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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.
Concrete countertop fabricators have been trying many unique ways to set their countertops apart. One semi-common technique is inlaying decorative materials into the concrete countertop when the concrete has yet to cure. Inlaid materials can include sea shells, tiles, natural stones, glass, etc. Even more delicate objects like preserved leaves can be inlaid. Although a sealer can add some protection, always consider the long-term durability of the materials you choose to inlay in the countertop. Countertop artists have also been playing with objects to impress into the concrete. If used on a functional countertop, impressions should be shallow to avoid creating an area that collects dirt and grime. Impression materials are abundant and can include rubber stamps, hand or foot prints, leaves and sticks, cookie cutters or cake molds, 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.
For the surface, there are many different finishes that you can choose, including flat, polished, stamped or impressed, troweled, textured, and more. This finish can have a enormous impact on the final look of the concrete countertop.
Portland cement is the binder that keeps concrete held together. Because traditional Portland cement is grey in color, it can have an effect on the overall look of the concrete countertop. If you are looking for a top that can be easily stained dark colors, or if you are wanting to leave the concrete countertops the natural, grey color, then regular Portland is the right choice for the project. However, if your concrete countertop is going to be white or light colors, or you need it to be easily dyed or stained, you may be better suited to choose a white Portland cement. It has the same binding properties as traditional Portland, only it is white in color when cured. White Portland is the only way to get a truly white concrete countertop.