships and education,” he says. “They don’t know [concrete] is there. You have to explain to people that concrete can pretty much do anything you want.”

 

Outdoor Concrete

Lawson says that his educational outreach to clients often extends to homeowners, as well. Many of them have no idea about the flexibility that concrete offers, assuming that it’s only suitable for the traditional roles concrete occupies in construction.

“A lot of my job with homeowners is telling them, ‘Don’t be limited, it doesn’t have to be just gray. It can be purple; it can be pink: you can have whatever you want. If you want grey, fine. If you want a particular shade of blue, we can do that, too.’”

Even after having learned about what concrete can do for their projects, it sometimes takes time for customers to decide to go with what Lawson has to offer.

“It’s kind of a long game. Sometimes you tell people what you can do and have to wait for six months or a year for them to tell you to go ahead,” Lawson says.

Education > Appreciation

“Get the education and then use your resources.”

Waiting for clients to come around takes patience, of course, and Lawson particularly advises against low-balling jobs just to get the work. For Lawson, part of educating clients about the work involved in creating custom concrete countertops and other features is explaining to them the long and complicated process from concept to completion.

Barstools and Countertop

Lawson also recommends using available resources as much as possible. He still calls Jeff and Lane from The Concrete Countertop Institute when he needs advice and, beyond that, he relies on the community of skilled craftspeople who work in the industry for assistance, as well. Lawson sees more potential in fostering a helpful, cooperative community than he does in undercutting prices and other forms of aggressive competition between concrete countertop companies.

“If you help the community develop a better product, then ultimately, it’s going to help you because people will see the high bar that’s been set,” Lawson says.

Lawson advises two strategies, in particular, for those just getting started out in GFRC.
“My advice to everybody is to get the education, and then use your resources,” he says.

How Concrete Commander Built a Successful Creative Concrete Business

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-fire-pits-furniture

Creative concrete and wood furniture and fire bowl

In only three years, Concrete Countertop Institute graduate Drew Teaman has managed to build a successful custom concrete business—ConcreteCommander.com—in Jacksonville, Florida. Though easy-going and laid-back in conversation, the story of how he built his business demonstrates a level of flexibility, tenacity and creativity that oftentimes separates successful business owners from those who struggle to get off the ground.

Teaman, with a degree in exercise science, experience as a personal trainer and fifteen years of experience in pharmaceutical sales, doesn’t, at least on the surface, sound like someone who’d be interested in going into GFRC. Before he took up pharmaceutical sales, however, he worked as a salesperson for a company that sold concrete repair products to the military. Eventually, Teaman graduated from both the Ultimate and Advanced Molding technique programs at The Concrete Countertop Institute and launched his own business.

“[At first] I did a lot of DIY stuff, helping people out, and then I got into concrete very, very slowly,” he says. “One day, I decided I was going to go for it and started this thing on my own. Three years later, we own a building and we have six employees.”

Teaman credits a great deal of ConcreteCommander.com’s success to “we,” as opposed to only himself.

“What we’ve done is we’ve really developed some good people,” he says. “We’ve changed some lives in our shop.” With the support of friends and family, and Jeff Girard from CCI when required, Teaman and his team have managed to build not only a sustainable business, but one that continues to grow and evolve.

That successful business didn’t come without an investment of time, effort and some serious financial planning on the part of Teaman. Eventually, he even relocated for the sake of the business. He started out in Indiana, but the climate made the business environment particularly challenging.
“When I was up there, we hit a lull in the winters,” he says. “It was like five months of nothingness.”

Teaman’s long-time friend, Brett, lived in Jacksonville. The two coordinated and Brett visited some home shows to see if the market would be friendly for Teaman. There wasn’t any competition for Teaman in Jacksonville, so the two jumped on the opportunity.

“We made some sales calls, got some jobs and I drove down and brought my equipment,” Teaman says. “I was working back and forth, back and forth, just to keep things going.”

Eventually, the investment paid off and Teaman permanently relocated to Florida. In addition to assembling a great team, Teaman credits some of ConcreteCommander.com’s success to applying the lessons he’d learned in the pharmaceutical business; customer service, in particular.

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-fireplace

Custom concrete fireplace surround by Concrete Commander

Concrete Customer Service

Good sales people know that managing expectations is a significant part of customer service, something that, from his many years in sales, Teaman brought to his new business.

“I was in pharmaceuticals for fifteen years,” he says. “We brought in the customer service at that level.”

Sometimes, that means educating customers about what custom concrete work really entails.

“When they [customers] see the website, eighty-percent of the people are going to think that they’re getting a cheap product because it’s concrete,” he says. “They’re tire kicking. They don’t realize that the cost is higher than it is for cheap granite. Sometimes they’re blown away.”

Teaman makes an effort to reach out to the customers so that they understand the work involved with GFRC. “We just walk them through. They’re like ‘Okay, I get it,” he explains. “For most people, they understand that it’s an expensive product because it’s hand made.”

He credits Jeff and Lane of CCI with offering a lot of insight into customer relationships. “Jeff and Lane did a good job of making sure you know how to set those expectations with customers, “he says. “There’s room for variation. This is a custom, hand-made product. As long as the customer understands that, it’s good.”

In addition to helping customers to understand the skill and work involved in creating custom concrete products, Teaman has developed his business so that it’s flexible and sustainable when custom work goes through its predictable spikes and lulls.

“Our goal is to have our custom side, but then we want to have a production line,” he says.

That production line includes products that are of equally high quality to custom work, but come at a more affordable—but not cheap—price. “Our production looks like custom,” he says. “If you want to soup it up, though, we can really make it a piece of art.”

The production line has a great deal of value to the business. Putting a fire bowl on a palate and shipping it to the customer’s door is not difficult for the business and, for the customer, the production line combines high quality with a great deal of convenience.

Where the other aspects of customer service are concerned, ConcreteCommander.com also sets high standards and it pays off in boosting the company’s reputation and customer relations.

“The way we work, we’re really punctual. If we’re going to be late, we’re texting. People are so appreciative of that,” he says. That also extends to website contacts, “When you can follow up within a half an hour, you’ll blow people away.”

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-fire-bowl

Production concrete fire bowl by Concrete Commander

Flexibility and Return on Investment

ConcreteCommander.com’s success did not just drop into Teaman’s lap. Before he launched the business, he had a plan.

“So many businesses fail in twelve to eighteen months,” he says. “I was able to save money to make this work. We prepared for it. That old adage that you have to spend money to make money is true. If you think you need fifty, you might as well have a hundred and then work hard so you don’t even have to spend the fifty.”

Like most of what Teaman has done with his business, the inclusion of production work is part of a broader plan. “That insulates us a bit,” he says. “If custom slows down, we have production.”

Though he graduated from CCI years ago, Teaman still relies on Jeff Girard when he runs into a particularly difficult challenge and, as is the case with his other connections, he attributes some of his success to that relationship. “You surround yourself with greatness,” he says, “and Jeff is one of those people. He’s always there if I have ‘Jeff questions.’ He is of huge value to what we do.”

Planning aside, Teaman still enjoys quite a bit of spontaneity in his business style. Many of the ideas that have helped ConcreteCommander.com to grow were written on napkins and were the results of not only coming up with good plans, but also the results of maintaining good working relationships. In fact, Teaman’s work history is based on fostering productive relationships and being flexible enough to let one opportunity become another.

“If you think about the progression,” he says, “I was a personal trainer for two years out of college. I met the owner of a [concrete] company and helped him rehab his knee. I used a PowerPoint presentation to help with the rehab and he asked if I could come and train his sales reps to use PowerPoint.”

Teaman took the time he spent travelling and training the salesforce to learn the products they sold and came into the concrete company as a salesperson. His eventual move to pharmaceuticals only required sales experience, which he had in abundance by the time he made the move, and he turned pharmaceuticals into a fifteen-year career that, eventually and through a lot of hard work and investment, led to ConcreteCommander.com.
He credits some of his success to tenacity but, in the end, he still comes back to the people he works with, and that doesn’t mean hiring “yes” men. “You need a support network of people to check you; checks and balances,” he says.

He also advises that people going into the custom concrete business anticipate that it will take time to make money. “You have to save money for it to work,” he says.

Nonetheless, he also advises sticking with what works. “We work hard and play hard,” he says. “This started with an idea written on a napkin, and we still work on napkins.”

Learn more about Concrete Commander at www.ConcreteCommander.com.

More work by Concrete Commander in Jacksonville, Florida and beyond:

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-outdoor-kitchen

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-outdoor-kitchen-2

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-outdoor-kitchen-3

Building a Concrete Countertop Business by Building Relationships

Getting training, building a clientele and a portfolio; anyone starting out in concrete countertops certainly has a lot to think about. For Judive and François Jean-Gilles, personal networking has been particularly significant in building their business. Growing their enterprise, Cygne Beton of Quebec, also required the father/daughter team to make connections that crossed both distance and languages, but the effort has certainly paid off in the end.

Judive got interested in the concrete countertop business in 2009. With a degree in business and fifteen years of experience in the banking world, she was well-equipped to launch a new enterprise, but needed to know more about GFRC. Her journey started with a book, but quickly came to incorporate formal training. She found The Concrete Countertop Institute on the web, but distance was an issue.

“I was looking at the 5-day Ultimate class, but it was a lot of money because I’m Canadian and would have had travel expenses,” she said. “So, I tried the online courses (Level 3).” Judive had extensive experience in online training before she started taking classes at CCI, so she took to the online option quickly.

Once the distance barrier was taken care of, there was still a language barrier to deal with. “I used the books Lane and Jeff sent me,” Judive explained. “My father speaks French, so I had to translate. All the information about working with concrete I had to translate. There were other books I didn’t have to translate because they were about marketing, and that’s what I do.”

The effort Judive put into translating the CCI books helped François to take his vast experience working with concrete in a new direction. François had built foundations and houses out of concrete in Haiti, but hadn’t studied concrete in detail before. “We built upon his knowledge,” Judive said. “He had the experience, but now we had the theory.”

Growing a Business Through Partnerships

Between François and Judive’s extensive experience and their training from CCI, they were ready to launch Cygne Beton. As is the case for any fledgling business, however, finding clients was a concern. Fortunately, Judive is a member of several business networking organizations and she leveraged her relationships with other entrepreneurs, fostering partnerships that helped Cygne Beton, and the businesses it partners with, to succeed.

“I’m in an organization for women in business and we have a lot of meetings,” Judive said. “We have conferences and other activities. I’ve met a lot of clients and I meet contractors there. I can form partnerships with them and join my knowledge with theirs so that we can work as a team.”

Judive’s partnerships with other businesses have allowed her to offer clients package deals. When a client has a need that she cannot meet, Judive has people to rely upon who can fill in the gap, allowing both businesses to capitalize on opportunities that might otherwise be lost. She detailed one such situation in which her networking managed to turn a meeting with a client that didn’t go so well initially into a sale.

“I felt that the client didn’t really trust me,” she said. “I understand why. He wanted measurements; to know how I was going to do the job. I gave him some measurements, but I saw that he wasn’t happy. So, the next time I went, I took my designer and he was amazed.” Despite the client spending most of that second meeting talking to Judive’s designer, he was elated when Judive came back to discuss the project further. “Everything changed because trust was built,” she said. “He saw that I was well supported, that I have a team with me.”

Judive recommends in-person networking for those launching their own business. “The web is good, but you don’t really build relationships online,” she said. “Before I had a portfolio, how could I advertise on the web? When I have more pictures, however, then I can advertise on the web.”

Also thanks to Judive’s networking, Cygne Beton will soon have a website. One of Judive’s business associates is a web designer and will be putting together a site for Cygne Beton in the near future.

In the meantime, Judive does make use of technology on a person-to-person level. She brings her iPad along with her to meetings with clients, which allows them to see the work she and her father have already completed. Nonetheless, Cygne Beton’s cooperative relationships with complimentary businesses are what helped the enterprise to really take off. “I’m building by giving and receiving,” she said. “Building really healthy relationships with other people who do something complimentary to what you do is really the best thing.”

Launching a business is always a significant undertaking, and the risk can be intimidating, but Judive and François have seen it pay off already and Cygne Beton is poised to grow even more. “It was a big decision,” Judive said, “but I’m so happy I did it.”

If you have any questions please contact us.

How to Be Successful with Dry Polymers in GFRC Mixes

As shown in the study The Concrete Countertop Institute published in April 2015, dry polymers perform as well as liquid polymers in terms of flexural strength in GFRC. However, the behavior of the mix can differ in important ways that can make working with the mix challenging if you are not familiar with it.

For example, when I first used the Buddy Rhodes GFRC Blended Mix, (which is an all-in-one mix containing sand, cement, dry polymer, pozzolan, and other ingredients) quite honestly, I didn’t like it because it seemed too thick and difficult to work with. The consistency is very different from a Forton liquid polymer mix, and I had trouble adjusting. What I’ve found is that a couple of things are critical to success with this particular mix:

  • Pre-dosing a superplasticizer
  • Waiting for false set to occur

You may find that mixes using other dry (or liquid) polymers exhibit different behavior. By being aware of the 2 factors above, you can adjust your procedures to work best with your mix.

Recommended Mixing Procedure for Buddy Rhodes GFRC Blended Mix (or Admix)

The order the ingredients are mixed in can have a profound effect on the ease and speed of blending, and quality of the mix. Follow the mixing order outlined below to ensure the mix is blended as thoroughly, quickly and completely as possible. Altering the mix order, or skipping steps may result in a sub-optimal mix that is difficult to blend, may be too stiff (or too runny), and may have poorly mixed ingredients that show up after demolding.

By carefully reading and following the instructions regarding pre-dosing superplasticizer and managing false set, you will be much more successful with this mix.

Note that these instructions also apply if you are using the Buddy Rhodes GFRC Admix and adding your own sand and cement.

Pre-Mix Preparation

  • Mix liquid ingredients together (water, ice, liquid superplasticizer)
  • Blend all of dry ingredients together (Blended GFRC Mix, pigments, dry superplasticizer)
  • Do not blend fibers with the dry ingredients

Either a liquid (e.g Buddy Rhodes WR 420) or a dry (e.g. Buddy Rhodes WR 310) superplasticizer may be added to the pre-mixed ingredients. Choose one or the other based on experience and personal preference.

Superplasticizer Dosing Rates

The following recommended dosing rates are for making a sprayable GFRC mist coat. Use half the recommended dose if a stiffer, hand-packable mix is desired. Adjust dose according to desired consistency.

WR 420 is a powerful liquid superplasticizer optimized and ideal for use in Buddy Rhodes Products. It adds significant workability and fluidity, acts quickly and doesn’t make the mix thick or sticky.

  • Recommended dosing rate: 1 mL per 1 lb of GFRC Blended Mix.

WR 310 is a potent dry powder superplasticizer that adds significant amounts of workability and fluidity, but it can make a mix sticky. WR 310 should be first blended into the dry ingredients to ensure good dispersion and to prevent clumping.

  • Recommended dosing rate: 0.5 grams per 1 lb of GFRC Blended Mix, or 0.11% dose.

Be sure to have a viscosity modifying admixture, such as Fritz-Pak’s Super Slump Buster, on hand to adjust consistency if your mix becomes too runny. This is especially important with WR 310 because it is so powerful.

See this page for more information on superplasticizers and viscosity modifiers.

Mixing Order

  1. In the empty mixing bucket, add:
    1. All liquid ingredients
    2. Half of the pre-blended dry ingredients
  2. Mix until no dry ingredients remain.
  3. If PVA or acrylic fibers are to be added to your mist or face coat, add them to the mix  now and blend until fully dispersed.
  4. Add half of remaining dry ingredients and mix until no dry ingredients remain.
  5. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until no dry ingredients remain.
  6. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bucket.
  7. Mix until all dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

False Set

8. Let the mix rest for 10 minutes to allow false set to occur.
9. Re-mix to break false set stiffness before adjusting consistency.

Adjust Consistency

10. Add WR 420 liquid superplasticizer to adjust mix consistency if necessary. Add it 5 mL at a time and mix well before checking.

Add AR Glass Fibers (Only for backer coats)

11. Add AR glass fibers after the mix has been fully blended and adjusted for consistency. Gently mix to just incorporate the fibers into the mix.

Where to Buy Dry Polymers for GFRC

CCI sells the Buddy Rhodes GFRC Blended Mix, GFRC Admix, and the superplasticizers mentioned in this article – Click here for our online store.

Other brands of dry polymer blends and plasticizers are available from other vendors. Search for “GFRC polymer” or “GFRC dry polymer”. Note that the consistency and false set behavior of these products may be different from the Buddy Rhodes products.

 

How to know when your GFRC mist coat is ready for backer

After you’ve sprayed your GFRC mist coat, the general guideline, under typical shop conditions, is to wait about 10-15 minutes before applying your first coat of backer mix. This allows the mist coat to set up a bit and get firm enough that the fibers won’t push through but still wet enough that the mist coat will bond to the backer coat.

The following video shows you exactly what you’re looking for:

  • The mist coat should be soft, moist and pliable, but not sticky. Touch the mist coat gently with gloved fingers to test it.
  • Mist coat that has been left too long may look the same but be stiff, dry and crumbly. It risks crazing, cracking and delamination.

Note that shop conditions have a huge effect on timing of when the mist coat is ready. Very dry or hot shop conditions will cause the mist coat to dry out or cure very quickly. You must be ready with your backer mix, monitor the mist coat closely, and not leave it unattended.

How to Attach Legs to a Concrete Table

Q: I am about to start building indoor/outdoor concrete tables with square tubular welded frames.  Can you recommend how best to fix the concrete top to the steel frame?  I’m not sure if it’s best to cast some type of flanged nut into the concrete and bolt the frame to it, or try something else.  If there is some hardware that would provide a simple solution, I’d love to know about it.

A: I like to use stainless steel tee nuts embedded in the concrete.

tee-nut

There are a lot of considerations when it comes to attaching legs to a concrete top. Connecting legs to a table is a classic challenge, and solutions to it are seen in all forms of table construction. Different materials require different solutions:

  • Wood legs often require an apron and a stretcher or trestle to keep the legs from wobbling or breaking off if the table is dragged across a floor.
  • Steel legs tend to be simpler, since steel can be bolted or welded to create a much more compact, strong and rigid connection.
  • Concrete is a relatively poor material to make legs out of, since the legs need to be fairly massive to provide the necessary bending stiffness that table legs require, and in order to make a strong and rigid connection to the top.

Designing a table and legs involves a number of choices and decisions; those decisions and choices are both structural and aesthetic and are interdependent. Factors that affect both include top and leg material (steel, wood, GFRC, etc.) are:

  • aesthetics
  • top thickness
  • leg location
  • leg shape
  • weight limits
  • handling characteristics (will this be moved once or many times)
  • seating location
  • etc.

Aesthetics usually drive a design, so I suggest you start there.

The table’s top thickness depends upon the span and what is providing the strength. This decision influences the structural design of the GFRC top itself, especially if the GFRC is expected to be self-supporting (meaning it’s not sitting on a structural frame). It also affects how the top and legs are connected. Thin tops can’t span long open spaces and don’t provide much strength for an embedded anchor, while thicker tops can (and do). A good compromise between strong legs and a thin top would be to weld the legs to horizontal steel beams that connect the legs together and keep them rigid and strong. The horizontal steel beams form a frame that also fully supports a thin GFRC slab. The slab can simply sit on top of the frame unbonded, or it could be glued to it using construction adhesive.

Alternatively, if the legs of the table are separate and bolted to the GFRC top, then the top must be made to be fully self-supporting. This forces the table top to be thicker, which in turn affects aesthetics. In addition, the top must have stout anchors cast into it where the legs bolt to the top (and the leg design must accommodate such a connection method). Stainless steel tee nuts can be used for this connection.

Tee nuts are usually used in furniture made of plywood or particle board. The tee nut forms a solid anchor within the concrete top where a machine bolt can thread into. Each tee nut should be buried at least 1″ into the concrete.

When embedding the tee nut, grease the nut and the bolt threads (I use Vaseline), then run the greased machine bolt into the nut to keep concrete out of the threads. A good tip is to run the bolt through the nut so about 1/4″ of bare thread extends beyond the base of the tee nut. This will create a pocket inside the concrete and will keep the bolt from bottoming out (and possibly creating a blowout). Use a jig, as shown, to keep the nut and the bolt hole perfectly vertical in the concrete.

jig-for-tee-nut-embedding-in-concrete

Q: Can I use monofilament fibers in GFRC?

A: No.

First, let’s understand what “monofilament” means. Fibers can be configured in single strands (monofilament) or bundles (fibrillated). Many types of fibers that are sold in fibrillated configuration have fiber bundles that are designed to disperse in the mix – break up into single fiber strands.

GFRC fibers are different. The fiber bundles are meant to stay bundled (about 200 filaments per bundle with 19mm “fibers”). Each bundle is bonded together so that the filaments remain grouped during mixing. Here’s why:

With monofilament fibers, each fiber is exposed to the concrete’s cement paste and is well bonded to the matrix. While this seems ideal, it creates a composite that results in stiffer, less elastic material.

monofilament-fibers-for-concrete

Monofilament Fibers (image courtesy of www.dmireadymix.com/products/view/reinforcing-fiber)

GFRC fibers, on the other hand, remain in a bundle. This results in a stiffer fiber grouping that maintains the fiber’s orientation even when the overall length gets very long compared to the diameter of the individual fiber filament. Long, stiff fibers (or fiber groupings) are far more effective than long, thin, floppy fibers that fold over and ball up.

fibrillated-fibers-for-concrete

Fibrillated Fibers (not GFRC fibers, image courtesy of www.dmireadymix.com/products/view/reinforcing-fiber)

Fiber Bundle Properties

In addition, the fiber bundles themselves are engineered to create a strong, yet flexible concrete. The spacing between each filament is about 0.1 microns, or 1/10,000,000 of a meter. That’s 1000 times smaller than the average diameter of a human hair! The spacing between the filaments is too small to let cement particles penetrate, but it is large enough to let the polymer enter.

Capillary action draws water and polymer into the dry fibers as they’re mixed into the concrete. By filling the spaces between the filaments with polymer, two things are achieved:

  1. The polymer blocks any mineral growth from entering the fiber bundle.
  2. The stretchy polymer bonds the inner filaments to the filaments at the outside of the bundle.

Only the outside filaments are in contact with the concrete matrix, but the inner filaments are not. This is important because:

  • If the spaces between the filaments were to become filled with rigid crystalline mineral deposits (which occurs during concrete hydration over time), all of the filaments would be rigidly bonded together and the fiber would act as a single, thick fiber bar.
  • Rather, the stretchy polymer allows the inner filaments to move relative to the outer filaments, yet still bear some of the load.

In a way, the polymer and glass fiber filaments create mini bungee cords within the concrete, giving GFRC great flexibility.

The Importance of Surface Area

As explained above, the surface area of fiber which is exposed to the cement paste is important. This is true for a number of concrete ingredients. For example, the surface area of pigment and how well it disperses in the mix are important factors in creating the final color. Surface area is an important concept that plays a role in mix design and adjustments.

Other Considerations about Fibers

Please note, this article discusses only the difference between monofilament and fibrillated fibers. There are many other important characteristics relevant to fibers. For example, depending on the material the fiber is made of, the fiber may be hydrophobic (repel water and therefore have no effect on mix water requirements) or hydrophilic (attract water and therefore affect mix water requirements).

Here are some good articles by Concrete Construction magazine about the broader topic of various fiber chemistries and configurations. While they don’t cover GFRC, they give a good overview of other types of fibers.

 

How to Polish Inside Concrete Sinks

Polishing flat surfaces is challenging enough. You must take care to keep the polisher flat and not gouge the concrete. What happens when you try to polish inside curves such as a sink?

Actually, polishing inside a sink is easy – if you have the right equipment. You can use the same polisher and the same 5″ diamond pads you usually use (assuming the diamond pads are flexible). The difference is in the backer.

The backer pads that come with a polisher when you purchase it are usually a hard rubber. They are supposedly flexible, but they are designed for granite, not concrete. They are too hard, and instead of flexing will just scallop the concrete.

In order to polish curved surfaces, such as inside sinks, you need a very flexible backer. By using a very flexible 4″ backer with 5″ diamond pads, you are able to polish tighter curves without risking gouging the concrete.

Ultra Flexible backer pad

A thick foam 3″ backer does not flex uniformly. Where the larger pad meets the edge of the backer, there is a pressure point that gouges the concrete. A small, 3″ backer also tends to lose grip on 5″ pads.

Our very thin, very flexible 4″ backer securely grips the polishing pad and allows it to flex more uniformly and produce a better quality surface. The backer is available for purchase here: www.concretecountertopinstitute.com/product/ultra-flexible-backer/

Ultra Flexible backer and 5-inch diamond pad

Keep in mind that not all diamond pad are flexible enough to handle this. Make sure that your diamond pad will flex and not crack.

flexible diamond pad for concrete

Here is a video that shows me using the backer to polish inside a concrete sink:

In this video, I explain how to position the backer as you move along curves, to avoid gouging:

This backer makes it very easy to get a high quality finish and/or expose aggregate inside a sink. It is available for purchase here: www.concretecountertopinstitute.com/product/ultra-flexible-backer/

Here’s the finished mother of pearl sink:

mother-of-pearl-river-in-concrete-sink

Pixie inspected and approved the sink:

Pixie Minidoxie inspects integral concrete sink vanity

Here is another integral sink vanity we made in class (shown wet):

blue-concrete-sink-wet

Keep in mind, only sinks with smooth curves can be polished mechanically – not hard angles. It is possible to hand sand inside an angular sink with wet/dry sandpaper, but it’s nearly impossible to grind and polish to expose aggregate inside an angular sink.

The Quest for a Pinhole-Free Concrete Countertop Surface

Pinholes are aggravating. These tiny holes in the concrete surface are formed by air bubbles trapped in the concrete. Bubbles become pinholes when they form on the surface of the concrete during casting and when the concrete is ground or honed. When creating something like a kitchen countertop, pinholes are especially undesirable because they can allow food residue to collect inside and develop bacteria.

In a traditional wet cast concrete mix, vibrating the mix might get rid of them. In a sprayed GFRC mist coat, the energy of spraying might eliminate all air and prevent pinholes. In a pourable GFRC mix, it might be dense enough to be pinhole-free.

The key word in all these sentences is might. Sometimes, you are left with that one pinhole, staring you in the face. Recasting is an extreme measure. What if there were an easy way to fill in that pinhole?

There is. It’s called grout. (I call it grout, many people call it slurry, and Buddy Rhodes calls it paste and is a master of manipulating it into works of art. But more on that later.)

Grout Recipe

Grout at its most basic is concrete taken to the extreme – just cement and water, hold the sand and aggregate, please. In reality, you need to use another important ingredient to make grout practical – bonding agent. Here’s a tried-and-true grout recipe:

  • Blend together:
    • The same ratio of cement and pozzolan you used in your concrete
    • The same % of pigment to cementitious materials you used in your concrete
  • Add bonding agent diluted with water, until the mixture is the consistency of peanut butter
  • Spread on with your (gloved) hands or a plastic spatula
  • Adjust the consistency by adding more bonding agent or more dry mix as needed

Bonding agent is essentially glue. Without it, the very thin layer of grout you spread onto the concrete is prone to drying out and therefore not curing properly, and worse, likely to flake off the concrete. Bonding agent will make that thin layer of grout stick to the concrete and stay there.

Various types of bonding agents will work. Acrylic additives such as Acryl 60 or Buddy Rhodes Acrylic Additive are excellent bonding agents. GFRC polymer can also be used. It is mainly a curing agent, but it also functions as a bonding agent.

Buddy Rhodes Acrylic Additive bonding agent for grout

The amount you should dilute liquid bonding agents with water depends on the bonding agent. The Buddy Rhodes Acrylic Additive is the easiest since it can be used as-is without dilution. Some off-the-shelf acrylic admixtures are already dilute enough to use straight, others will need even more dilution.

The end consistency of the diluted bonding agent should be similar to whole milk. For example, before I started using GFRC, I used Acryl 60 in my grout, and I found that diluting it 1:1 with water yielded excellent results. After I started making GFRC, I used my GFRC curing polymer in my grout. Since it has a higher solids content (51% in my case), I needed to dilute it more. A 2-parts-water to 1-part-GFRC curing polymer worked very well. Precision isn’t critical, but using too much water can cause the grout to flake off.

Another option for grout is a just-add-water mix by Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products called Bone Paste Plus. It contains cement, pozzolan, and dry bonding agent polymer. To use this mix, you simply add water to achieve the desired consistency.

You may be thinking that I usually advocate extreme precision in mixes, keeping your water-cement ratio low, and never adding water to make a mix more fluid but using superplasticizer instead. I do. And in fact, you could use superplasticizer to make your grout more fluid, instead of adding more bonding agent diluted with water. You could also use accelerator to accelerate the curing rate. Grout is a kind of concrete, after all.

But grout is filling only small holes that do not affect the structural performance of the concrete. As long as it sticks and you are able to hone it off in a reasonable amount of time, it’s fine.

The grouting procedure differs depending upon whether the concrete has a cement-cream finish or if it has been honed or ground to expose the sand-grains or larger aggregate.

Grouting Procedure

  • Use a food processor to premix all of the dry grout you will need to the entire project using the grout formula above. Store the dry grout in a labeled, air tight and moisture-proof container.
  • Dilute your bonding agent with water until it is the consistency of whole milk.
  • Wet-mix a small amount (about 1 cup) of grout at a time. Add just enough diluted bonding agent to make a paste that has the consistency of peanut butter. Stiffer is better, since it’s easier to work a stiff grout mix into the small holes.
  • Mist or spray water onto the concrete with a spray bottle. Remember that wet or very moist concrete will cause the grout to turn to a liquid, possibly diluting the grout and causing shrinkage. Do not let water collect in the air voids.
  • Spread the grout paste onto the entire surface of the slightly damp concrete. Do not apply grout to individual pinholes. It’s important not to spot-grout but to grout the entire surface of the slab. If spot grouting is done, dark grout “shadows” or spots will be visible after sealing.
  • Work the grout with your fingers (wear rubber gloves), plastic putty knife or rubber float. Force the grout into the holes, but make sure you scrape away any excess from the concrete; this way you can check to be sure all the holes are filled.
  • Deep or large holes might require mounding excess grout over them to counteract shrinkage. You can mix sand into the grout when filling larger voids. This helps make the filled-in void look more like the surrounding concrete. More on this later.

For ground or honed surfaces: You can leave a thick film of grout on the surface, because you will later use a diamond polisher to hone it off.

For cream finishes: Do not leave any buildup or residue on the surface. There should only be a light haze remaining. Physical buildup or residue that hardens will be difficult to sand off, and aggressive sanding will likely cut through the fragile cement cream layer, ruining the finish.

  • Let the grout air dry 4-6 hours or overnight (if using Portland cement). The hardened grout should be well bonded to the concrete and not be soft or crumbly.
  • Hone off the hardened grout.

For ground or honed surfaces: Using a 200 to 400 grit resin bond disc, hone the excess grout off the concrete. The goal is to remove all the excess grout and to smooth the surface, not to remove any more concrete. Removing more concrete will open up new pinholes and voids.

For cream finishes: Use 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper and lightly hand sand to remove the grout haze, being very careful not to cut into the cream layer. Do not use diamonds, either a hand pad or a diamond polisher.

  • If there are any holes remaining, repeat the grouting process. 

applying grout

Grouting Considerations

One issue I find with Portland cement based grouts is that they take too long to achieve enough strength and hardness to allow me to hone them off quickly without tearing out or eroding. Grout that is too soft will not mill flat. Depending on temperature, you may have to leave Portland grout on for 4-6 hours or even overnight.

The solution is to use rapid setting CSA cement in your grout. This allows you to hone off the grout within 1 to 2 hours. (Remember, no pozzolan is necessary when you use CSA cement.)

Be aware that if you’ve used Portland cement in your concrete, the color of your grout may differ because the color of CSA cement differs. Regardless of your cement, the color of your grout will be at least slightly different from the color of your concrete because there is no sand in it. The visual difference will be even greater if you’ve exposed sand grains or aggregate in your concrete surface.

An important rule of grouting is that it is best to grout the entire surface, not to spot grout. If you smear a large circle of grout around a pinhole, let it cure, then hone it off, the appearance of the entire circle, not just the pinhole, may be changed. In the case of a single pinhole, try to apply the grout to as small an area as possible.

The appearance change happens for the same reason that leaving a can of soda or any object on top of a slab overnight causes a dark mark: You’ve changed the moisture level in that area, which causes the concrete to cure differently in that area. That mark is permanent.

Filling Larger Holes

Sometimes you may need to fill larger holes with grout, and if your concrete surface has exposed sand grains, the appearance of the grout will be too different from the appearance of the concrete. The solution is simple: Add sand to your grout. You wouldn’t use sand for smaller pinholes because it would make it too difficult to get the grout into the small holes, but for larger holes, sand will make them easier to fill and closer to the appearance of the surrounding concrete.

However, if you find that you are having issues with large holes in your concrete when you were trying to achieve a uniform look, you need to evaluate your mix and casting methods to determine the root cause of the problem.

In some cases, large voids are not a problem, but a deliberate design choice, such as in the Buddy Rhodes pressed technique. In this technique, you are not trying to match the surface appearance of the concrete in order to hide the voids, you are accenting them on purpose.

This is Buddy Rhodes’ signature technique, which he will be teaching in the upcoming Advanced Mold Making and Finishing Techniques class in Spring 2016. Please check the class schedule page for dates and details, to be determined.

Buddy Rhodes pressed techniqueBuddy Rhodes pressed look

Partnership between CCI and Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products

I usually write about either a technical topic or an alumnus. This is a news article, because I have exciting news!

I’m pleased to announce that CCI has partnered with Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products (BRCP). CCI will develop new online and hands-on training, as well as expanded documentation, instructions and technical data sheets for BRCP. BRCP will handle CCI’s material and equipment orders, giving CCI customers a more streamlined ordering and fulfillment process.

BRCP is the only products company that recognizes that excellent, engineering-based training and documentation provide a firm foundation for creativity, and that’s what I’m going to help provide. They also have the widest range of choices for creative concrete professionals, from a just add water mix to the raw materials to make your own mixes.

I have used Blue Concrete pigments (now part of Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products) since 1999. An article about Buddy is what originally inspired me to make that very first concrete countertop in 1999. More recently, through the rigorous testing I’ve performed, I am impressed with the quality and performance of the new products such as the GFRC Admix and the new Reactive Polyurethane Sealer. I am confident in standing behind the BRCP products as an additional choice for creative concrete professionals, and in working with the passionate and upstanding folks over there such as Jeremy French and Buddy himself.

CCI’s training and membership programs remain the same, with some future additions. I remain dedicated to all of my alumni and members, regardless of which products anyone chooses to use, and will continue to provide sound, engineering-based advice. I look forward to continuing with all of you on the journey to success with creative concrete, as both BRCP and CCI continue our commitment to the growth and success of creative concrete artisans.

10 Reasons GFRC is Better than Precast

I’ve published a lot of articles about GFRC, now it’s time to bring together in one place all the advantages that GFRC offers:

1. It’s lighter.

Because GFRC can be made 1/2 the thickness of traditional precast, it is automatically 1/2 the weight. And, because GFRC does not use stone or as much sand, which are denser and heavier than cement, the weight savings is even greater.

Precast is typically made 1.5″ thick and weighs 18 pounds. 3/4″ thick GFRC weighs 8 pounds per square foot.

An 8′ x 25″ panel of precast would weigh 300 pounds, whereas a GFRC panel of the same size would weigh 133 pounds. Put another way, you could make an 18′ x 25″ panel that weighs only 300 pounds.

Here’s a concrete bartop that includes at 16-foot long panel:

Tamika Craan Deco Bton concrete bartop Haiti

Concrete bartop by Tamika Craan of Deco Bton in Haiti

2. It’s thinner.

The effective minimum thickness for precast is 1.5″ because of the strength and the steel reinforcing required. GFRC’s practical limit is only about 1/4″.

curved concrete bench GFRC

3. You can make larger pieces with fewer seams.

Instead of breaking a kitchen up into 8 foot long slabs that each weigh about 300 lbs, with GFRC you can make the slabs as long as possible.

Most kitchens don’t have sections of more than 20 feet. The only limiting factor is whether the slabs have to be carried around any corners or up stairs.

4. Fewer people are needed to handle slabs.

Two strong men can handle a 300 pound slab. Not so when you approach 500 or more pounds.

Imagine trying to install an 18-foot long precast panel. At 675 pounds, you would need either special equipment or 5 or more people to handle the load, at risk to their backs and their safety.

GFRC reduces the number of employees and the labor costs needed for your business.

lifting GFRC concrete desk

5. It allows faster turnaround.

Because GFRC has high early strength, in part provided by the fibers, it can be demolded quickly. Most GFRC projects can be demolded in 24 hours. In general, traditional precast projects should stay in the molds at least a couple of days.

Faster turnaround means you can do more projects and bring in more revenue.

6. There’s less need for large steel casting tables.

Because GFRC is light and fast, most projects can be cast on more modest tables that simply need to be flat and level and reasonably strong.

With precast, a much larger proportion of projects reach the weight that requires very strong steel casting tables.

Many established GFRC pros have large steel casting tables, but those just starting out can complete most projects without the need to invest in such a table.

7. There’s less likelihood of cracking.

Because of GFRC’s strength and toughness, it can take a lot more abuse before it cracks. GFRC can even bend!

bending GFRC concrete desk

8. No separate reinforcing is needed.

For most projects, the GFRC itself provides all the reinforcement needed, via the AR glass fibers in the backer coat.

Some applications require the addition of AR glass scrim, but this is thin and easy to place between layers of backer.

9. No vibration is required.

Achieving a pinhole-free surface is easy with GFRC. By spraying the mist coat, you automatically impart enough energy to drive out any air bubbles.

10. Complex 3-dimensional shapes are easy.

If you can build the mold for it, you can make it out of GFRC.

Even shapes that seem difficult because of the spraying angle can be created by clever assembly of the mold. For this table base, I created 2 molds, sprayed each, then brought them together before hand applying backer.

concrete table with cube base Cayman Islands

GFRC provides many advantages to creative concrete professionals, allowing them to be more creative and ultimately be more successful in their businesses.

I offer a variety of hands-on GFRC Training and video GFRC training as well as GFRC Equipment and GFRC Materials, also available in convenient kits. See also this index of all of the free GFRC information I’ve published.

Concrete Countertop Mix Ingredients and Admixtures

In a previous article, I explained basic principles of concrete countertop mix design, such as the role of sand, cement, water, water-cement ratio and aggregate gradation. Click here to read that article and view the videos.

In this article, I provide details about two important specialty admixtures for concrete countertop mixes: superplasticizer and viscosity modifier. These admixtures work hand in hand to create the right mix consistency without compromising strength by adding water.


 

Superplasticizer (High Range Water Reducer) for Concrete Countertop Mixes

Polycarboxylate superplasticizers are a very powerful type of high range water reducer. This video shows how adding a small amount of a powerful water reducer, instead of water, can take a concrete mix from dry and crumbly to flowable.

Here is a video that demonstrates the dramatic effect superplasticizer has on mix consistency, then explains the science behind how it works.

 

The video uses a powdered superplasticizer, BASF’s Melflux 2651, in order to demonstrate that it is not the liquid in the superplasticizer that causes the increase in slump. Melflux 2651 is very difficult to find in reasonable quantities for a concrete countertop maker. Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products offers a similar powdered superplasticizer. However, powdered  superplasticizers are extremely powerful and very easy to overdose. For that reason, we recommend and sell a liquid superplasticizer, ADVA Cast 555.

Recommended Product

Water Reducer ADVA555ADVA Cast 555, manufactured by Grace and packaged by Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products, is a powerful high-range water-reducing admixture (superplasticizer) based on the next generation of polycarboxylate technology. ADVA Cast 555 is designed for use in precast, ready-mix and self-consolidating concrete (SCC) applications, and it is excellent for use in GFRC.ADVA Cast 555 provides excellent early compressive strength, faster setting strengths and fluidity in mix designs with substantially reduced water content.

Click Here for details of how to dose and use this superplasticizer, and to purchase it.


 

Viscosity Modifiying Admixture (VMA) for Concrete Countertop Mixes

The following seminar excerpt explains what viscosity modifying admixtures do. VMAs are used to reduce the slump of concrete, essentially performing the opposite of a high range water reducer (superplasticizer). They also help prevent segregation in aggregate-based mixes.

 

Recommended Product

Fritz-Pak’s Super Slump Buster is an easy to use, powdered viscosity modifying admixture (VMA).It is available in 8-oz bags, which is enough for dozens of average concrete countertop projects. VMA should not need to be used for every project, as explained below.

The manufacturer sells Super Slump Buster only in cases of 60 bags. We sell it by the bag.

 

Click Here for details of how to dose and use this VMA, and to purchase it.

 

Taking a Chance with Custom Concrete Designs

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs in Leominster, MA has a business that’s been steadily building steam since he attended The Concrete Countertop Institute.

Formerly a flatwork concrete contractor, Gillis has been working on artisan concrete projects for major designers in the area he services.

Gillis is currently working on the home of a well-known contractor who has built properties for famous athletes in MA. The home will be part of the Wellesley Kitchen Tour.

“Three thousand designers per year are going to walk through the house. They gave me a master bath, a Jack and Jill bath, a half bath, and a six-foot bar downstairs, all in the same house,” Gillis said.

Gillis has put a lot of effort, and creativity, into building OASIS Custom Concrete Designs. He went to work right away after getting his education at CCI.

Getting Started

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

Gillis attended the Pro GRFC with Fabric Forming & Fire Pits class in April 2014. He found the curriculum at CCI to be a bit overwhelming at first, even with many years of experience in concrete work. Not one to back down from a challenge, however, he finished his classes, bought a starter kit and the tools to go along with it and spent the first eight months of his career as a concrete artisan working out of a very modest space.

“I went home and bought a 20’x10’ carport for $300 and that’s where I started,” he said.

By the end of the eight months, he was ready to move to a bigger space.

“I ended up in a building that was owned by a master cabinetmaker,” he said. The cabinetmaker was impressed with Gillis’s pieces, an opportunity that Gillis made the most of.

“I figured I might get some work from this guy,” Gillis said. “Next thing you know, the first week I’m here he’s bringing people up.”

The networking turned out to be a huge boon for Gillis. In addition to the cabinetmaker, Gillis shared the space with carpenters working with reclaimed wood and a variety of other tradespeople. After they passed word about his work to their clients, he found himself getting offers for more projects.

One of the people he was put in contact with had been looking for a long time for someone who could provide concrete countertops. Gillis, because he had worked hard to get his name out, ended up getting that client, which has turned into a lot of projects for OASIS Custom Concrete Designs.

Gaining a Reputation

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

The Showroom Piece

As Gillis picked up more work, his momentum kept growing.

The work Gillis did in a client’s bathroom caught the eye of a tile showroom owner in Newton, MA, a wealthy area of Boston. The shop owner expressed an interest in displaying Gillis’s work.

“I brought him a sink and he put it right by the door in his showroom. If it’s not the first thing you see going in, it’ll be the last thing you see going out,” Gillis said.

He’s also gotten to take his work across the country, delivering a fire pit to a couple in Yuma, Arizona.

The couple happen to both be officers in the Marine Corps. “I’m sure they keep good company,” Gillis said, noting that other military officers might see his work and want a fire pit of their own. He branded the piece, so anyone who sees it will know who to ask.

OASIS Custom Concrete designs has a very detailed Facebook page. Gillis features his work on the page, along with photos and videos of his processes. He currently has several reviews—all five stars—and a following that interacts with his page. He even held a contest to rename some of his sinks, with the winner getting a pair of custom candleholders.

Gillis also networks with other concrete countertop artisans online and regularly gets offers to pick up projects doing flatwork.

“I’m really only sleeping when I fall down in a soft area,” he said.

Though Gillis is accustomed to working with a large crew, his concrete countertop business is a much different endeavor.

“I’m a one-man army,” Gillis said of his work style. “I try to challenge myself, no matter what I do. I try to take on as much responsibility as I can. That’s just who I am.”

Advice for New Artisans

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

Asked what advice he’d give people just starting out as concrete countertop artisans, Gillis said “You’ve got to be confident, because it works. All these other businesses prove it works.”

Formal education also proved to be vital to his success.

“Getting paid education is key,” he said. “Like going to CCI with Jeff and Lane. I don’t think I could have learned it any better than what they taught. The technique you learn at CCI; that’s where the highest end of this trade comes from,” Gillis said. “Jeff’s amazing,” he added, “as is Lane.”

Gillis noted that the skills he learned at The Concrete Countertop Institute were foundational. “CCI is the basic institution for learning this trade,” he said.

Gillis had explored other options for business, but is more than happy with working as a concrete countertop artisan. It was a big change in his life, but one he’s embraced. He highly advised being persistent and not being afraid of taking a chance.

“The only way to make a change is to take a chance,” he said. “The only way to make the change work is to be confident in the change, otherwise you fail and you quit. There is no failure; you only learn. You only fail when you stop trying.”

Building on a Good Reputation

A bathroom remodel by John Cassidy of MP&R in Denton, MD, an alumnus of The Concrete Countertop Institute

John Cassidy of MP&R in Denton, Maryland has been improving people’s living spaces for almost twenty years. He recently added concrete countertops to his repertoire.

Like many of the students who come to The Concrete Countertop Institute, his interest was born out of wanting to improve his own home.

Cassidy and his wife looked at DIY sites and made their first concrete countertop together. “I looked at that and thought ‘I could do that for business, too.’ So, I got the training and set up a shop.”

In addition to concrete countertops, Cassidy provides complete bathroom and kitchen remodels, custom cabinetry and more.

“Basically everything except for the electrical and the plumbing and the HVAC,” he said.

While his remodeling services have been the mainstay of his business, concrete countertops are becoming more popular. Cassidy is one of the very few concrete countertop artisans near Denton.

“When I started, the biggest reason I decided to do it was I looked around and the closest places I could find that did concrete countertops were four hours away,” he said.

An Adaptable Professional and an Adaptable Material

Cassidy’s broad range of skills have proven useful in running a business. The flexibility inherent to concrete plays into that.

“There are a lot of different things you can do [with concrete]. I’ve got four or five different custom moldings that are things you couldn’t possibly get with granite. You can inlay just about anything that won’t get damaged by the moisture from the concrete to personalize it even more.”

Cassidy explained how an entire space can be unified by customizing the concrete to go with existing features in the room, such as the decorative elements on trim and door molding.

“You can actually use the same design and make a mold so you can have that on the edge of the countertop, too, and make it all work together. I did a countertop where I had an Italian ivy design built into the edge. You can see and feel it on there.”

The featured images show a bathroom that Cassidy completely remodeled. The homeowner wanted a Moroccan theme, which evolved as the project went on. The end result incorporates several creative elements, including the LED inlays, tile and, of course, the custom concrete work shown in the pictures.

Studying at the Institute

By John Cassidy, MP&R

When Cassidy came to The Concrete Countertop Institute, he didn’t have a great deal of experience working with the material, aside from “pouring concrete to hold up fence posts,” he said.

“When I went there pretty much everybody except for me and another guy—who was actually a helicopter pilot up until that time—had a lot of experience with concrete. A couple of them already had countertop businesses and were looking to further their education.”

Cassidy’s skills in making molds, however, did prove very useful during his studies. He said that any skills one has will be applicable, and that having experience beforehand isn’t necessarily the most important factor involved in learning to work with concrete countertops.

“I think the biggest thing with the concrete is being creative,” Cassidy said. “Because if you’re not creative, you’re just making a plain slab of concrete.”

As for the classes, Cassidy said that, once he got into the program at The Concrete Countertop Institute, “Jeff was very thorough about explaining everything, right down to the smallest detail. He makes it pretty easy. I thought he was a very good teacher; I was very happy with the class.”

Cassidy acknowledged that there is some creativity that can go into granite countertops, but that concrete wins out. “They can’t do inlays, or the custom edges,” he noted, “to be able to do that stuff, for me, that’s where that creativity comes from and where it’s used.”

Cassidy works with his customers to come up with designs, taking their ideas and offering even more personalized options if they’re interested.

Advice for Those Starting Out

john-cassidy-custom-concrete-bathroom-4

Cassidy likely has a different situation than many people starting out in the concrete countertop business. He has already built and sustained his business largely on word-of-mouth advertising and is in the process of developing a web presence. He already has a listing on The Concrete Countertop Institute’s Find a Professional page.

For those starting out, he advises making sure that one’s customers are happy, which can result in word-of-mouth recommendations.

“To me that’s always been a big thing, because that’s how I work,” he said.

Relying on his reputation, in fact, has helped him to stand out from competitors, even when his market was saturated with other service providers.

His commitment to customer service is demonstrated in the bathroom pictures. He actually built two vanities for the project.

The first vanity constructed for the featured bathroom  remodel.

The first vanity constructed for the featured bathroom remodel.

The second and final vanity for the bathroom, built to replace the first which the customer felt was "too busy."

The second and final vanity for the bathroom, built to replace the first which the customer felt was “too busy.”

The first vanity incorporated turquoise rivers but, when it was completed, the customer felt it was too busy. Cassidy built another for them, shown in the pictures.

“In the end, they were happy that I didn’t complain and I got paid for both of them, so it didn’t hurt me at all,” he said. “Just making sure the customer got exactly what they wanted made me happier about it, and that got me other business.”

Concrete Countertop Mix Design Principles

Here’s some information to help you understand important, fundamental principles of concrete countertop mix design that will help you be successful with make-your-own concrete countertop mixes. Learn about water-cement ratio, how admixtures work, and much more.

 

How Concrete Works Seminar – primary ingredients (18 minutes):

 

 

Admixtures Seminar – secondary ingredients (3 hours):

Did you like what you learned in just 18 minutes in the How Concrete Works seminar? Then click here to get FREE access to the 3-hour seminar “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Admixtures for Concrete Countertops”.

 

Mix Designs

We offer make-your-own mix designs for GFRC and precast, with calculators that remove all the math. These are strong, engineering-based mixes used for years by professionals all over the world. Our precast mixes achieve compressive strengths of over 4000 PSI (27 MPa) in 1 day, 6200 PSI (42 MPa) in 3 days, and 8200 PSI (56 MPa) in 7 days.

Click here to view our available mix designs.

mix calculator

 

 

Basic Materials and Tools for a Concrete Countertop Shop

A concrete countertop shop requires several different types of equipment layed out in different areas: woodworking tools for mold building, material storage, concrete mixing equipment, wet processing area and sealing area. Click here for an article that explains how to lay out those areas of specialty woodworking and concrete equipment.

In addition, you will need lots of small items such as rubber boots, gloves, safety glasses, buckets, etc. The list below explains all of these miscellaneous items as well as some basic materials and tools. Almost all of these are available from home centers or contractor supply stores. Visit the Shop Supplies and Equipment secton of the CCI online store for the specialty items.

(This list does not include mix ingredients (other than cement and sand) or specialty equipment such as mixers and polishers. For information about those items, see the corresponding section of the Product Guide.)

BASIC MATERIALS

  • Portland cement: Ordinary (Type 1) white (preferred) and/or gray. White cement is preferred and can be the sole cement used. Make sure gray cement does not have fly ash or pozzolans blended into it. Store in a dry, dehumidified area on a pallet or off the ground. Minimum 4 sacks of each (about 376 lbs).
  • Sand: Dry, fine, clean, screened silica sand with a mean particle diameter ranging from 0.3mm to 0.5mm and a maximum particle size of 1mm. Fines should be limited to a maximum of 2% passing a 0.15mm sieve. Ideally this is a #30 screen silica blasting sand. The sand should meet the following composition: Silica – 96% -100%. Loss on ignition, clay and organic matter: 0.5% maximum, each. Light tan/white colored sands are best for greatest color versatility. Minimum 500 lbs.
  • Forming material: 3/4″ thick melamine coated particle board. 4’x8′ sheets. Minimum 8 sheets.
  • Form release agent: Melamine does not require form release agent, but if you use fiberglass molds or steel-topped casting tables, you need form release. See the CCI online store for form release agent.
  • Screws: Wood screws (or drywall type) suitable for fastening particle board. Length should be 1.25″ for 3/4″ material. Torx or square drive preferred. Straight slotted head style is not acceptable. Minimum 200 screws.
  • Silicone caulking: 100% silicone in a contrasting color to the forming material. I.e. if the melamine is white, purchase black silicone caulk. Do not purchase latex, acryilc or any water-based caulk. GE Type 2 silicone works very well. Minimum 3 tubes.
  • Paste wax: beeswax, carnauba wax or a similar blend of soft paste wax for wood. This is not used on the concrete but as a release for the silicone. 1 can is adequate.
  • Acetone: 1 gallon.
  • Extruded polystyrene foam insulation board: 1/2″, 1″, 1.5″ and 2 inches thick, 4 ft x 8 ft sheets. Minimum 1 sheet of each size
  • Double sided tape (for carpets): Get the thin kind, not the thicker foam type. 1 roll
  • Template stock: 1/8″ thick (or some thickness close to that, such as 3/16″) luan plywood. Often sold in 4’x8′ sheets. 5mm floor underlayment works but is a bit thick. Minimum 2 sheets.

SHOP ACCESSORIES

  • Casting table: GFRC usually is cast in purpose-built melamine forms. However strong, flat tables or carts are still necessary to support the forms. Minimum 4′ x 8′, 1 table. Table height should be 30″-32″ off floor. Tables should be flat to within 1/16″ over 8′.
  • Rolling carts: Some sturdy movable carts that can support a form weighing 300 lbs. Height should be around 24 in to 28″. The cart should have swivel wheels each capable of supporting 100 lbs. Ideal cart sizes are 24″ wide by 48″ long and 24″ x 96″ long. Minimum 2 carts of each size. Suggested design: 2×4 frame with 3/4″ plywood work top.
  • Saw horses: 2 pairs capable of supporting 300 lbs.

TOOLS

  • Table saw: Capable of safely cutting melamine. Do NOT buy a small portable saw. Saw must be on legs or a sturdy base. Fence must be capable of ripping 24″ wide (or wider) material. Consider a contractor or hybrid saw. Must have a good rip fence and a sharp blade suitable for melamine. A great blade is a Freud 84 tooth blade, triple chip grind made for laminate and melamine. Suggested blade: Freud Thin Kerf Double Sided Laminate/Melamine LU96R010
  • Miter saw: Capable of safely cross-cutting material like melamine. A sliding compound miter saw is ideal.
  • Cordless drills: For screwing together forms. A set of lithium ion cordless drill and impact driver is ideal.
  • Drill bits for screws: 7/64″ is common for #2 screws. Several driver bits to match screw heads.
  • Jigsaw: For curved cuts. Buy appropriate blades for melamine.
  • Wood router w/ 1/2″ collet: Suggested router: Bosch 1617EVSPK or Porter-Cable 893PK.
  • Flush trim pattern router bit: 1/2″ diameter shank, 2″ cutting length. Suggested: Eagle America #117-1225 (www.eagleamerica.com), or Freud Downshear Helix Flush Trim Bits #42-204.
  • Random orbit sander: With sanding pads grits 120, 180, 220, 320, 400.
  • Squares: Small framing square, speed square (Swanson style)
  • Buckets – LOTS! 5 gallon buckets: 12 (minimum). 18-24 is better. 5 quart: 12 (minimum). 1 quart: 12 (minimum). 9 to 16 oz plastic drinking cups (red solo or clear plastic). 24 minimum.
  • Tape measure
  • Pencils
  • Utility knife
  • China brisle “chip” brushes: Disposable, 1.5″ wide, or similar. Get several.
  • Stiff, nylon grout brush: For cleaning hopper gun, compaction rollers.
  • Heavy duty hand cleaner: Recommend Han-D from Cresset, available in CCI online store.
  • Microfiber cloths: Ordinary style.
  • Sandpaper: Wet/dry silicon carbide type. Grits 220, 400 and 600. 3 sheets of each.
  • Hammer
  • Prybar
  • Rubber boots
  • Rubber apron: Heavy weight.
  • Nitrile gloves: Disposable gloves – 100 count boxsSize L or appropriate.
  • Plastic scoops: Small and large.
  • Margin trowels: Two 2″ x 5″.

 

Index of GFRC Information

I’ve written many articles and filmed several videos on a wide range of topics regarding Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC). This article serves to index and organize all of those articles and videos, helping you to study GFRC in a logical manner.

Videos:

  1. GFRC excerpts video:
  2. FREE 1-hour seminar “Understanding GFRC”:
  3. FREE 2.5-hour seminar “Step by Step GFRC with Mix Design”: Click here.
  4. Complete GFRC self-study video training: Click here.

Further GFRC Training:

  1. GFRC Mix Calculator
  2. 3-Dimensional GFRC Mold Making

Articles:

  1. Introduction to GFRC
  2. Creating concrete countertops using GFRC: mix ingredients, casting techniques, curing and processing
  3. 10 Reasons GFRC is Better than Precast
  4. Understanding glass fibers in GFRC
  5. More about fibers: The difference between AR glass fibers and other types of fibers used in concrete
  6. More about fibers: SCC Backer Mix: Beware of fiber alignment
  7. More about fibers: Will monofilament fibers work?
  8. What does polymer do in GFRC?
  9. Recommended polymer for GFRC: Forton VF774
  10. How to calculate polymer and fibers in GFRC concrete countertop mix designs
  11. Dry Polymers versus Wet Polymers for GFRC: A detailed analysis and recommendation
  12. More information about the dry/wet polymer testing procedure
  13. How to be successful with dry polymers in GFRC mixes
  14. How to embed glass or stone decorative aggregate in GFRC
  15. Case study: Making a concrete sign monolith using GFRC
  16. Case study: When does a GFRC concrete countertop look just like a cast in place concrete countertop (using face coats)

Holy cow I couldn’t believe…

Here’s a great getting started story from DIYer Will Robbins, who completed this outdoor kitchen using the Level 1 Getting Started self-study course:

concrete countertop DIY outdoor kitchen

“Hi,

My counter tops turned out pretty great! Just what I imagined. They are rustic, but that was what we were looking for.

I was flabbergasted at how hard it was to make them. No wonder they cost as much as granite. The materials were relatively cheap like $250+/- here in Denver for everything, but the sheer amount of labor involved was totally unexpected.

Also, they are really f-ing heavy. Holy cow I couldn’t believe how much a slab could weigh. The corner slab weighs almost 400lbs. Yikes.

Thanks for the info it was invaluable and made my first attempt a success…. errrr…..

I actually made the first ‘L’ mold upside down so when I pulled the mold the counter top was backwards. This sent me through the roof.

I tried to smash the slab with a sledge hammer in frustration, but only hurt my hands as the sledge bounced right off and reverberated up the handle shaking my bones. This infuriated me so much I tipped the slab up on end and pushed it out of my garage and succeeded in badly damaging my driveway.

Clearly the formula you provide for making very solid counter tops is correct. I literally could not demo the slab. I couldn’t even crack it ‘throwing’ it around.

I was then suddenly very pleased that the next ones would be super strong and do what I needed them to do.

I think they look pretty cool. Thanks again.

– Will Robbins”


The Level 1 program now includes over 7.5 hours of live action videos, from templating to installation, in addition to the detailed, step by step textbook using a from-scratch mix.

Click here for training

The few specialty ingredients that are absolutely necessary are now available in a DIY Concrete Countertop Kit that makes up to 80 square feet for only about $1 per square foot.

Click here for materials

HGTV Show Featuring Concrete Countertops

Three CCI alumni were recently featured on the television show “Love It or List It”, filmed in Raleigh, NC.

HGTV project team

About the Team

All of the professionals who worked on this special project are graduates of CCI’s Ultimate Concrete Countertop Training (shown from left to right):

Onyx Castings logo

Greg Robbins of Onyx Castings in Okanagan, BC

Click here to read more about Greg.

Onyx Castings concrete fireplace

About Love It or List It

Love It or List It airs on the Canadian channels W Network and OWN Canada and the U.S. channel HGTV. In the U.S., Love It or List It is produced by Big Coat Productions, with whom CCI and alumni coordinated.

According to the Big Coat Productions website, “Love It or List It is a primetime reality series about homeowners faced with the toughest decisions of their life. Will they Stay or will they Go? How far will they go to get their ultimate dream home? Each episode is filled with the stress of major renovations, the temptation of beautiful new real estate, and the fierce rivalry between our designer and our real estate agent; both of them willing to go to any length for the homeowner’s allegiance. In the end, the homeowners must decide do we Love It enough to stay or is it time to move and List It?”

About the Episode

The episode that CCI alumni participated in is described as follows on the HGTV website: “Dave and Sonya have spent 8 years battling a never-ending to do list in their Mid Century home. Graphic designer Dave loves the feel of the house but Sonya is fed up with the issues that constantly appear. Will David find them a functioning home without the to do list or will Hilary make them fall in love all over again by reinventing many of the home’s hotly debated spaces?”

The episode first aired on HGTV in the U.S. at 9:00pm Eastern on June 29. 2015.

Click here for before and after photos of the project and details about all of the companies involved in the project.

 

Here’s a post from the Love It or List It Facebook page where they’re touching the concrete countertops!

Love-It-or-List-It-Facebook-post

About the Project

The team created a concrete countertop and backsplash for the kitchen. The 80 square foot project was a typical kitchen remodel, except that the deadlines were determined by the filming schedule and were quite compressed. The schedule was:

  • Template on Wednesday
  • Form on Thursday
  • Cast on Friday
  • Strip and process on Saturday
  • Seal on Sunday
  • Installation was the following Friday due to scheduling of the other trades

The host of the show wanted a natural gray for the countertop, plus a full height backsplash behind the sink and an end panel on the peninsula. When we templated, the cabinets were a natural wood color, but we knew they were to be painted a dark gray and the walls white. The host provided a gray paint sample.

We discussed various ideas for the backsplash, and decided to make the countertops in a smooth, uniform medium gray and the backsplash in a lighter gray with more of a rough cast look.

Here are some photos of the overall process:

Templating

Templating

Forming

Mixing

Casting

Curing

Finished slabs ready for sealing

Rapid Production using CSA Cement

We were able to cast 80 square feet of concrete on Friday and strip and process on Saturday by using CSA cement from Rapid Set, pictured here.

Rapid Set Cement-All in concrete countertops

We used ice as a set retarder, because the weather was quite warm. Click here for more information about using ice as a set retarder with CSA cement. There are several other articles about CSA cement here.

Creating the Backsplash

To give the backsplash more of a rough cast concrete look, we did not spray a mist coat as with the rest of the slabs. Instead, we hand packed a face coat, leaving fissures in the surface, which we later filled in with a lighter colored grout, to further lighten the color and provide more contrast with the countertop.

Casting the backsplash

Casting the backsplash

Stripping the form

Stripping the form

The texture of the backsplash as cast

The texture of the backsplash as cast

The finished color of the grouted backsplash

The finished color of the grouted backsplash

Collaboration with Creative Concrete Professionals

The project went really well, and we enjoyed having these alumni back in town. Nathan even had an installation of 2 concrete bartops at a local Raleigh restaurant, Taverna Agora. And we enjoyed having dinner at my house and relaxing by the concrete fire pit with a few beers. It was a privilege to work with these three creative concrete professionals. Thank you Nathan, Rob and Carl!

Checking out Nathan's installation at the local restaurant Taverna Agora

Checking out Nathan’s installation at the local restaurant Taverna Agora

Dinner at my house

Dinner at my house

Enjoying a beer by the concrete fire pit in my back yard

Enjoying a beer by the concrete fire pit in my back yard