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All concrete requires coarse and fine aggregates for proper consistency and strength. In fact, these aggregates are a main composition of concrete. In the application of countertops, the aggregates are of great importance. Obviously, the aggregates must allow the concrete to set up as it should. However, aggregates can have roles in the aesthetics of the concrete countertop, as well. For example, the type of fine aggregates chosen (i.e. sand) can drastically change the color of the finished product. Also, if the countertop is polished, the process can grind into the concrete, exposing aggregates. In this case, aggregate sizes and colors are just as important as any concrete coloring to the final look of the top. Also, if exposing the aggregate, consider using aggregates other than gravel, including broken glass, marble or granite chips, nuts and bolts, etc.
There are a variety of techniques used to achieve a certain color in a concrete countertop. One of the most basic methods is adding a pigment into the concrete mix before the countertop is poured. These colors are often called integral colors or integrated colors. Integral colors add color throughout the countertop, making the center of the countertop the same color as the surface. This is especially important if any grinding or polishing is to occur after the pour. Post-pour colors will grind off, exposing the original color of the concrete. Some post-pour concrete coloring techniques include stained concrete countertops, tinted concrete countertops, and dyed concrete countertops. Each coloring method will result in a uniquely different result. Generally, the same rules apply for concrete countertop pre- and post-pour coloring techniques as they do for regular concrete slabs. Make sure to check rules and tips for each of these techniques before attempting. For example, you will likely want to wait until the concrete countertop is completely cured before applying any stain, which may take up to 60 days for interior applications.
If you can imagine an edge finish, it is available with concrete countertops. The only limitation is the makers ability to create the mold or form. Of course, square corners are an easy and common edge shape for concrete countertops. Also, you can use a router, like those used on granite or marble countertops, to create edge styles including bull nose, rounded corners, triple egg, ogee, and more. There are also a variety of Styrofoam and rubber edge molds that can mimic wood trim, jagged rock edge, and numerous more. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you can create your own molds. Just remember: you only get one try. If you mess up, the only fix is a new concrete countertop.
For every concrete countertop, you will want to use some sort of sealer. Concrete is naturally porous, so you will need a sealer to keep the pores from sucking in bacteria, stains, etc. There are many different sealers. Because this sealer will protect your concrete countertop investment, dont cheap out on this step. Especially for kitchen applications, choose an FDA approved sealer. There are also some that are less hassle than others, so pay attention to details like application procedures and length between reapplying. Sealers can come in many different sheens and even tints. A higher gloss sealer tends to bring out the richness of the colors, while a flat or matte sealer will tone the concrete countertop down a bit. Tinted sealer must be used carefully because if the color is conflicting or if the particle count of the tint is too high, it can completely ruin the hard work you put into the concrete countertop.
If you are really going for a streamline look with your countertop, consider actually molding your sink into the concrete countertop. This will mean you have one fluid piece that accounts for the counters and the sink with no seams. There are even more sink shapes available with concrete than there are with other materials. Again, if you can dream it and build the mold, you can make it with concrete.