Category: Kitchen

How To: Make Concrete Countertops

Concrete is a striking and practical choice for countertops, made from a DIY-friendly materials that enables any confident homeowner to achieve quality results.

How to Make DIY Concrete Countertops


The brute strength of concrete has made it the go-to building material for a variety of such outdoor installations as driveways, walkways, and patios. But there are some who love concrete not only for its high durability and low maintenance, but also for its distinctive look. In fact, probably due in part to its affordability, concrete has become a popular countertop material in both kitchens and bathrooms. What makes concrete an even more budget-friendly option is that—in contrast to, say, natural stone—it’s easy to work with. A proficient or even beginning do-it-yourselfer can make a concrete countertop himself, saving the costs associated with hiring a contractor to do it. If you think you’re up to the challenge, scroll down to read the details of the process. Who knows? Soon you might find yourself making concrete countertops the DIY way!



How to Make Concrete Countertops - Form


Start by determining the dimensions you want the countertop to be. Next, build a form into which you can pour the concrete so that once it dries, the hardened material will conform more or less exactly to your desired specifications. For this type of concrete form, melamine-coated particleboard works best; it’s readily available, inexpensive, and most important, concrete doesn’t stick to it. Caulk all joints in the melamine construction to ensure that the concrete dries with neat edges. If you have only limited experience with caulk, it’s recommended that you outline the joints with painter’s tape. That way, if you misapply any caulking, you can painlessly correct the mistake by just removing the tape. To smooth any imperfections in the caulk bead, run a wetted finger along the silicone before it dries.

Is your concrete countertop going to be inset with a sink? If so, the form you build must include cutouts for the sink itself and (if necessary) for a faucet. To leave room for these fixtures, you can build recesses into the form (as in the picture above). Or you may be able to get your hands on a foam mold of the sink and its accouterments—manufacturers often make these molds available, not so much for DIYers, but for the contractors who do this stuff every day. Yet another option—perhaps the easiest—is to buy a sheet of high-density foam of the same thickness as your countertop. Cut the foam into pieces of the appropriate length and width, then sand their edges and cover the pieces with foam tape (sold at hardware stores). Finally, use caulk to secure the foam pieces into the right positions within the melamine form.



How to Make Concrete Countertops - Mesh


Now lightly coat the melamine frame interior with olive oil; doing so will let the concrete slip more easily from the frame later on. Before you can even think about pouring the concrete, however, one essential step remains: adding reinforcement, in the form of steel mesh. For best results, suspend the mesh at the middle point in the vertical height of your melamine form. How? Drill screws into the outside walls of your frame; connect the mesh to the screws via zip ties, strong ties, or even a bungee cord; then extend the metal wiring across the breadth of the frame. Bear in mind that in order for this approach to be successful, you must be careful to mix the concrete to a watery—but not too watery—consistency. If this all sounds painstaking, consider the alternative: Mix the concrete however you like; pour it to fill the form halfway; set in the steel mesh; then fill the rest of the form.



How to Make Concrete Countertops - Mix


When you’re ready to mix concrete for the project, closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Aim to achieve a thick, oatmeal-like consistency. If you find that it’s too hard to work with, add a little water (but only a little). The wetter the concrete, the more brittle it becomes upon drying. Consider augmenting the concrete with additives that inhibit cracking and shrinking. Known as admixtures, these ought to be readily available at your local home improvement retail store.



How to Make Concrete Countertops - Bob Vila


Pour enough concrete into the form to fill its volume completely, then use your hands to work the material along the edges and into the corners. If you attached the steel mesh reinforcement to the frame itself, cut those connections now. Then proceed to use a flat board, such as a one-by-four, to level, or screed, the concrete. Move the board back and forth in order to smooth the surface and fill low spots. Keep a trowel at the ready, so you can quickly deal with any excess.

Next, use a wood float, raising its leading edge slightly, to smooth the concrete further. Meanwhile, tap the sides of the form gently with a rubber mallet (or grab a partner and shake the form side to side very lightly) so as to create the vibrations necessary to dissipate air bubbles. After letting the concrete harden for a couple of hours, come back to the form and once more run a tool over the concrete surface. This time, reach for the trowel and use it to eliminate any lingering imperfections.



How to Make Concrete Countertops - Remove


Lay a plastic sheet over the concrete to prevent it from losing too much of the moisture it needs to cure properly. Generally speaking, the longer you allow the concrete to dry, the stronger it ends up being. For maximum strength, you can let the concrete harden for a period of weeks, but for this purpose leaving it alone for a few days is plenty. Once that time has elapsed, go ahead and remove the melamine frame, then lift the concrete countertop into position on top of your base cabinets.



How to Make Concrete Countertops - Finishing


There’s a good chance at this point that small cracks or bubbles may be visible in your countertop. If you like them, do nothing. Otherwise, you can perform spot repairs with concrete patching compound. Remember, however, that after applying the patches (and allowing them to dry), you must then sand the countertop with diamond-grit sandpaper (manually or using a power sander). Finally, wash the counter thoroughly, removing all debris and fine particles of dust; let the countertop dry completely, then finish the job by applying a concrete sealer or a coating of food-safe polyurethane (optionally followed by an application of canuba wax).


Stand back and admire those concrete results!

Weekend Projects: 5 “Make Your Own” Kitchen Islands

By cleverly repurposing readily available materials, you can create a convenient and functional kitchen island without the expense of an elaborate custom renovation.

In the kitchen, an island is surrounded on all sides not by water, but by foot traffic and day-to-day household activity. Situated at the heart of the home’s busiest room, a well-designed kitchen island justifies its pride of place in three ways. First, it extends the work surface area, picking up where the countertops leave off. Second, it offers additional (and often much-needed) storage space. And third, the kitchen island makes possible the convenience of casual dining, not to mention the simple joy of just hanging out. Can you reap these benefits without committing to the cost and interruption of a full-blown renovation? Absolutely. Even within a weekend, you can build a DIY kitchen island that enhances both the look and the efficiency of your kitchen. Scroll down to see five favorite DIY kitchen islands.



DIY Kitchen Island - Door Top Table


Here’s a DIY kitchen island with character. Because it uses an old door (discovered in a salvage yard), the project costs very little to complete, but it certainly makes a big design statement. Either cover a solid-wood paneled door with cut-to-size glass, or choose a flush door that can be sanded down to a smooth surface.



DIY Kitchen Island - Shipping Pallet


Shipping pallets are a DIYer’s best friend. Readily available, often free of cost, these plywood structures lend themselves to countless home projects, including this DIY kitchen island with rustic appeal. It takes only three pallets to make this simple table, or you can use six to create a larger piece with an equal degree of charm.



DIY Kitchen Island - Wooden Crates


If your ideal DIY kitchen island offers lots of integrated storage, check out this easy option: A set of wooden crates are painted white and sanded to a patina before being screwed together. Arranged Rubik’s Cube-style, the crates form the base for a polished wood tabletop. Alternatively, top with butcher block or remnant stone.



DIY Kitchen Island - Reclaimed Wood


In this ambitious DIY kitchen island project, scraps of salvaged wood unite in an offbeat patchwork pattern, perfect for anyone who loves the look and history of reclaimed lumber. Add cabinet hardware—hooks, handles, or knobs—not only for the sake of functionality, but also to enhance the mix-and-match design effect.



DIY Kitchen Island - Converted Dresser


To make this homey DIY kitchen island, start with a new or old dresser, first making sure that the furniture stands to counter height, about 36 inches. Paint the piece in a color that matches your cabinetry or otherwise coordinates with your kitchen decor, then finish the job by attaching a suitable wood or stone countertop.

Quick Tip: Hanging Kitchen Cabinets

Follow these steps for best results when you hang kitchen cabinets as part of a remodeling project.

Here are some things to think about when you want to hang kitchen cabinets. Start by hanging your upper cabinets so that the lower cabinets won’t be in the way. Snap a level chalk line along the wall to align the base cabinets. Then establish a plumb line to make sure the top and bottom cabinets line up. Use shim shingles to help you level the base cabinets, then use drywall screws to secure your cabinets to the wall studs.

For more on kitchen cabinets, consider:

Kitchen Cabinets 101
Cabinet Door Styles: What’s Yours?
The Basics of Kitchen Cabinet Installation

How To: Clean Oven Racks

Over time, oven racks become covered with grease, grime, and baked-on food. Here are some (relatively) painless ways to get them clean and shiny again.

How to Clean Oven Racks


Ugh, is there anything worse than a dirty oven? If you use the appliance at all, chances are that baked-on grease, sticky grime, and burnt bits are going to accumulate—maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. While many homeowners are lucky enough to enjoy a self-cleaning oven, that convenience comes with a consequence. Over time, the self-cleaning functionality ends up damaging the racks. To prolong their life, it’s recommended that, when possible, you clean oven racks the old-fashioned way. Fortunately, by using any of the following methods, you can get the job done quickly and with a minimum of hassle.

Bathtub Bliss

• Fill the tub with very hot water, just enough to cover the racks. Add up to 1/2 cup of dishwashing soap (or up to 3/4 cup laundry detergent). Let sit overnight.

• Alternatively, sprinkle baking soda over the racks, then douse them with vinegar. Once the foaming stops, submerge the racks in hot water and let sit overnight.

• In the morning, scrub the racks with an old dish towel to remove grease and grime, and use an old toothbrush to dislodge any baked-on grime. For really stubborn bits, add salt to the toothbrush to make the scrubbing more abrasive. Afterwards, rinse the racks thoroughly before returning them to the oven.

How to Clean Oven Racks - Detail


Trash Bag Treasure

• Place oven racks into an unused trash bag. Add 1/2 quart of ammonia. Seal the bag and let sit overnight.

• Open the bag in the morning; be wary of ammonia fumes. Rinse the racks thoroughly and replace.

Commercial Cleansers

• Because many cleansers produce toxic fumes, if you plan on using a commercial cleanser, clean oven racks outside.

• Cover a work surface with sheet plastic or newspaper. Lay down the oven racks in a single layer.

• Put on rubber gloves, then spray oven cleaner generously onto the racks. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

• Scrub the racks either with a rag or an old toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly with a garden hose before replacing.

It’s a dirty job, but if in your household, you are the person responsible for the task of cleaning oven racks, take heart: It requires only a few common household items, several hours of soaking, and a little bit of elbow grease to get the job done.

How To: Make a Mosaic Countertop

For an out-of-the-ordinary effect to catch the eye in your kitchen, consider installing a mosaic tile countertop.

Here’s a unique way to use ceramic tile for a very unusual countertop. Just break up the tiles into random pieces, use thin-set mortar and create the pattern of your choice. Let the tiles set overnight, and then use ceramic-grade grout with an additive to prevent wide joints from cracking. Let set for ten minutes and wipe with a dry synthetic pad (a wet pad would wash the joints out).

For more on kitchen countertops, consider:

How To: Work with Mosaic Tile
Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Countertops
One-of-a-Kind Countertops: 6 Ways to Make Yours Unique

Quick Tip: Butcher Block

Beloved by many homeowners, hardwearing butcher block kitchen countertops enable you to prepare food without cutting boards.

A butcher block table can help make your kitchen much more efficient. Built to take a beating, butcher block doubles as a functional chopping surface as well as an eating or serving table. Butcher block is often made of hard maple—a dense, strong wood that doesn’t add flavor to what you’re chopping on it. It’s cut across the grain, so it’ll wear evenly without warping. Just keep it clean and oil it occasionally.

For more on kitchen countertops, consider:

Kitchen Countertops 101
12 Wow-Worthy Woods for Kitchen Countertops
Counter Intelligence: Choosing the Right Kitchen Countertop

Bob Vila Radio: Second Refrigerators

You might be surprised at how much energy it takes to keep a second refrigerator running in the garage or basement.

One out of four American homes has a second refrigerator in it, according to the Department of Energy—that’s 30 million extra refrigerators. That second fridge is often an old one that was supposedly replaced by an efficient new model but is still running in the basement or garage.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SECOND REFRIGERATORS or read the text below:

Second Refrigerators


That’s bad news, because a refrigerator is the single biggest consumer of electricity in most homes. Having two of them adds substantially to your energy use, and your costs. Plus, any efficiency gains you achieved by buying a new Energy Star appliance are going right down the drain if you keep the old one plugged in.

If you really need extra cold storage, consider buying a small new one with an Energy Star rating instead of keeping the old full-sized one. And if you kept the old one, so you could take advantage of buying in bulk, consider this: The Department of Energy estimates that it costs up to $750 a year to run your old energy hog, which is probably a lot more than you’re saving by buying those family packs. Need another reason to unplug? Those 30 million  extra refrigerators are using 25 million megawatt hours of power a year. That’s a lot of electricity we could save just by pulling the plug.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

How To: Install Base Cabinets

Careful measurement, adequate shimming, and secure fastening are key to a high-quality, professional-looking cabinet installation.

How to Install Base Cabinets


One fundamental rule applies to the installation of just about anything: If you get the first piece right, the others fall into position. Misplace the first piece, however, and you’re likely to experience a series of headaches as you work towards completing the job. This is as true for hanging wallpaper as it is for laying brick. And it’s a lesson that deserves special attention from DIYers trying to install base cabinets in the kitchen.

Related: 5 Creative Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinetry

Start off by identifying the highest point on the floor over which you plan to install the base cabinets. Do so by drawing or snapping a level line along the adjacent wall, then measure down to the floor in several places. The spot where you measure the shortest distance is where the floor is highest. Later in the process, you are going to shim cabinets up to this height because that’s easier than subtracting height from a cabinet.

Draw a level line on the wall at a height of 34 1/2 inches; this height assumes that it’s a finished floor and that you want a standard 36-inch-high countertop. Next, mark vertical lines to the floor to denote the locations of the different cabinet units. Meanwhile, find and mark the studs along the cabinet wall; even after the base cabinets are in place, you must still be able to see the marks, so make them plainly visible.

Now you’re ready to install the first cabinet, typically a corner unit. Add shims beneath the cabinet so that its top edge hits the initial horizontal line that you drew. In situations where the wall is not plumb, it may be necessary to shim behind the base cabinets as well. Shim also between the cabinet and the wall at stud locations. Use 2 1/2-inch screws to anchor the cabinets (through the shims) into the studs.

Having installed the initial cabinet, move on to the next one. Shim as necessary, and to ensure a flush fit between this unit and its neighbor, join the two with a clamp before screwing the pair together. Proceed to install the other base cabinets along the wall in this way.

How to Install Base Cabinets - Detail


Further Considerations

• Repair any damage to the walls before installing the base cabinets against them. Likewise, complete all plumbing and electrical work in the kitchen prior to cabinet installation.

• At the rear of the cabinets, mark the location of plumbing pipes and electrical boxes, then bore holes or make appropriate-size cutouts so the units fit snugly against the wall.

• It’s usually wise to install kitchen flooring before the base cabinets. For one thing, working in this sequence means you don’t have to modify the floor material to achieve a seamless look.

• When inserting a filler strip between a cabinet and a wall, you can expect to have to do some fitting, because walls are not always plumb. Measure the gap at both the top and the bottom, adding 1/16 inch to each measurement. Use a plane or sander to trim the filler piece to the correct size, slightly beveling its angled edge so that the finished surface is wider than the unfinished surface.

• Putting in peninsula or island cabinets? First install two 2 x 2 cleats on the floor. Distance the cleats so that cabinets can slip over them, then finish by securing the cabinets to the cleats.

Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Appliance Care

Your kitchen appliances work hard for you—they wash, chill, grind, freeze, heat, broil and bake—so do your part keep them in good working order.

Appliance Care


Your kitchen contains more appliances than any other room in the house. When the units are in good condition, there’s not a single meal that can’t be mixed, baked, fried, frozen, or disposed of. But keeping your appliances humming along requires know-how—and some care and maintenance. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of these crucial kitchen helpers to keep them in ideal working condition throughout their lifespans.



Garbage Disposals

Ovens and Cooktops

Range Hoods


Dishwashers are not only a great modern convenience, but it also turns out that they can use less water than it takes to wash dishes by hand. To get this eco-benefit, however, you need to run your dishwasher only when it’s full and make sure to maintain it properly. Here are the basics of routine dishwasher maintenance (for unit-specific repairs, consult your owner’s manual):

  • Check hoses for loose connections, clogs, or leaks, and replace if needed.
  • Remove buildup inside the spinning arms using a slender tool, such as needle-nose pliers or a toothpick.
  • Regularly wipe the gasket (the rubber or plastic seal around the door), edges, and underside of the door to ensure a clean seal.
  • Inspect the inside bottom of the washer, where wastewater exits the appliance. If you suspect there is buildup inside the drain, consult your manual to disassemble the cover and clean inside the drain.

The average lifespan of a fridge is 10 to 15 years, but that number can vary widely depending on how well the appliance is taken care of. If you must buy a new fridge, it’s important to consider the depth, door swing, style (for example, French door, bottom freezer, or top freezer), and special features that you might want, in addition to aesthetic choices like color. Follow these tips to promote the longevity of this valuable appliance:

  • Clean the interior shelves and shell of your refrigerator every few months.
  • Regularly remove debris from the drain hole and drip tray of your fridge; check the owner’s manual for instructions.
  • Once or twice a year, unplug the fridge, pull it away from the wall, and clean the coils with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Check the gaskets (door seals) regularly, wipe them down, and give them the “dollar bill test”: Close the door on a dollar bill; if you can easily remove it, the seal isn’t tight enough. If this is the case, call a professional to repair the gasket.

Installing a garbage disposal is not so difficult for a moderately skilled DIYer, and you can expect that the average disposal will last 10 to 12 years. Ensure a long life by running the garbage disposal frequently and heeding these tips:

  • Run water during use and for at least 20 seconds after you finish. Cold water causes grease and oils to solidify so they can be chopped up before reaching the trap.
  • Items like chicken bones and coffee grounds will dull the blades quickly and shorten the lifespan of your appliance, so take care not to put any hard materials (or corrosive chemicals) down the disposal. For a more complete list of the dos and don’ts, consult these guidelines and your owner’s manual.

Ovens come in a variety of options, such as gas or electric, conventional or convection, freestanding or built-in, as do cooktops—think gas, electric, or induction; smoothtop or coils. Because of this variation, always consult your owner’s manual before attempting any maintenance or repairs, and always unplug the unit or cut off power at the service panel.

  • If your oven is a standard, non-self-cleaning model, you’ll need to ventilate well, protect your skin and eyes, and spend some quality time with a scrub brush and a heavy-duty oven cleaner.
  • If your oven is a self-cleaning model, you just need to run it through the cleaning cycle and wipe up the resulting ash with a damp cloth. Manufacturers often recommend removing the racks first to keep them from discoloring; consult your manual. Do not clean a self-cleaning oven the old-fashioned way.

Range hoods prevent smells, smoke, heat, and grease from floating around the kitchen. There are several types available, each one with its own benefits and drawbacks.

  • Vented hoods are ducted to the outside to completely remove smells, smoke, and heat from the room. The length of your exhaust duct will affect your choice of hood. If your hood will be mounted to an exterior wall, your duct can be short; if it will be mounted to an interior wall, the duct will probably be longer and you’ll need a more powerful hood. Vent hoods use aluminum filters to trap grease, which need to be washed (in a dishwasher or by hand) once a month, on average.
  • Non-vented hoods (also known as ductless or recirculating hoods) pull air through a charcoal filter before pumping it back into the kitchen. It’s important to change these filters every few months.
  • Hoods come in a variety of installation styles, including undercabinet, chimney, pro, island, downdraft, and power packs (inserts). Conduct thorough research before deciding which style is the right fit for your kitchen.

Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Countertops

The countertop you choose has a big impact on your kitchen's appearance and functionality. Let our handy guide help you pick the right countertop material for your needs.

Kitchen Countertop Materials - Corian


Kitchen makeovers are among the most popular of home improvements. They can be costly—a mid-range minor kitchen remodel that includes new countertops, appliances, cabinet fronts, and hardware runs close to $20,000, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value Report. But the expense has a payoff—upon resale, kitchen renovations can reap a return on investment upwards of 50 percent.

With so much at stake, it’s important to choose materials wisely. This is particularly true of the countertop, one of the most prominent features in any kitchen. There are a dizzying array of materials to consider; each material has its own features and benefits, as well as drawbacks and maintenance requirements. Use our kitchen countertop guide to help you find the material that best suits your home’s needs—and gets you one step further down the road to a successful renovation.


Solid Surface








Stainless Steel


SOLID SURFACE countertops are designed to withstand years of wear. They resist stains, moisture, sunlight, and heat, and come in a full range of colors to complement any kitchen design.

  • Solid surface countertops can be made with an integrated sink.
  • Fine scratches or stains can be buffed out of solid surface countertops with a mild abrasive.
  • Although a plastic-like patina may develop on the surface over time, this can easily be removed by a professional.

MARBLE appeals to serious cooks because it is durable and scorch resistant.

  • Naturally porous, the material is susceptible to etching. Chemical corrosion can be buffed out with marble polish. Oil stains can be removed with ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, or mineral spirits, and food stains can be lifted with a water-based paste of baking soda and dish soap.

GRANITE offers natural beauty and near diamond-hard durability, making it an ideal material for countertops.

  • It resists heat, scratches, and stains—and most granites require no sealing.
  • Because it is nonporous, granite also protects against mold and mildew.
  • To find out if your granite is adequately sealed, splash some water on the surface. If the water is still beaded up 10 or 15 minutes later, your granite is properly sealed. If the water has absorbed, head to the hardware store; sealing is quick and inexpensive.
Kitchen Countertop Materials - Butcher Block

Photo: / Grothouse Lumber Company

HARDWOODS like maple, mahogany, and cherry, as well as current popular choices like madrone, add warmth to any kitchen and can be refinished numerous times, aging beautifully.

  • For long-lasting butcher block wood countertops, apply mineral oil monthly. Non-butcher block wood countertops do best with marine oil, which keeps the stain from fading.
  • Marks and burns can be sanded out of wood, and stains are easily removable with lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide.

SOAPSTONE is extremely durable and impervious to virtually all chemicals.

  • Because it is nonporous and does not react to chemicals or temperature variations, it is resistant to staining and scorching, and does not require sealing.
  • It can be left to age naturally or sealed for a darker, richer look.
  • Nicks and scratches are common, adding to the countertop’s rugged patina. Slight discoloration from contact with oil can be rubbed out with mineral oil.

QUARTZ SURFACING countertops are made of crushed natural quartz blended with color pigments and plastic resins.

  • The nonporous material offers hygienic antibacterial benefits and does not need to be sealed.
  • Quartz countertops are heat, stain, and scratch resistant.
  • If stains do occur, a paste of hydrogen peroxide and flour, applied and left to sit for 24 hours, will lift a spot right out.

CONCRETE is a favorite of those who want an industrial look. It is extremely versatile and can take on many different colors, shadings, patterns, and sheens.

  • Concrete countertops can be poured in place or fabricated off-site and installed later. Dedicated DIYers can construct their own fairly easily, as well.
  • Concrete countertops should be specially sealed to avoid staining. Applying tung oil a few times a year can keep them stain resistant, and wax can be applied for a glossier look.

TILE is favored for its durability and affordability. It comes in various colors, sizes, and textures, and can be made of porcelain, ceramic, or stone.

  • Tiling is an attainable DIY project—just be sure to seal the grout used between the tiles to ward off bacteria.

STAINLESS STEEL countertops are particularly well suited to the areas around cooktops and ranges where hot pots and pans are placed, or center islands where food prep and serving are the main focus.

  • Scratches are inevitable with a stainless steel surface, but they can be buffed out with an abrasive pad.
  • Prevent rusting by keeping cast iron pans away from the counter. Any rust stains that do occur may be eliminated with a paste of lemon juice and baking soda.

LAMINATE provides a budget-friendly countertop with a retro look.

  • The material is fairly durable but not heat resistant.
  • Installation is relatively quick, which helps to keep costs down.
  • A simple paste of baking soda and water left on a laminate surface for three to five minutes will remove most stains, while difficult stains may be fought using household bleach rubbed in gently with a cotton ball.