Just about this time last year, while we were enjoying our last southwest winter, TBG got the idea to make our own epoxy countertops from a friend (hi, Brad T.!) He showed me pictures and videos all about them, and I said, “Nope!” Mostly because I didn’t like the look of what I was seeing. The first examples he showed me were very busy-looking and a bit too artsy or craftsy or something, and they had no place in my grand design scheme. He persisted. I resisted. He became obsessed and started talking about all the things we could epoxy, which turned out to be everything. I humored him and looked at the endless stream of links and videos he shared, and as if you didn’t already know where this was going, we now have epoxy countertops. Why did I relent? The short answer is that we finally found a style I liked. Now for the long answer.
You can make epoxy look exactly like any sort of stone, and I would show you some examples, but all the images I could find on the web are copyrighted, and I don’t feel like dealing with that. You’ve seen stone counters before, though, and you may even have them wherever you are right now, so go look at them and know epoxy can be made to appear just like that. It can also be made to look like real wood. I’m assuming you’ve seen wooden tabletops and such, as well. Epoxy is the clear stuff folks use to make those bottle cap or coin countertops, too. Now, you may be wondering why, if you can get the real stuff, you’d choose to make something that looks just like them. Besides the cachet of having something custom and the satisfaction of doing it yourself, it’s heaps less expensive than the real thing. It’s also extremely durable, and one of the most influential arguments TBG presented was that if we didn’t like it once it was done, we could change it in place and for relatively little cost. Even if we did like it but grew tired of it over time, we could just change it without a major tear-down. Permanence with an out!
We had to wait for the garage to be built, of course. And we had to wait for the cabinet bases to be installed. TBG spent many long hours building the countertop bases out of MDF on the tops and a little plywood underneath one section — 70sf of counter space total, which includes three kitchen surfaces and two bath tops. You can see that he started when it was still t-shirt weather. He made a practice board out of all the actual materials so that we could rehearse making the cut-stone edges we wanted, mixing and applying the epoxy, and assessing the color.
I painted the sample board with a brush, but for the actual project, I rolled the color for the most uniform, flat finish possible. The broken-stone edges were at my insistence. TBG didn’t, at first, want that look, but since I’d acquiesced to doing epoxy in the first place, I had the reins for all subsequent decorative decisions. For the sample board, TBG used a box cutter to chip the edges, and then we applied Bondo. I was the mixer and applier, he followed and tap-tap-tapped to create the contours. Once the Bondo was dry, we hand-sanded it to smooth the sharpness, and then I painted it. Since we hadn’t decided on the finished edges when we started the sample board, the order of things was a little mixed up. Obviously, you’d prepare the edges before painting the whole thing.
The next step, for the look we were doing, was to paint it with stone-speckle spray paint. We were more or less following the method laid out in Stone Coat’s videos, as well as using their proprietary products or recommended ones (like the Bondo.) We had two colors of stone speckle spray, but the darkest one wouldn’t spray properly. That turned out to be fortuitous because we liked the look of just the one. By the time we were ready to pour our test epoxy coating, it was cold weather, and it needs 65o minimum for the epoxy to flow and set properly. I’ll come back to this.
We mixed and poured our practice epoxy at colder-than-ideal temps. It worked well enough for that, leaving us to choose which color we liked the best for the real deal.
I had foolishly thought one of the four colors — the two exterior house colors, the interior door color, and trendy black — would jump out as the obvious choice. The hell of it was that they all looked fantastic. I carried that practice board all over the house, checking it in this light and that light, next to the bath tile, the doors, the little bit of cabinet color that’s installed. I stared and stared and stared at it. I texted the pictures to friends and family, demanding they choose a favorite. I shoved the sample board in the faces of the cabinet guy and the builder and insisted they tell me which was best. I decided on each color a dozen times. We were coming down to the wire, so I had to fall back on some of my previous color decisions. The black looked very smart, and it’s easy to coordinate with anything (like our hardware) but I didn’t really want a black countertop. The gray, which is actually one of the exterior colors and isn’t really gray but reads that way inside, was quite nice. Other than not being able to avoid the gray of stainless steel appliances, though, I’d long ago decided I wasn’t using gray for the interior of a PNW home. The auburn color (the other exterior paint) was the boldest choice, and while it was gorgeous, I was too worried it would lock us into a not-exactly-neutral color for a permanent fixture. The brown, the interior door color, was so, so pretty, and it was my favorite. So I chose the auburn. What now?
Because even though the brown, had I’d been shown that practice board independently and told to choose a favorite, was the one I liked the most, it would be too much brown and would “melt” into the cabinet color. There are three separate surfaces in the kitchen, and I considered making the island different from the main one, which is quite common in kitchen design. In a bigger kitchen, and had we been working with two different surface types, that’s what I would have done. I changed my mind several more times before I drove to the paint store and bought the final choice.
Then the week leading up to the actual pour got interesting. There was a huge wind storm, and we slept in the RV living room due to a waving tree near the back of the rig. After being uncomfortably settled, the park’s power went out. The saving grace, of course, is that Essie has propane for heat and the fridge, so we were good there, but it was a night of listening to that wind howl and waiting to eat a tree.
As often happens after such storms, the next day dawned beautifully clear and bright. And cold. Had we been in the house, we would’ve been just dandy, since our property has no trees (a huge plus when we were deciding to purchase) and our street never lost power. Even if it had, we’d still have been fine because we’ve already gotten a generator and the wood stove will be making an appearance in a future post. If you’ve been counting, since deciding to move back to Washington, the peninsula has had the wettest Spring, the driest Summer, the worst wind storm in over a decade, and then
It snowed. The earliest it had ever done so here in several years. Welcome back, suckers!
Snow in the lowlands here is rarely serious for long, and this wasn’t even serious for short, but the cold was another matter. We needed it warm for our pours, and that was achieved with a variety of space heaters and the sun beating through those southern windows. We also got a boost from the insulation guys who showed up out of order to put in the attic insulation. That would later vex the wood stove installers, but it definitely gave us an advantage.
The edging was all done in the garage to keep the dust out. Dust is the mortal enemy of epoxy.
TBG hoisted them in place in order to cut out the cook top and sink sections. With the main sections in place, TBG draped everything with protective plastic and moved the collapsible saw horses and plywood work surface into the living area to accommodate the drop-down island section and the two bath tops. I painted.
Next, it was time for the speckle spray, and holy moly, we were nervous about that. It requires a light touch and a puff-puff-puff spritz. Too heavy, and you’ll be re-sanding and re-painting. After warming the cans near the space heater (is that safe?) TBG announced, “OK, you’re doing the edges first!” Oh, sure, make me do it!
Beginning with the edges is the proper order of things, and starting with the smaller pieces seemed to be the smartest, and since I’m the shortest, I had the best vantage for edge work. Gang way!
Whether or not you have multiple pieces near one another, you get some over-spray onto the tops as you do the edges. This is expected and okay, but to minimize it on adjacent pieces, TBG held large sections of cardboard in between. When it came time for the tops, it was his turn because he had the height advantage there.
We were pleasantly surprised and relieved that our speckles came out very even. It needed time to dry, and we had worn our running clothes in order to go directly from there for wonderful stress relief.
After our run and a breakfeast, we were back to prepare the tops for the first pour. It was at that point I learned there were two pours. We only did one on the practice board, so I was delighted to learn it all had to be done twice. Anyhow, prepping for the pour involves creating tape dams around every edge and leveling with extreme care.
Mixing the two components requires careful measuring, timed mixing, troweling once it’s poured on the surface, then “chopping” with special brushes, then blow-torching a total of three times to release any air bubbles. There were a few tape-singes along the way, but no great conflagrations. After the third torching, you wait a bit, then peel off the tape to allow the epoxy to roll over the edges. With gloved hands, you work the goo into the crevices of the stone edge, and collect the excess to dispose of. This dripping process takes a very long time, and the wiping and smoothing must be repeated until it’s too tacky to manipulate.
Much settling and leveling will occur on its own, and two days later we were back to start the second pour. The epoxy had dried to a crystal-clear, mirrored surface, and it was mesmerizing. Too bad because you then take very fine-grit sandpaper to it and scuff it all up. It looks ruined at that point, but you need to prepare the surface to accept a second bond, and that means you sand, wipe with 90% alcohol, repeat the taping and leveling, and do another epoxy pour as described above. In another few days it was time for the top coat. You can leave it after the second pour if you prefer the glass-like finish. It was very hard to once again scuff up that perfect surface we’d worked so hard to create — twice — but we wanted a matte finish. One of the reasons is evident in the above photo that shows the sun pouring through the southern windows, and you can imagine the blinding glare a mirrored finish would cause, and trying to keep something perfectly shiny in a kitchen wasn’t on my list of happy things. We both needed and cursed the natural light as we worked.
Once we’d re-scuffed and alcohol-wiped the tops, it was time to finish these bad boys. It was the only part of the process we hadn’t practiced, and we probably should have. The topcoat required another careful mixing of ingredients, a series of paint rollers that first had to have all lint removed with tape, and a quick application. It went very well overall, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the places where only we will know there are imperfections.
All of the finished tops are now fastened into place, and we are hard at work piecing together the backsplashes. There is no great hurry for us to finish them, which is good because our nerves are almost completely frayed, making it difficult to appreciate our blossoming new home and one another. No bueno!
Just after we’d finished the topcoat but before they were put into place, TBG reached the big SIX-OH, and his brother (TBB) and wife (SIL) came over for a visit. They were kind enough to lug over a bunch of baby Japanese-type maples from their own yard, and they helped us do a few small tasks before they treated us to lunch at FnChips.
We all had something deliciously different (SIL = coconut shrimp, TBB = FnChips, TBG = sourdough clam chowder bowl, ME = clam chowder poutine) all served on cute little baking sheets. Afterwards we headed to the refuge to put that fuel to good use. We’d learned a few days prior that TBG’s birthday is climatologically the wettest day of the year in Seattle. We’ll have to see if that holds true for Sequim in the coming years, but this year it did not.
SIL sent us off with a delicious pumpkin roll cake for TBG’s birthday sweet, and they headed out for their long drive back to the east side. It was a wonderfully relaxing break from the mayhem. Many thanks to you both, TBB & SIL!
Happy Thanksgiving to you all, my Faithful Readers. May your tables and hearts be full of much for which to be thankful, large or small.