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HOW TO MAKE CONCRETE COUNTERS LIKE THE PROS TUTORIAL: THE ASHBY SYSTEM – PART 1 – INTRO & TEMPLATING

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DIY CONCRETE COUNTERTOP TUTORIAL

[Feb 2016 Update: If you want to add an integral sink to your countertop, make sure to also check out the tutorial on how to make a concrete counter or vanity with integral sink. Here’s the one I made…]

HOW TO MAKE A CONCRETE COUNTERTOP OR VANITY TOP WITH INTEGRAL SINK

Now back to our regularly scheduled program….

If you’ve been following along for the last few months, then you know that I’ve become fascinated with creating things with cement and concrete. Okay, “fascinated” is a little understated. Obsessed is closer to the truth. So as you can imagine, I was SUPER EXCITED to spend a few days in Las Vegas earlier this month learning how to make concrete counters at Countertop Solutions.

Now, there are several places around the country where you can learn how to work with concrete. (I did my research.) But I selected Countertop Solutions for one reason. I wanted to learn “The Ashby System.” What is The Ashby System? Obviously, it’s a method for making decorative concrete. But there are multiple differences between the Ashby System and other decorative concrete applications. And three particular differences stood out to me. First, the system uses a proprietary method for creating marbleization within the concrete. I’m talking GORGEOUS marbleized concrete that really looks like natural stone. In many cases, it’s even more beautiful. Seriously, I can’t emphasize enough how freakin’ amazing the final products are. And pictures just don’t do them justice.

The second difference that drew me to this course is that this system does not require heavy wet sanding and polishing, which is a really messy pain in the patookus job. As a matter of fact, The Ashby System prefers that you avoid sanding/polishing. The most polishing you do is with a cotton cloth. And I don’t even consider that polishing.

Finally, this technique is all about making the process easy. And easy it definitely is.

So are you excited to learn more? Well, before I get to the tutorial, I would like to introduce you to the man behind The Ashby System: Ben Ashby. He’s not your typical burly-man concrete guy. Sure, he’s got the burly down, but he’s definitely an eclectic type. Ben considers himself more of an artist than a concrete guy. For him, concrete is simply a medium for creating art. And when he designs and builds his countertops or fireplaces or shower installs or anything else, it’s his creative eye that inspires him to make something beautiful from a lump of cement and aggregate. His works are works of art.

Originally from Arizona, Ben started following his dad around job sites when he was 5 years old. At 12, he was working part-time in his dad’s concrete business. As a teen, he picked up the bass guitar, joined his first band and started rockin’ out with his buddies.

BEN 1

That’s Ben on the left. Can you tell he was a child of the 80’s? I have to admit that I couldn’t help teasing him about his glammed out Flock of Seagulls band. Good thing he has a sense of humor.

After college, Ben joined the military and continued making music touring with a USO band. After the military he went back to what he knew best, concrete, and built a very respectful business creating his art, while at the same time experimenting with new design techniques. Through all his experimentation and trial and error, he hit concrete gold and pioneered a new formula to marbleize his concrete works of art.

These days, Ben continues to build beautiful, high-demand concrete countertops and fixtures throughout the country. And, he’s still rockin’ out, too. You can find his modern country band, Rail Town, playing gigs throughout the Mountain West.

BEN 3

 

That’s Ben, still on the left. Find out more about Rail Town at RailTownRocks.com and at Facebook.com/RailTownCountry.

Now, on with the tutorial…

TEMPLATING

The first step in making your amazing new countertop is to create a template. Your template will be your guide for creating the appropriate size and shape form into which you’ll later pour your concrete.

As I mentioned earlier, Ben is all about easy. He makes even creating a template easy. And there’s no tape measures involved. That means there is none of that “measure twice, cut once” stuff. There is only cut once.

how to template concrete countertops

 

The template material is simply 1/4-inch birch or lauan plywood cut to 2 3/4-inch widths.

 

how to template concrete countertops

 

To make the template, simply line your plywood strips along the edges of your cabinet frame and glue together the adjoining pieces with a glue gun.

The front part of the template should line up with the outermost face of the cabinet drawers/doors (not the frame of the cabinet).

If you still have your current countertop on when templating, Ben has an awesome little super high tech tool that he DIYed for accurate measuring….

how to template concrete countertops

 

He cut this from some extra melamine board. Simply cut a rectangle out of melamine or plywood and then cut a notch in it, like you see above. To use this for making your template, simply slide the notch onto the edge of your current countertop overhang until the section below the notch is touching the outer face of your cabinet drawer/door. The part above the notch will line up with exactly where the edge of the front of your template should run.

And here is our completed template…

 

how to template concrete countertops

 

How easy was that?!!

Now depending on the size of your countertop, to make life easier you may need to create it in more than one piece and adjoin the parts when installing. If your countertop has angles, then a good place to create a joint is near an inside angle. So before you put away your template, decide where your joint will be and use a marker to indicate it on your template. Also, mark the following on your template:

– Front, back, inside & outside edges of cabinet

– Where your sink is and the center point of your sink

– If you’re using a decorative mold for your edges (more on this later), when creating your form you’ll need to add extra space to attach your mold, so write AFM or Add For Mold where your molds will be

– Where your decorative edge molds begin and end

– Where you may need a square edge (i.e., next to a stove)

– Where you may be adding an overhang (i.e., for a bar)

Now, here’s the rule for overhangs: 3:1. Your overhang should not be more than 1/3 the length of the part of the counter that is supported by the cabinet or you risk scary bad things happening to your beautiful new countertop and to your foot that may be hanging out below when 200 pounds of concrete come crashing to the floor.

If you do want a longer overhang, that’s fine as long as you add some kind of floor support to it.

Well, that’s it for today folks. Next, check out Part 2 of the tutorial: how to use your template to create your concrete form!

You can also check out photos of the entire process here on my Instagram! (And don’t forget to follow me while you’re there.)

And if you want to add an integral sink to your countertop, CLICK HERE for that tutorial.

Till next time…hasta la vista baby!

 

DIY Concrete

 

Oh, and sign up for email alerts so you never miss a fun DIY…

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[Special thanks to Countertop Solutions for inviting me to sit in on their class so I could bring you this fun tutorial!]

This post linked to some of these totally fabulous blogs and Remodelaholic.

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37 Comments on HOW TO MAKE CONCRETE COUNTERS LIKE THE PROS TUTORIAL: THE ASHBY SYSTEM – PART 1 – INTRO & TEMPLATING

  1. maria @closeothome
    December 22, 2014 at 8:42 pm (3 years ago)

    I am totally impressed with your DIY tutorial . Wow these counters truly look like expensive granite, yet they are concrete. I am sure there are a lot of DIYers out there that will come to this post for advice. Good work.

    Reply
    • Jenise
      December 22, 2014 at 10:16 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you so much Maria. The best part is how easy they are to make. I’m totally looking forward putting some in my mom’s home!

      Reply
  2. rochkirstin
    December 22, 2014 at 9:11 pm (3 years ago)

    People I know who are interested in the process of making things using cement and concrete are few. Creating a countertop the DIY way is really amazing. There’s a lot of measurements involved and you should be sure that all are correct. It sure looked easy in the pictures haha but I doubt I can also replicate the same as a newbie. Like how many hours did it take to finish?

    Reply
    • Jenise
      December 22, 2014 at 10:19 pm (3 years ago)

      Well, since I was in a class there’s was a lot of discussion I can’t count all that time in how long. But the forms can be created and cement mixed and poured all in one afternoon. Then you do have to give the concrete some time to dry before grouting and sealing. But overall it’s a lot easier than I would have ever thought.

      Reply
  3. Paula Schuck
    December 22, 2014 at 10:07 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow, I’m sure your kitchen would look great after that renovation. I hope I have the budget or even the creativity for this project! I would love to have a new look for my kitchen, too!

    Reply
    • Jenise
      December 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm (3 years ago)

      Paula, By doing it yourself you can do your entire kitchen for a fraction of the cost of granite. Even if you went and took the class yourself, your overall costs would still be a fraction of the cost of granite.

      Reply
  4. Michelle Hwee
    December 23, 2014 at 12:03 am (3 years ago)

    This is such a interesting post. I got my kitchen top counters done about 2 years ago. I never knew what was actually going on during renovation though. This is a great post with images, that helps out so much!

    Reply
    • Jenise
      December 23, 2014 at 12:49 am (3 years ago)

      Thanks Michelle! Are your counters concrete?

      Reply
  5. Myrabev
    December 23, 2014 at 12:43 am (3 years ago)

    I must say I am really impressed with this DIY, your work too is a work of art not just ben whose hair looks almost as it did back in the day. He was rocking that flapping of hair thing he had going on. I need to check out his band I am fascinated now, do he sing too or just play guitar anyway i will find out whilst checking the band out.

    Reply
    • Jenise
      December 23, 2014 at 12:52 am (3 years ago)

      Myrabev, You are hysterical! I’ll have to have Ben read your comment. He’ll get a kick out of it. You know I don’t know if he sings too, but I’ll have to check it out now. :-)

      Reply
  6. Regina
    December 23, 2014 at 2:20 am (3 years ago)

    Its great to see all the steps involved in doing DIY countertops. I’m not the handiest human being but your steps are clear and concise enough that I just might be able to pull it off if ever needed.

    Reply
  7. Jamie McG
    December 23, 2014 at 4:21 am (3 years ago)

    I’m so not a DIYer when it comes to home improvement, but this might be a project my husband could do! I had no idea this kind of thing could be done at home without a professional. And how cool that he learned by watching his dad from a young age! I love that.

    Reply
  8. Melanie
    December 23, 2014 at 10:26 pm (3 years ago)

    This is amazing. I’m not sure I could do this because I am so UN crafty. But I sure do admire people that can. This is a gorgeous project. You make it look so easy, but I’m pretty sure you were born with crafting and DIY ability, lol. I can cook, but I cannot touch a hammer!

    Reply
  9. Yvonne
    January 1, 2015 at 11:52 am (3 years ago)

    I like this concept. Do you think that it would work for shower walls. I am in the process of building a new shower and want something different for the walls.

    Reply
    • Jenise
      January 1, 2015 at 7:50 pm (3 years ago)

      Yes, Yvonne, you can do this for the shower walls. Ben has actually done that many times. Here’s a link to one of his showers: http://ow.ly/GG9Yv. He has both poured the concrete as large tiles and as large panels. He pours them to only about a half to three quarter inches thick and adheres them like you would normal tile. Let me know if you have specific questions about doing your shower and I will reach out to Ben for some answers. Thanks!

      Reply
  10. allie
    January 10, 2015 at 2:55 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi Jenise,

    I just saw your tutorial on the concrete counter tops. I will be renovating my kitchen in the next coming months and was amazed at how easy this looks. How heavy are the counter tops and what do you use to make the detail around the edges (rubber, foam)? Also, I’m not crazy about a porous counter top can it be made completely smooth? I may have to fly to Vegas to take this course.

    Reply
    • Jenise
      January 14, 2015 at 1:15 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi Allie! Yes, I definitely say take the course if you can. Not only is it a wealth of information, but it’s also really fun. The countertops are pretty heavy so they’ll require a couple of people to move them into place. I definitely recommend using the Maximizer concrete mix with is a light weight concrete (lighter aggregate). The edges are made using a rubber mold. I think I cover that in part 2 or 3 of the tutorial. And yes, you can make the countertop completely smooth though the grouting process. That’s covered in part 4. Let me know if you have any more questions. :-)

      Reply
      • Shelly
        March 12, 2015 at 12:21 am (3 years ago)

        Where is the class offered? And how do we get signed up for it? Thanks in advance :)

        Reply
        • Jenise
          March 12, 2015 at 12:38 am (3 years ago)

          Hi Shelly! The course is in Las Vegas. All the info can be found on countertopsolutions.net. And if you like these, you may want to also check out the stamped concrete driveway I just finished: http://diyfunideas.com/diy-stamped-concrete-tile-driveway. Let me know if you have any other questions!

          Reply
  11. Barb
    February 26, 2015 at 7:46 am (3 years ago)

    man, I love that

    Reply
    • Jenise
      February 27, 2015 at 12:24 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you so much Barb!

      Reply
  12. Leah Fuller
    April 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm (2 years ago)

    I don’t live near Vegas, would it be worth trying to do this without taking the class?

    Thank you,

    Leah

    Reply
    • Jenise
      April 19, 2015 at 8:38 pm (2 years ago)

      Absolutely Leah! While I love the hands on training of the class, this tutorial is completely comprehensive so all the info you need is here to guide you along.

      Reply
  13. Jeannette Vega
    August 5, 2015 at 11:11 pm (2 years ago)

    I’m interested in doing this in my new home but wanted to opt for a lighter “airy” color. Is this possible with concrete?

    Reply
    • Jenise
      September 23, 2015 at 8:56 pm (2 years ago)

      Hey Girl, You can color the concrete absolutely any color. There is even an additive to turn the concrete white.

      Reply
  14. Eileen
    August 8, 2015 at 10:59 am (2 years ago)

    Thanks for the tutorial! I want to build a bar area in our kitchen island. Can I use wood braces only to support the weight of the cement under the concrete instead of using a cabinets underneath? I don’t want the top to come crashing down on us!

    Reply
    • Jenise
      September 23, 2015 at 8:48 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Eileen, If the size of the bar that extends past the cabinet is more than 1/3 the size of the section that is supported by the cabinet than that bar overhang will need extra support. To be safe, I recommend using a support that extends from the floor rather than a wood brace that’s attached to the cabinet. Hope that makes sense.

      Reply
  15. Kim crew
    October 20, 2015 at 5:41 pm (2 years ago)

    Beautiful results. Excellent details and notes. One comment from a ocd, picky person – that black edge on the corner? I wont recommend putting the black there. The corner is the most likely place that any countertop material would chip. To me, it looks like a chunk broke off and it was repaired. Just my opinion… :)

    Reply
    • Jenise
      October 20, 2015 at 6:47 pm (2 years ago)

      Kim, I think that’s hysterical that you said that. Actually, Ben Ashby put the black corner there because he said it’s his “signature” that he puts on all the pieces he works on. So I won’t tell him what you said. :-)

      Reply
  16. Michelle
    February 9, 2016 at 9:52 am (2 years ago)

    I’m really confused about the little template you made for existing countertops. Can you explain that a little more for me?

    Reply
    • Jenise
      February 11, 2016 at 11:23 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Michelle,
      The template is just an easy way to take measurements of the countertop without having to actually take measurements. It’s particularly helpful if you have a countertop that has multiple right angles. But of course, if you’re more comfortable measuring and transferring your measurements to the melanine board, then that will work too. I actually just finished making a concrete vanity top with a built in concrete sink (will be posting soon) where the vanity is just a rectangle. For that I didn’t use a template because it was very simple to measure, just 27″x24″ rectangle. But if your countertop is more complex, then I definitely recommend the template. Hope that helps and let me know if you have more questions. Thanks!

      Reply
  17. cameron blake
    April 5, 2016 at 7:39 pm (1 year ago)

    I was wondering how much the countertop cost you, everything included?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Jenise
      May 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm (1 year ago)

      Hi Cameron, I have a spreadsheet with all my costs that I’ll send to your email.

      Reply
  18. Sandy
    June 24, 2016 at 4:11 pm (1 year ago)

    Wow, really cool article. We are hoping to tackle a concrete countertop and this helps to encourage us that we can do it!

    Reply
    • Jenise
      June 28, 2016 at 7:11 pm (1 year ago)

      Sandy, You can totally do it! Just need a little planning. But if you’re feeling apprehensive, try making a small 18″ x 18″ square first just to go through the steps. It will definitely help build confidence for when it comes to the real thing.

      Reply
  19. Saskia
    November 27, 2016 at 11:20 pm (10 months ago)

    Your tutorial was brilliant! I had a couple questions about making the box around an integral sink mold — something that wasn’t clearly shown on other web sites — and your photos really helped. I have a question though: I think you said you attended the Ashby class in Las Vegas. Now it looks like all the classes are in Utah. Did I miss something or did that change between when you wrote the tutorial and now? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Jenise
      November 28, 2016 at 12:03 am (10 months ago)

      Thank you Saskia. And yes, they have since moved to Utah.

      Reply

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