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Outdoor Living At Its Best Web Series: Part 2

By: Danny Lipford
Allen Lyle and Chelsea Lipford Wolf build the forms for the concrete countertops.

Allen Lyle and Chelsea Lipford Wolf build the forms for the concrete countertops.

Part 2 of our Outdoor Living At Its Best web series is all about the cabinets and countertops for the outdoor kitchen.

We build the forms and pour the concrete for the countertops, then wait several days for them to dry. Meanwhile, my brickmason builds the brick cabinets that will hide the plumbing and wiring, as well as support the concrete counters.

Check out Outdoor Living At Its Best: Part 3 to see what we take on next.

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We’re modifying my patio to create a cool outdoor kitchen and it’s turned into an all out renovation of the whole backyard. Because we’ve done separate, smaller projects over the years there wasn’t one clear cohesive plan. But now we have one and we’re putting it to work with a vengeance. We’ve modified the roofline on the back corner of the house to create more covered area, made some changes to the retaining wall and now we’re beginning on the specifics of the outdoor kitchen. Allen and I have laid out the locations for the new cabinets and now he and Chelsea are working on templates for the concrete counter tops that will go on top of them.

We’ve had a chance to work with concrete counters a few times in the past and it’s also about the “W-A-I-T” wait. These things have to cure for a couple of days before they come out of the forms. And then you have to wait 28 days before you can stain or seal them, so we’re getting a head start on them before the brick cabinets are even finished. These cardboard templates will help identify any small obstacles we need to work around.

Once they’re satisfied that they have identified all of the notches and angles they can begin creating the actual forms. The forms are made from sheets of melamine. This plastic coated particle board material is generally used to build shelving units but the plastic coating gives the concrete a smooth finish and releases pretty easily when it’s dry. Because the concrete will follow the form, it’s important that all the edges be clean and straight.

Meanwhile I’m giving our brick mason, Truit, the low down on what we have planned for our cabinets. While Truit and his guys create the brick cabinets, Allen and Chelsea are making inserts that will form cut outs in the counters for things like the sink and the kettle smoker. Because you’re essentially building the counter “upside down” it’s important to double check the layout as the forms are assembled. Finally all of the seams are coated with silicone sealant and allowed to dry before the forms are lubricated.

The wire fencing and half inch rebar they’re putting into the forms will prevent cracking. Although it’s very hard, concrete is also very brittle when it’s cured, so this metal web they’re creating inside each slab will give it strength. The small wires that support it will be clipped from the bottom of each piece once the concrete is dry. When the forms are completely prepped we can begin mixing the concrete. We’re using a mix from Quikrete designed specifically for counter tops. It contains a plasticizer additive that helps the concrete flow better and it’s less likely to shrink or crack. Even if you’re only making a small amount, a mechanical mixer is a good idea for counter tops because it ensures that the components are thoroughly and evenly combined. When it’s ready to go into the forms the concrete should be about the consistency of pancake batter so you can easily spread it out. It’s important to force it into all of the corners and tap the forms with a rubber mallet to help release any air bubbles trapped in the mix.

Because we have several tops to pour, the process continues with more and more of the same. It’s a little tedious but it’s important not to rush because consistency in the process is necessary to have consistency in the finished tops.

These “cabinets” are really more about concealing the mechanical elements like plumbing, wiring and gas lines than actual storage. And of course we need to support the counters. So once they’re dry we’re anxious to get them in place.

The weight isn’t too much of a concern while we’re removing the the screws that hold the forms together. We just want to see smooth surfaces and as the sides come off to reveal the edges the results look promising. The weight becomes a bigger factor when we lift the first piece up to uncover the top of the counter.

To actually move this thing we’re recruiting some extra help. We’ve applied some fast setting polyurethane construction adhesive to the tops of the cabinets so once we set this beast in place we shouldn’t have to lift it again.

Even though the brick supports are pretty flat, there are few spots where we have to add a shim or two to level things out. Next the form inserts for the sink and ice bucket have to be cut into smaller pieces so we can carefully tap them out. Some of these pieces, like the bar top, go in pretty easily despite their weight…. while others are just awkward on every level, literally backing me into a corner.

Anytime this many pieces have to fit tightly together you have to do a little jockeying back and forth. That wouldn’t be a problem except that each of these pieces is outrageously heavy, and there’s more than a little friction when you’re trying to slide concrete across bricks. But eventually we get it where we need it to be and we can start polishing the edges.

Now that we have counter tops our outdoor kitchen is well on it’s way, but there are still a lot of pieces left before it all comes together. Be sure to check out the next webisode in this series to see the rest of this Outdoor Living Extravaganza!



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