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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.
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.
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.