When it came to a wood stove hearth in our new living room we knew we wanted something that would hold up but was also sleek. Oh, and it had to be affordable and easy. We simply didn’t have the money for a big slab of granite, slate, or anything similar. We also really didn’t want tile. We had been eying dyed concrete for a while for the kitchen counters but decided to give this a go first. Though Andy had poured huge slabs before, we had never poured a small slab…in our house…dyed…in winter.
I’m going to be up front when I say ours didn’t turn out perfectly. We had a dusting issue, which admittedly kind of stinks but things happen, you know? I’ll explain more below. This issue had to do with after it’s poured though, and not how we mixed it. All said, this was a good “test run” so to say about what we can do better if we do concrete counters.
The first thing Andy did was mark out where we wanted the hearth on the floor so we could assess if it fit our needs. We always prop our winter boots next to the stove, and like to stand next to it too on the hearth, so we knew it had to be big enough for more than just the stove.
Once we had a general idea of the layout, Andy cut the wood a little longer than we drew out just to make sure we liked it. We decided we really didn’t want it any longer so he cut the wood to length and adhered a construction grade plastic to one side of the wood to make a concrete form. The plastic would allow the form to release later on, instead of have the concrete adhere to it during curing.
Once we had the form in place we put some painters tape in a level line to the form. Side note here: You will want to keep a wet cloth on hand. As you pour the mix, it may splatter. We had no issues with it dying our wall which was pretty great. Score one for the Sherwin-Williams eggshell paint, it was super easy to clean. If however you are concerned, I would recommend taping up some thin plastic above your pour line to minimize splatters on the wall. No matter what, you should expect some bleeding up the wall. You may be able to wash this right off, you may have to touch up that area of your wall with paint.
We used a scale for weight, versus a measuring cup because it’s important to ensure each batch has the same ratios to have a uniform color. To get our ratios we just followed the directions that came with the dye for how much per pound of cement, and measured it out in a container that I tared to zero before each weighing.
After mostly mixing the cement and aggregate you want to slowly sprinkle in the color while you finish mixing. It was hard to get photos, but the mixing/dying process looked something like this (one of the mixing photos is after we poured a few batches already, ignore that).
Once you have everything mixed pour slowly. We didn’t put a protective plastic sheet up so instead once we realized there were splatters we improvised. As Andy poured I held the cardboard at a few inches back from the tip of the wheelbarrow and a few inches off the ground. Success.
Then came smoothing everything out and running a level over the top to get the water off the top while ensuring a level surface to the slab. Once everything was level we took a sander, minus sandpaper, and vibrated the form and the floor to release any air pockets throughout. This process will also bring water to the surface.
This is where we may have hit our snag. Once we finished vibrating we troweled the surface smooth. The only thing we can think of to cause the dusting was we troweled the water back into the surface layer. There are a few reasons dusting can occur, but the only one that made sense in our setting was excess water being worked back into the surface. Lesson learned.
As the slab cured (concrete is cured through a chemical reaction, not drying the water out) it wasn’t just dark gray, it was black. I mean really, really, black. It sort of grew on us and we really liked it with the flooring we would be putting down.
As it kept curing over the next 48 hours it started getting lighter and lighter. Eventually it cured to a medium gray. While not the dark gray we intended, or the black that we ended up really liking, the medium gray was still darker than a natural concrete slab and will still be nice against the reclaimed pine floors we’ll be laying.
It was about this time we started seeing an issue. When we ran our finger across the top it came up with a dust (hence the name, dusting). Once the dust was blown away we were left with a patch of rough material. Womp womp.
We put some spray sealer on but realized this wasn’t going to fix the rest of it from dusting. So that said, we’ve come up with a solution. We are going to take a concrete grinder and grind it down. Instead of looking like a slate slab, it will have smooth exposed aggregate which will give it a salt and pepper look. Overall it should still look nice when done, and I’ll definitely blog about it once we do it. In other words, we’re still turning it into something still nice—and we’ve learned something valuable for our kitchen counters if we decide to go with concrete.
When your cake comes out broken, mash that cake in with frosting, roll them in balls, put them in chocolate, put a stick in them and call them cake pops. Just like you intended.
Who wanted a smooth slab anyway?