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DIY Countertops

There are hundreds of YouTube videos on how to use epoxy to make countertops – I’ve watched many of them – and I know a lot can go wrong and it seems intimidating. But, now that it’s been well over a year since I did my kitchen and powder room vanity, I can say with confidence that this works AND holds up. My kids abuse our counters where they do crafts, we spill all the time, etc., and still the counters are fine.

Epoxy countertops of my kitchen.

It is important to note that I use StoneCoat Countertops epoxy, which results in a food-safe surface. Not all epoxies are food safe, as I’m sure a lot of critics will point out. But this product is great – food-safe, zero VOC (noxious fumes), strong UV resistance, and with an Ultimate Top Coat that is nearly indestructible. It’s easily my epoxy of choice for all projects, and I’ve now used it on well over 200 square feet! If you use a different kind of epoxy, obviously follow those instructions and take those precautions for safety.

Here’s my method. I recently did my bathroom vanity countertop, so I’ll walk through that project, but it’s basically the same method I used to do all my other counters, just refined a bit now that I know what I’m doing and what works best for me. Again, there are a lot of great videos to watch – especially from StoneCoat Countertops themselves – but here are a few tricks and tips from me.

BEFORE: Vanity countertop in need of lovin’

Supplies:

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Step 1: Plan and measure for all pieces. First, you have to decide if you’re going to rip out your old counters and start from scratch OR prepare your existing countertops so you can epoxy right over them. I’ve done both ways. There are pros and cons to each approach, but for the sake of this tutorial I’ll focus on making countertops from scratch.

Removed old countertop!

The first thing to measure for is the 1/2 inch thick plywood board used under the “pretty” top MDF board that you’ll epoxy. This base adds stability and thickness to a from-scratch countertop. It should be the exact width and length of the vanity/cabinets frame – you don’t want or need any overhang. Mine was 22×63.

Next, how big does your MDF countertop top need to be? My vanity front needed another 1 inch to give an overhang, plus one end wasn’t against a wall and needed an overhang. Because I apparently like making things more difficult for myself, I decided to make this end a waterfall edge. 🤦‍♀️ This meant I had to add on the width of my MDF board plus some room for the vanity’s molding so I could cut a 45-degree angle on the top board and then match it with a 45-degree angle to run a board down the side of my vanity. My countertop top ended up needing to be 23×64. The countertop’s waterfall side needed to be 23×31. (If you don’t do a waterfall edge, all you need to do is add the same inch or so to make another overhang on that end.)

Now you measure for that drop-down overhang. This long, narrow piece of MDF needs to fit the length of your countertop and be not quite as wide as the space between the front edge and the place where the plywood starts. You can make it hang as low as your cabinetry allows or at least low enough to hide the plywood. Mine needed to be about 3/4 inch wide x 1 inch deep x 63 long.

Once you know your countertop measurements, are you making a backsplash? Some people just use tile up the wall as a backsplash. I decided I wanted both a solid backsplash and then also tile in a strip over that. For my MDF backsplash dimensions, I went with 4 inches high x 23 long (for the end against the wall) and 4×64 (for the full length of the back).

Step 2: Cut and sand corners. While all of this was fresh in my mind, I cut all my pieces at once. I used a T-square and a sharpie to make lines because I had to use a circular saw for most of it. (Have I mentioned I want my own table saw?!) The MDF makes a mess when cut, so be sure to sweep that up so it doesn’t get into your paint or epoxy later.

Because epoxy does NOT like 90-degree corners, I sand all edges to make smoother curves. This helps the epoxy to flow over edges for better coverage. I don’t worry about the edges that go against walls as much as the front edges. Basically, if you can run your hand along the edge and feel a sharp corner, sand until it’s curved and smooth. MDF is quite easy to sand, but it is super dusty, so I wear a mask.

Step 3: Make holes for plumbing and/or sinks. If you’re doing a simple kitchen countertop without a sink, move on to the next step. However, if you’ve got a sink or any faucets/plumbing to consider, now is the time to figure out that placement. I was going to install vessel sinks in my bathroom counter, so I had to mark where the faucets and the drain hole would need to be to line up with plumbing underneath and look good on top.

Once I had these marked, I used a hole saw to create appropriately sized holes that would allow me (ahem, or my husband helper) to install the necessary plumbing. It’s important to make the holes in your plywood base slightly larger so that you have room to hook up the plumbing and get tools in there to make it tight enough. For the MDF layer, make the holes big enough for the plumbing but not so big that any gaps show around the faucet. (If you’re putting in a normal sink, cut your holes the size/shape needed to fit in the sink.)

Step 4: Attach the plywood base. Once you’ve got any plumbing holes cut, you can attach the plywood base and get that out of the way. I used a few screws and screwed up from underneath the cabinetry to secure the plywood. Done. I also used this time to test my MDF pieces on top to be sure I was on the right track. 👍 So far, so good.

Testing my countertop pieces

Step 5: Use putty to make a seamless overhang. Remember that thin strip of MDF for the overhang? I’ve found that it’s easiest to flip your counter board upside down and then set this strip along the edge to attach it. Using my brad gun, I nailed this piece on so that it sat as flush as possible with my front edge. I tried not to use too many nails, and wood glue would have worked too – I just don’t have the patience.

Overhang attached!

Once it was attached, I flipped the counter back. Now, to completely fill in and cover the seam, some people like to use Bondo. But I HATE the smell and it’s a messy process. Instead, I had someone recommend Durham’s water putty, and I’ll never go back. It comes as a powder that you mix with water to get whatever consistency works for the project. It’s easy to mix up, it doesn’t smell, it’s pretty cheap, and it finishes rock hard. I just use a small bowl or cup, dump in the powder, mix with water, and then use a putty knife to spread it on. It works a bit like joint compound to fill the seam.

Dry time depends on your temperature, but it’s easy to see from the dark-to-light color when it dries. I used my sander and went over the seam to make sure everything was smooth, and once done, the overhang looked like it was one piece with the rest of the counter.

Step 6: Prep for paint and epoxy. If you watch too many videos, you can easily start to feel like your workspace isn’t good enough. However, I did my countertop in my DISASTER of a garage, so anywhere can work!

How do I work like this?!

The important thing is that you get everything ready so you don’t panic about forgetting anything as you go. And this isn’t just me – all the pros cannot stress enough that good prep makes the epoxy process go much more smoothly.

The first thing you want to do is put down plastic sheeting, because epoxy WILL GET EVERYWHERE. I like to use sawhorses with spare old doors to create my work tables because they’re a good size and I know mine are level – level is also very important with epoxy! Then I put my plastic sheets over the “table” to extend onto the floor on both sides. I like to fold over the ends on the floor and tape them to create little dams that stop the epoxy. (I should say I usually put plastic over the table and not just the floor. This particular door I used was already far gone, so I didn’t bother protecting my work “table.”)

I then have these great little cone stands to hold my boards up. Since they’re all the same size, that helps keep my boards level rather than using a bunch of random things to hold up my pieces. I try to arrange my boards so that I’ll have room between them to rub epoxy on the edges with my hands without bumping other boards.

So that’s my actual table workspace. I try to keep this surface clear of clutter so I have space to work without bumping anything and also to keep epoxy off my tools as much as possible.

On a separate table (or deep freezer…hypothetically) I set out all my tools. This is where I keep the epoxy containers until it’s time to mix. I also keep my tape, torch, gloves, spatula, color additives, rollers, drill, etc. here so everything is where I can grab it as needed.

Step 7: Undercoat and paint. On to the fun stuff! The first step is to roll on an undercoat that bonds with the MDF surface. StoneCoat Countertops has their own in white and in black – I’ve used both – depending on if you’re doing light or dark counters. It’s basically the consistency of regular paint, so nothing too complicated here. It dries fast (about 30-45 minutes in 72 degrees), which is nice, because you want to lightly sand and then do a second coat to get nice coverage over the MDF. I used the white undercoat, and even with 2 coats I only used a small amount – a little goes a long way!

White undercoat done

It’s usually a good idea to wait overnight between each layer…but sometimes I paint within the same day. On top of this undercoat, it helps to paint a nice base color that will blend with your final epoxy colors. This REALLY helps on your sides and edges where the epoxy will be thinner. You can also fog with spray paint to make sure your edges have color. (If you’re making lines/veins in your countertop, it can also help and add dimension to fog on spray paint lines that will show slightly under your lines/veins.)

For my bathroom vanity, I used “Accessible Beige” as my base paint. I wanted to avoid straight grey everywhere, and this hint of warmer brown was just what I wanted. I only did one coat because it covered well enough, and this layer doesn’t have to be perfect.

Step 8: Epoxy color layer! There’s no limit to the colors and patterns and effects you can make for your countertops – natural stone looks, colorful artsy designs, etc. For my vanity, I wanted to do a light grey soapstone with white veins. I’d seen a great example in a video by RK3 Designs (Rhonda is awesome!), and this was a far easier design than what I’d done in my kitchen – simple, but cool and pretty.

First, some last-minute prep. Be sure the room is warm – I used a space heater and kept my garage at 72. I kept the epoxy containers right by the heater for 15 minutes to make sure it was warm. To further prep the epoxy, it’s a good idea to flip Part A (the thicker stuff) to make sure it’s stirred up before you pour it in with Part B.

Optional prep: Taping your plumbing holes. If you’ve cut your holes exactly the size they need to be, it’s a good idea to use painters tape inside the edges of these holes so epoxy doesn’t run down into them and thusly make your holes smaller. Basically the tape works as a dam and holds back the epoxy from following gravity into your holes. This also helps so your design doesn’t blur by being pulled into the holes.

Also, DO NOT forget to prep for how you’re going to clean off epoxy as you go. First, on go the gloves! Epoxy is sticky and can irritate skin, so I change gloves all the time when I get too sticky. (I used to try using just one reusable pair of silicone gloves, but that didn’t work great for me.) Oh! Also keep some Seventh Generation disinfecting wipes handy, because they are absolutely the best thing I’ve found for wiping epoxy off as you go – I use them on my gloves, spatulas, tools, torch, and especially my skin if I slob.

Ok. Now that we are good and ready…

SCC epoxy is a 1:1 mixing ratio, so that makes the math pretty easy for mixing up the epoxy. I planned on using 3 oz per square foot, so I needed 80 oz (rounding up to be safe). If you do more complicated designs, you want more epoxy, possibly like 5 oz per square foot. But since I was only doing basically grey epoxy with a small cup of white, I figured I could get away with 3 oz.

With my drill and mixing attachment ready, I first poured 40 oz of Part B into my mixing bucket. (You want to do Part B first because Part A is thicker and will sink down, helping to mix itself.) Next I poured in Part A, 40 oz. I then checked the time so I could mix for 2 solid minutes, turned on my drill, and started mixing the epoxy. It’s important to mix the epoxy really well, scraping along the sides and the bottom of your bucket to be sure it’s all stirred up – if you don’t mix it evenly, it won’t cure correctly. After 2 minutes, you can definitely tell if it’s mixed because you won’t have thick globs but rather an even, smooth, runny consistency.

Mixing epoxy!

With the epoxy mixed, I took the mixer out of my drill and set it on some plastic – you can use this mixer again and again, and it’s fine if epoxy dries on it. (Also, you can reuse buckets if you turn them upside-down when done, because the dried epoxy will peel right out. And you can reuse the silicone spatula, because epoxy will peel off that too.)

Next I grabbed my white epoxy dye and squirted in a small amount – again, a little goes a long way. I then used my silicone spatula and stirred it up until the epoxy was evenly white. This is a good time to check the opacity, because the strength of your colors will depend on how opaque the epoxy is. I found that if I could see the orange color of my spatula at all when letting it drip off, my white wasn’t strong enough. So I’d add and stir in a bit more.

Once I got it strong enough, I took a Solo cup and poured it about 3/4 full with my white epoxy. This is what I would use for my veins.

White epoxy cup

Back in the main bucket, I carefully took my black epoxy and added one small drop. Literally, one small drop. That was all it took to stir up my white epoxy and make it grey. I also took my grey spray paint and sprayed once around the bucket, then stirred it only slightly. This would give the epoxy a cool, textured effect once poured.

That was it for mixing my colors. On to pouring! It’s a good idea to watch your time, because you’ve got about 45 minutes to work with the epoxy before it starts to cure/solidify.

With very little method to my madness, I held the grey bucket and began pouring it on my boards. I poured most onto the main countertop board and ran less along my backsplash pieces, then pooled some on my waterfall side, and finally used my spatula to get the rest out on my main board.

Beginning to pour!

Some people like to use brushes or tools to spread the epoxy, but I prefer my gloved hands. If it felt particularly thick and wouldn’t spread, all I had to do was use my torch (with a freshly gloved hand) to warm up the epoxy and keep it moving. I spread the epoxy back and forth, lastly wiping it down over my edges and especially over my overhang in the front. I did this to all my pieces, spreading quickly.

With the grey on, it already was looking cool. Near the edges where the epoxy would naturally run thinner, I could see my “Accessible Beige” showing through ever so slightly. Where the spray paint was involved, it added a nice dimension and “natural stone” look.

Before moving on, I quickly went over all my pieces with the torch to pop any bubbles. This is weirdly cathartic. 😆

Torching out bubbles

Next, to add more depth, I took my white epoxy cup and used my mixing spatula to wipe on some lines of white. These didn’t have to look like nice veins, because I immediately used my glove to smear them in. Once I had enough of these smeared patches of white, I used my alcohol spray bottle to spritz over these white sections. This always is one of my favorite parts of the process, because the alcohol creates cool effects and blends the colors so nicely.

Spritzing with alcohol

With these white background sections added, I then added my white veins. This takes a bit of practice. I found that getting a good amount on my spatula and then quickly moving over my boards worked best to get straight, thin lines. It also helps to start dripping the epoxy before you move over the edge of the board to start a clean line. For thicker lines, I moved a bit slower and let more epoxy run off the spatula, sometimes even letting it pool a little and then dragging the spatula through to widen the line.

The best part of this is that, if I didn’t like a vein, it was easy to wipe it out and start again. Or, I could wipe out a section and then “retrace” my line. I also sometimes dragged my spatula along my lines to smooth out any globs or breaks in my lines.

Adding veins

Once satisfied with my veins, I lightly spritzed the pieces with alcohol to help the veins look more natural. Then I torched everything again to get out bubbles.

It is VERY hard to make myself stop playing with my designs, but I stopped here and let it be. Over the next hour, I went back every 20 minutes or so and torched to pop bubbles. After about an hour, my epoxy started setting up, so I stopped fiddling with it after that. This was also when I pulled the tape out of my plumbing holes so the tape wouldn’t be stuck!

Wet but finished color coat!

Dry time varies depending on how warm and how humid your environment is, but I find that overnight is usually long enough for the epoxy to cure enough that it isn’t tacky to the touch.

Side note: There will sometimes be areas you don’t like so much once the epoxy is set up. Sometimes the epoxy pulls over the edges and screws up your design a little bit. Sometimes a spot just looks unnatural. I’ve found that one way to fix areas is to lightly fog with spray paint to cover these goofs. You can even spritz the spray paint with alcohol so it creates a natural effect and looks less spray-paint-y (technical term, of course.) If you don’t like something in your color design, now is the time to fix it.

Step 9: Clear coat. You have an option here. Most experts recommend letting the color coat dry to the touch and then lightly sanding before adding your clear coat. However, others say that if your color coat is still slightly tacky, you can skip sanding and just pour the clear coat on overtop. Personally, I’m always nervous that I did something wrong and my epoxy won’t cure if it’s still tacky, so I always wait and make sure, then lightly sand. Sanding allows for a “mechanical bond” and gives your clear coat something to grab onto.

Side note: The exception is if you’ve used spray paint to cover goofs. I’ve learned from trial and error that you should not sand spray paint added on top of the epoxy because it will scuff the paint and make a whole new problem you need to hide.

What’s the point of a clear coat anyway? One answer is that it levels everything out if you have any lumps or thin sections. Another reason is that it adds a layer of depth and makes your design look more natural. And, it also helps to strengthen your countertop and add a layer of protection. Long story less long, I always do one. 🤷‍♀️

The clear coat is a LOT easier than your color coat. I always mix for 3 oz per square foot, and everything in the mixing process is the same as above. Once you’ve mixed the epoxy, you just dump it on and spread it around the boards, also covering the edges. (If worried about the size of your plumbing holes, again use tape to hold back the epoxy.)

Some recommend using a spreader and chopping brush to get an even coat, but I again use gloved hands, not only because I can feel if it’s spreading evenly but also because tapping all over with my hands seem to create less bubbles than using a chopping brush. I sometimes use a silicone basting brush, but not for big projects because my hand gets tired of all the tapping. 😜

Once the clear coat is on, I use my torch all over to get out the bubbles. Same as with the color coat, I come back every 20 minutes over the next hour and torch.

That’s it for the clear coat.

Clear coat on!

Step 10: Sand underside drips. I always give the clear coat overnight to dry fully. Once I can run my hand over its glass-like surface, I make sure I can lift each board off my cone stands so my pieces aren’t stuck anywhere to my plastic. Then I take my sander and 80-grit sandpaper to sand down the hardened drips that hang from the bottom around the edges.

Sanding these can take some time, and I always make sure to wear a mask – it’s messy and dusty. But once the bottom edges are smooth enough, I take a rag and dust off my boards.

Optional Step 11: Top coat. “Another layer?” you ask. Sort of. SCC makes an Ultimate Top Coat that adds a TON of protection to your countertop. It also allows you to use your countertops (lightly) within about 48 hours as opposed to the full 30-day curing time of the epoxy if left without the top coat. This top coat isn’t really epoxy but more like a special sealer. It comes in glossy or matte. It does have a slight texture, so consider that if you fall in love with the glass-like finish of the clear coat. You don’t have to put the top coat on, but it certainly adds protection. Plus, for my vanity, I used matte since that’s more how soapstone naturally looks.

Because you only need 0.375 oz per square foot (their calculation), it doesn’t take much. I mixed up about half a Solo cup’s worth for this whole project, and I had plenty. It’s a 2:1 ratio, 2 parts A and 1 part B, plus you add a dribble of water to keep it extra thin.

Once mixed (it’s very gluey in consistency), I had about 15 minutes working time because this sets up quick! Using a 1/4 inch nap roller, I dipped it in my cup and rolled it around the cup to get rid of too much excess. (You can also use a standard painting tray if you’re more comfortable.) Then, starting at one end of a board at a time, I rolled it on quickly to cover the board with a THIN coat. Once I had it on, I took a dry roller and more slowly rolled in the same direction to really thin out what was on the boards. By lightly rolling I could avoid lap lines, but faint lap lines will blend out as it dries.

DON’T fiddle with this top coat too much. You don’t need much on, and as long as you can see that your whole board is shiny wet, it’s good.

Top coat with matte finish – drying

Step 12: Attach the counter. Remember how I said you can use the counters within 48 hours if you use the Ultimate Top Coat? This is when I attached my counter.

First, the main countertop top. I set it in place over my plywood base, and it fit so nice! I took a few short screws and squirmed into my cabinets, then screwed up through the plywood into the MDF to secure the countertop. Easy!

For the backsplash pieces, I tested them in place, then spread clear, 100% silicone caulk/sealant on the backsides to attach them to the walls. I pressed and held each piece in place for a while until I felt them stick on. Then, once they were on, I used that same clear caulk to go along the bottoms where the backsplash met the countertop. (Weird tip: Use a baby wipe to smooth out your caulk lines. 👍)

Countertop on!

For the waterfall edge, I held it in place, made sure it was level, and then grabbed a few more screws and squirmed back into my cabinet to screw through the side and attach the waterfall from the backside.

Was my waterfall seam perfect where it “flowed” from the countertop? 🤣🤣 No. 😳 To fix this, I mixed up a little bit of epoxy and the SCC thickener that makes it like a thick goopy glue. I added a few sprays of my grey spray paint into this mixture, and that made it match perfectly. Then I used my spatula and wiped the epoxy into my seam, filling the gap. Where some of this thick epoxy got on the side and counter, I used one of my wipes to smoothly get it off. Then I did a lot of this 🤞 for the next half hour. Aaaand, it worked!

I’m sure you’ll do this better than I did and not have to worry about your seam. If you have a very small gap, you could also use an appropriately colored caulk. I was just…beyond that and needed a bigger fix. 😆

Not too bad now!

Countertop done! I know this was a very long tutorial, but I tried to give you every little thing I could think of. Honestly, making this countertop was a lot of artsy fun, and I absolutely love the end result.

AFTER! New countertop (and a lot else)

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