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Most of us think of concrete as a
practical material, but it's also
one of the most versatile decorative
materials around. It can
take on just about any color or
shape. And surface treatment
options are endless. You can
cast “fossil” imprints using
leaves, ferns or seashells. For a
completely different look, you
can cast inlays like glass or tile
permanently in the surface.
If you want a tabletop that’s elegant enough for any
indoor setting and tough enough to withstand outdoor
weather, you’ve found it. Tables similar to this
one sell for hundreds at garden centers and outdoor furniture
stores. But you can make one yourself for $50 to $100.
Your cost will depend mostly on the wood you choose
for the base and the concrete mix you use. You
don’t need any special skills or tools, though a table saw and
an air-powered brad nailer will speed up building the form.
Give yourself half a day to build the form and pour the concrete
and an hour to build the table base. A few days
after casting the top, you’ll spend a couple of hours
removing the form, chipping the edges and
applying a sealer.
Figure A: Cutting Diagram
Figure A: Cutting Diagram for the Concrete Form
All the parts for the form can be cut from a 2-ft. x 4-ft. piece of 3/4-in. Melamine board.
Build the form
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Photo 1: Melamine form
Build the form from Melamine-coated particleboard to give the concrete a smooth
finish and make the form easy to remove.
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Photo 2: Tape and caulk corners
Caulk the corners of the form. Any imperfections in the caulk will show up on the
tabletop. So use masking tape to create neat, even edges.
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Photo 3: Inlays
Glue down leaves with spray adhesive to cast “fossils” in the tabletop. Press the
leaves completely flat so concrete can't seep under them.
Melamine-coated particleboard is the
perfect form material for this project
because it’s smooth, water-resistant
and inexpensive. Cut the form parts as shown in
Figure A. The two long sides overhang
the form for easier removal later. A
brad nailer is the fastest way to assemble
the form (Photo 1). If you use screws
or drive nails by hand, be sure to drill
pilot holes to avoid splitting the particleboard.
Whatever fastening method
you use, space fasteners about 6 in.
apart and make sure they don’t create
humps inside the form.
Next, caulk the inside corners to seal
the form and create rounded edges on
the tabletop (Photo 2). Do this even if
you plan to chip off the edges later.
Use colored silicone caulk, which will
show up well against the white
Melamine. That way, you can easily
spot and clean off smudges. Keep in
mind that every tiny imperfection on
the form will show up on the finished
For neat caulk lines, run masking
tape about 3/16 in. from the corners.
Apply the caulk one side at a time,
smooth it with your finger and remove
the tape quickly before the caulk skins
over (Photo 2). The tape ridges along the
caulk lines will show on the finished
top and make a perfect chisel guide for
chipping the edges later (Photo 8).
If you want to cast leaf or fern “fossils”
in the top, first press them for a
day or two in a book or between scraps of cardboard. Then lay them out on
newspaper and coat them with spray
adhesive. Press them onto the form so they
lie perfectly flat (Photo 3). Thick stems
may not lie flat and can leave imprints
that are too deep. To avoid this, we
shaved some of our fern stems down
with a razor blade.
It’s easy to embed small decorative
objects in the concrete top. Unlike
the casts of ferns and leaves, which
leave only the imprint behind, an
inlay stays in place permanently. You
can inlay anything that’s durable and
has crisp edges. Tiles and colored
glass are the most common inlays,
but you can also use coins or other
metal objects. Simply spread a thin
coat of silicone caulk over the face
you want exposed and press it down
on the Melamine base. After the
concrete mix hardens, carefully
scrape away the silicone film left on
the inlay with a razor blade.
Glue inlays face down to the form
with silicone caulk. Be sure to
remove excess caulk that squeezes out around the inlay.
Mix and pour
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Photo 4: Fill the form
Pour the mix evenly around the perimeter of the form. The form must be level—set a level across it and slip shims under the low end.
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Photo 5: Settle the mix
Work the mix into corners and around objects cast into the tabletop. Then lightly tap the sides of the form with a hammer to drive out air bubbles.
We mixed our concrete in a bucket,
using a drill and a large paint mixer
attachment. This method is fast,
but it requires a powerful 1/2-in. drill
and won’t work well with thicker
mixes. Instead, you can use a garden
hoe and a plastic cement tub. Be
patient and mix thoroughly so you
completely wet all the powdered
ingredients. Pay attention to the product’s
mixing instructions, especially
the recommended amount of water. An
extra cup of water can make the mix
Set your form on a solid surface and
level it both front to back and side to side. Otherwise one side of your top
will be thicker than the other. Then
pour in the mix around the edges to get
an even distribution of material (Photo
4). Pouring the entire mix in the middle
might concentrate the heavier particles
there and weaken the edges.
Wear plastic gloves as you work the
material into all corners and edges
(Photo 5). Use a gentle touch, however,
if you have fragile objects glued to the
bottom. If the mix you use requires
wire reinforcement, pour and work in
about two-thirds of the mix. Then add
the wire and the remaining mix.
All pours contain trapped air, which
will leave holes in the finished top
unless you work them out. To drive out
bubbles, tap the sides and bottom of
the form with a hammer and continue
rapping until you don’t see any more
bubbles coming up. However, if you
have pea gravel or other “aggregate” in
your mix, limit your tapping.
Otherwise, the aggregate will settle to
the bottom and weaken or perhaps ruin the appearance of your table.
And keep in mind that the tabletop
doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth.
A few holes or imperfections in the
surface may simply add more natural
When you’re finished, cover the
top with plastic and let the concrete
harden and cure anywhere from four
hours to two days, depending on the
Figure B: Table Base
Cut the parts to
shown and join
them with metal
used cedar lumber, but
wood (including pressure-treated) in 2x4 and
4x4 dimensions is
a good choice. Fasten
the top to the
base with a few
dabs of hot-melt
Release the form and finish
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Photo 6: Pull the form
Remove the form, starting with the sides. Then flip the tabletop over and pry off the bottom panel with a plastic putty knife.
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Photo 7: Clean the top
Scrub the leaves out of their imprints with a stiff plastic brush. Scour the whole
surface to remove excess colorant and Melamine residue.
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Photo 8: Texture the edges
Create a natural stone look by chipping
the edges with a cold chisel.
Chip around all four edges, then flip the
top over and chip from the other side.
To remove the form, pry off the long
sides and then the short sides. Pry
against the form base rather than the
concrete. If you have to pry off the
form base, use a plastic putty knife;
metal will mar the surface (Photo 6). If
your top has imprints with fine
detail, cover it with plastic and let it
harden for an extra day. Then scrub
with water (Photo 7). Use a plastic
putty knife to scrape off Melamine
residue that won’t scrub off.
The mix we used chips off neatly
for a rough edge look (Photo 8). Be
sure to set the top on plywood on a
solid surface. We used a 3/4-in.-wide
cold chisel, but you can use whatever
width best produces the effect you
want. For safety, hone down any
sharp edges with a file or sandpaper.
Your top will withstand outdoor
weather, but it’s susceptible to stains.
To prevent them, and to bring out
more color, we recommend that you
seal it with an acrylic sealer (sold in
the tile aisle at home centers). The
first coat will sink in and the surface
will remain dull. After it dries, apply
a second coat, and perhaps a third,
until the surface retains a shine.
Well done! Chances are that once
you complete one top, you’ll want to
Choosing a Mix
The best concrete mix for this project is a
countertop mix, which pros use to cast
concrete countertops. Ask for one at a
local concrete products dealer (do an online search for “concrete countertop mix”). You’ll need about 50
lbs. of mix to make the 17-in. x 34-in. x
1-1/2-in. top shown. The different brands available share
one key factor—special additives called
“super-plasticizers,” which allow you to
add less water. Less water means a
denser, stronger top. Some mixes contain
fibers to help prevent cracking. Others
require wire reinforcement.
You can buy color additives when you
buy the mix, or buy concrete color from a
more limited selection at a home center.
We added 5 ozs. of charcoal liquid cement color to our 50-lb. sack of mix to get a gray, slate-like color.