Category Archives for "How to Guides"

Planting water lilies banner

Planting Water Lilies

dew drops on lily pads

Planting water lilies may seem like a daunting task, but if you take it step by step and use the right variety, you too can have a green thumb.  There is nothing more beautiful than a delicate water lily bloom floating across the calm water on a silent pond. Check out this short video, or keep reading.

Gazing out over the water the blooms are like stars gleaming in the night sky.  How does nature create something so beautiful?  When I try putting water lilies in my backyard water garden I got lily pads, but no blooms.  What was I doing wrong? 

Part of the problem was, the part of my pond where the lilies are planted is in the shade for part of the day.  If you want your lilies to bloom, they prefer full sun. Another reason why I may not be getting blooms is the fact that I never fertilized them before they were planted.  Two rookie mistakes that I could have avoided.

Tougher Than You Think

That’s the great thing about water lilies, although they look fragile and delicate, they are extremely tough and very hardy.  Water lilies can be grown in every USDA zone across the US.

Some varieties go dormant in the winter and can be left in the water, while other tropical varieties need to be taken care of during the winter months.  The tropical varieties require a minimum water temperature of 70 degrees F.

pink lily bloom

Although the tropical varieties may need more care, let me assure you they are worth the effort.  The blooms from these plants are truly incredible.

Water lilies grow best at a depth of 16 to 24 inches.

The easiest way to go about planting lilies is to use a container or pot.  This makes them easy to remove if you live in a climate where your pond freezes solid during the winter months.  If your pond does not freeze solid, you may still wish to move your plants to a lower depth in your pond during the cold season.

Another reason we recommend using a container for your planting is to protect them from any fish you may have. You can get cheap planter baskets right from Amazon. If planting in a koi pond be aware that koi can be very destructive when it comes to pond plantings.

Planting Step By Step

  1. A water lily is a tuber so it requires a shallow, wide pot.  The pot should be approximately 12-18 inches wide, and 6 – 10 inches deep.  If your container has drain holes in and around it, line it with burlap, or landscape fabric to keep the soil in place.
  2. If soil does escape from the pot it could cloud the water in your pond.  Use a dense soil unlike potting soil that is light and fluffy. Soils that contain peat, perlite, or vermiculite all have the tendency to float out of your container.
  3. Use an aquatic fertilizer that is designed for pond plants and mix it into your soil.  Be sure to use the recommended amount. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Also, if you over fertilize your plants you will also encourage algae growth and could turn your pond green.
  4. Cut off any old dead leaves and any thick roots.  Leave only the small hair like thin roots and the budding leaves.  Place the lily up against the side of the container with the bud pointed at a 45-degree angle towards the center of the planter.
  5. Cover the tuber with soil and then place pea gravel over the soil.  The gravel will help to contain the soil once it is lowered into the water.  Place the container into the water with care. Be sure there is no air trapped in the container after it is submerged by lowing it in at an angle.

Let Nature Take Its Course

Your pot should not be planted any lower than 18 inches to begin.  If your pond is deeper than that and it doesn’t have planting shelves, then you will need to put the pot up on something to reach that depth.  The leaves will float to the surface.

water lily starting to bloom

Planting these winter hardy water lilies will make it look like you do have a green thumb after all.  By following these simple steps, you will have a water garden filled with lily pads and magnificent blooms.


If you are ready to get your hands dirty and plant some of these wonderful plants in your water garden pond be sure to get winter hardy variety if you live in a cooler climate. The pre-grown water lilies are ready to enchant your water feature.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them below.  We love to hear from you, that’s what we are here for.

pondless stream with lush planting

The Pondless Waterfall – DIY

The Pondless Waterfall

The pondless waterfall is exactly what you need if you have ever thought about putting a water feature in your outdoor space.  After researching all that is involved with pond ownership realize that it’s tons of work?  Your life is busy and finding the time, energy and money that goes into digging and maintaining a pond is almost unimaginable. That’s where the idea of a pondless waterfall comes in.

There are a couple of ways to approach this.  If you are looking for a simple plug and play type of solution, then a backyard fountain may be enough to satisfy that craving for bringing another dimension to your space.  However, if you are like me and want a more natural feel, then the pondless waterfall is exactly what you are looking for.

Keep It Simple

typical backyard pond and waterfall setup

Much of the hassle of a conventional pond and waterfall setup can be eliminated.  The digging is minimal and the maintenance that goes along with pond ownership is almost completely eliminated as well.

Come Up With a Game Plan

So let’s begin this project the way any project should begin, in the planning stage.  This can be the most difficult to do if you have a tough time making decisions. Location is the key.  Not only do you want your new waterfall and stream visible, but you also want it within earshot of your normal outdoor gathering place.

summer rushing waterfallA stream with rushing water is one thing, but if a waterfall is added it’s entirely something else as far as sound is concerned.  I had no idea the impact a waterfall had on the noise, even in the outdoors. The white noise it creates almost completely eliminates any other sound from the space.  This is important to keep in mind when choosing location.

I have noticed from personal experience that conversations around my waterfall are somewhat private.  The sound of the water eliminates the chance of someone eavesdropping in on what you are saying. Just keep this in mind if you plan on a roaring waterfall next to your outdoor dining area.

Flow or Fall

When going the pondless route, you may not find a need for a waterfall at all.  Just the mere sound of water winding down over the rocks to its destination is a tranquil sound that won’t completely disrupt the atmosphere, and adds a bit of seemingly natural ambiance to the space.  The above image is a stream at a venue for a wedding. It creates a beautiful backdrop without completely taking over.

Once you have decided what you want, and where you want it, it’s time to lay out your project.  Use a garden hose to outline either side of your waterfall or stream. Move the hose around until it looks exactly the way you want it to.

pondless stream waterfallThe basic design of a pondless water fall is a waterfall unit or spill way, the water then flows down your rubber liner into a reservoir where it is then pumped back up to your spillway unit.  Be sure there is a correctly grounded power source near the reservoir.

Hammer Out the Kinks

How the water flows from one end to the other is entirely up to you?  There could be a steep cascade and then an area where the water can pool before dropping down again.  Or it could simply rush from your spillway to your reservoir without dropping off at all. This is all in your vision and design.

small pondless waterfall without a streamIf your goal is a robust waterfall with ledges and spill overs, then you will need to increase your elevation from start to finish.  If you are starting with level ground this could be a challenge. The higher your waterfall the deeper you will need to dig to provide the right amount of excavated dirt for your drop off.  Or you could order a few yards of top soil to help with raising the elevation.

When In Doubt Improvise

Instead of using dirt under your starting point, stacked cinder blocks work very well.  When they are placed on undisturbed ground they will settle very little. You could use them throughout as you step down from start to finish.  Be sure to put a thin layer of dirt, or even a piece of old carpet over top of them to act as a cushion between the blocks and the liner.

Although the rubber liner is very durable, I would rather not take my chances with a tear due to the liner rubbing on the course cinder blocks.

If you are starting on level ground, you will create a pitch by placing the dirt you excavate from the reservoir to the start of your stream.  If your plan is to incorporate a waterfall, more dirt may need to be brought in. Keep in mind, dirt that has been freshly disturbed is going to settle, so compact it as you go as best you can.

Crunching the Numbers

albert-einstein-alphabet-black-and-white-256369The rule of thumb for the size of your reservoir is to have three times the volume of water your stream and waterfall hold.  This will ensure that your pump doesn’t take on any damage due to it running dry. To calculate water volume, the formula is Length X Width X Depth X 7.5 = water volume in gallons

Here is an example: For a 3’ wide stream that is 20’ long with an average depth of 3”

3’wide X 20’length X .25’ (3inches) deep X 7.5 = 112.5 gallons of water in the stream and waterfall

112.5 X 3 = 337.5 gallons of water in reservoir

In the case above example the reservoir would need to be approximately 48 cubic feet.  This is calculated by taking the gallons of water in the reservoir and dividing by 7.5.  Dig a hole with the dimensions of 6’wide X 4’long X 2’deep and it would offer a 360-gallon reservoir.  It is better to be oversized than undersized.

Go All In

Ok, you know how much liner you will need, it’s time to order your materials.  If you do this now before you break ground, there is a good chance everything will show up right when you are ready for it.  You can purchase precut liner in various sizes, just don’t forget to order the geotextile underlayment to go with it. This helps protect the liner from shifting rocks and roots underneath the liner once it is in place.

We have put together some pondless waterfall kits for your convenience in our pond shop to help with ease of ordering.  If you want to purchase items one at a time that’s fine too. Here is a list of what you will need for a typical installation

Typical Parts List

  • Pump
  • Filtration
    • Pondless Waterfall Vault
    • Pondless Vault Extension
    • AquaBlox (or gravel for a reservoir)
  • Waterfall Spillway
  • Lighting – (optional, but recommended)
  • Return Hose
  • Liner – 45 mil EPDM
  • Underlayment – Geotextile – protects liner from sharp objects
  • Components – Pump Check Valve Assembly, all necessary fittings and
  • Silicone sealants

Now that you have all of your dimensions figured out and you’ve decided on a location it’s time to get to work.  Place your waterfall filter unit or water diffuser at the desired height you wish your stream to start. Get it close to level but don’t worry about getting things perfectly level at this point, we will do that in a later step.

Use a can of spray paint if possible and paint an outline of your project.  Remember before you start any project be sure the area is void of utilities. Call before you dig

Here We Go

Begin to dig, starting with where your reservoir will be.  As you dig, place the excavated dirt at the opposite end of your project, creating an elevation for the water to move through.  If your design is going to be similar to a mountain stream, then there will not be much elevation required.

Amazing steep waterfallThe pitch can be as gradual or as steep as you wish, but there needs to be one.  No less than 1 inch drop over 4 feet. For a 20’ stream you would need to drop at least 5 inches at the very minimum from start to finish in order to keep the water flowing.

As you dig your stream bed you also must dig a trench alongside the bed to place your return line.  This small trench only needs to be a little wider than your return line, and I would recommend a depth of at least 8 inches.  This trench needs to go from your reservoir to where you place your diffuser.

Time To Put The Pieces Together

Once you’ve excavated the dirt and are happy with the pitch it’s time to be sure your stream is free from rocks, roots or any other sharp objects that could possibly puncture your liner.  Now place your underlayment into the stream. It should be placed wherever the liner will lay.

Now place your liner into your river bed.  It’s ok to walk on the liner. Remove as many wrinkles as you can.  This could be difficult depending on the shape of your design. You don’t need to get all the wrinkles out the stone will hide them in the next step.

Take notice that when you place your liner there is excess of 8”-12” on all sides to allow for proper water containment.  The bank of your stream and the reservoir need this as well to be sure no water is lost when the feature is on.

Get The Right Gear

Aquascape Waterfall Spillway water diffuser If you are using a typical water diffuser for the outlet of your pondless falls, then all you need to do is be sure it sits lower than the liner surrounding it.  Don’t worry about how it looks, this will all be taken care of in the next few steps.

I would recommend using a diffuser as opposed to a waterfall filter as the water outlet, just because it would be much less maintenance throughout the year.

Does Size Really Matter

Depending on the size and scope of your project you may find it beneficial to use two separate liners, one for your waterfall stream, and another for your reservoir.  Be sure that if you go this route the long stream liner goes into the reservoir liner and they overlap by a couple of feet. You could also seal them together for extra insurance.

Now that the liner is in place it’s time to create some empty space in your reservoir.  This can be done using large gravel, or the more efficient and cost effective way is to use Aquablox.  These polymer blocks can be used to fill the void allowing the maximum volume of water in your water feature system.  Use as many as necessary to fill the void.

large and small AquaBloxAt this point you will also need to put your pump housing in place.  If you use a pondless waterfall kit, then the pump housing and Aquablox will connect together assuring proper operation.  Be sure the top of the pump housing is above grade so it doesn’t wind up under water if things ever flood out. Use gravel or large rocks to level and get your housing to the desired height.

Putting It All Together

aquablox installed with optional waterfall vaultNow it’s time to hook everything up before we start to rock it all in.  Connect your return line to your pump and run it in the trench you made alongside of your stream.  Connect the other end to your water diffuser at the top of your water feature.

Go ahead and tighten all of your connections at this point.  We will be testing our system once we get our rocks in place.

Be One With Nature

Perhaps before you start to rock your stream or waterfall bed, take a walk in the woods and notice how nature is the perfect architect.  There are no perfectly straight paths. Creeks and streams are usually framed in with larger rocks and boulders.

a quiet stream in the woodsBy doing the same thing in your project, you will create interest and make your feature more appealing.  Starting at the top of the stream where your water diffuser is, begin to rock your stream bed. Begin with the larger rocks and frame in the way you wish the water to flow.

Place larger rocks in the center of the stream to add interest and give the water something to flow around just like in nature.  Once you’ve framed in your stream it’s time to cover all the remaining liner with the river gravel (I usually use river rock that is native to my part of the country for a natural look). When you are placing your rocks, remember to try and mimic nature.

Waterfall Creation

If you are adding things to your feature like waterfalls and drop-offs, the key to this is to find the right spill rock.  I use a piece of slate which works very well. When setting your spillway, start from the bottom up. Stack up rocks under your spillway.  Use waterfall foam to help hold everything together, but don’t completely rely on it.

Your stacked stone should be able to stand on its own without the aid of the foam.  When stacking stone, it is a good practice not to let any vertical seams go more than two courses high.  This practice will add a lot of stability to your stonework.

natural waterfallOnce you’ve built a level solid place for your spillway rock to rest put it into place.  Check that it is level and slightly pitched forward to encourage the water to flow in the desired direction.

The biggest problem with spillover rocks in a stream is the fact that most of the water will tend to flow behind your spillover rock rather than over it.  To avoid this use waterfall foam between the spillover rock and the liner. After you spray the foam, immediately place rocks and pebbles into the fresh foam to disguise it.  This provides a great barrier to force the water in the right direction.

Merrily Down The Stream

Using large character boulders to make a man made stream look naturalMake your way down the stream covering the liner with rocks and pebbles.  Make things look as natural as possible. Don’t worry about the liner that is past the border of your stream.  That will be dealt with when we do our plantings in a later step. Stop when you get to the reservoir.

Clean It Up

Now it’s time to take a break and wash everything down.  I used a dirty water pump for this process. If you don’t have one they can be rented relatively cheap.  I knew I would use mine more than once so I purchased one.

Place the pump at the lowest point in the reservoir and begin to wash everything down.  As the reservoir fills up, pump out the dirty water. Doing this will save you wear and tear on your waterfall pump.  Keep rinsing everything down until the water is clear. It may take a while, and don’t worry about getting every last bit of dirt either.  Just get most of it. When you are done, pump out all the water from the reservoir and remove your dirty water pump.

With your rocks and stream all rinsed off its time to fill in the reservoir around the Aquablox.  Be careful not to move them as you fill around them. As they sit, they should be well below grade so getting rocks and gravel beneath them could cause problems down the line.

hidden waterfall vaultAdd gravel until the Aquablocks are covered being mindful not to get gravel into your pump housing.  With everything rocked it, now comes the fun part. Begin to fill up your reservoir. Do NOT turn your pump on until your reservoir is full.  Running a pump dry will burn it up. Keep filling until the water level is a few inches from the top of your pump housing.

The Moment of Truth

Now gather everyone around for the moment of truth!  Perhaps a drum roll may even be required. Plug in your pump and stand back in AWW as the space you’ve created comes to life.   At this point sit back and relax a bit. You should let your new water feature run for at least 24 hours just to be sure there are no leaks or issues.

Once you are confident everything is up to par, it’s time to do all the finishing touches.  Let’s start with trimming the excess liner from the edges. When doing this it’s important to leave a little extra just in case things settle and shift over the course of the seasons.

transition from water to land hiding a pond linerThe liner can be hidden fairly well by sandwiching it between rocks on the side closest to the water, and dirt on the backside.  Then whatever is sticking up can be trimmed off. The key is to be sure you don’t put the liner lower than your water line. If you do, water could leak out of your feature and your pump would run dry.

Another trick to hiding the liner is to add a planting where the stone meets the dirt.  This is great camouflage and adds a natural look to your whole feature. See some of our other articles for lighting tips and other ways to finish the edge.

In Conclusion

So there you have it.  The pondless waterfall may be exactly what you have been looking for.  All the perks of a garden waterfall without the maintenance involved with pond ownership.  With the pondless water fall or stream, once its built there is nothing more to do but relax and enjoy it.  Creating your own at home getaway can work wonders on your stress levels, not to mention the pride you will feel by doing this yourself.  Ready to start your project? Head over to our pond shop, we have everything you need to get the professional results you deserve. If you found this tutorial helpful, please leave a comment below.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below, we love to hear from you.

10 pond algae control before and after

Pond Algae Control – UV Light Installation

keep your pond water crystal clear without chemicals using UV light

The Answer to Your Prayers

crystal clear waterYou go out to the edge of your pond, expecting to watch your fish gracefully swim about. Then you realize you really can’t see much of anything. Even in the shallow depths, all that exists is a fog of green! Pond algae control is a MUST!  Nothing is more frustrating than spending time, money and energy putting in a pond and then have it turn into pea soup in a matter of weeks. The green pond water you see is caused by free floating algae in the water.

Pond algae control can be a daunting task. I’ve tried various chemical treatments, with minimal to no luck. This year is going to be different! Below is a video of how I fixed my algae problem for good.

Crystal Clear Water – Two Letters… UV

Clearing green pond water without the use of chemicals was my ultimate goal. I picked up a UV light on clearance at the end of the season last year, and have been patiently waiting for spring to install it.  Below is a picture straight out of the sterilizer manual showing its effective light range:

UV light sterilization range

I am going to walk through a typical installation for a UV light. The purpose of a UV light in a pond installation is to remove any free floating algae, and kill various parasites that may be present in the pond water. When selecting what light is best for you, be sure to calculate the size of your pond in gallons. If you don’t know the formula or how to calculate the size of your pond, click here.

Once the size of your pond is determined then you can size the light accordingly. It’s better to have a more powerful light than a light that is under powered for proper functioning.

When You Tried Everything

The use of a UV light was a last resort for me. I had an algae problem last year and it turned my water to pea soup. The only time I saw my fish was at feeding time, when they came to the surface. The algae does not harm the fish, but it makes me mental!

Below are the various ways you could potentially hook up your UV light. The setup I used was based on the layout of my pond. There are many ways to implement the use of a UV filter based on your ponds configuration. Here are three different configurations based on pond size. The pictures are from the UV light manual. Click here to download it.

Example #1

For ponds that are smaller, typically 1,000 gallons or less. These types of ponds usually have a pump in the bottom of the pond. Just be sure there is some sort of prefilter to stop large particles of debris from getting lodged in the light.

small pond UV light setup
Example #2

For medium-sized ponds, generally ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 gallons. This set up is for the use with a skimmer box and a waterfall unit. This is the setup I used in my pond. It works well because the water passing through the light has already gone through the skimmer box and has been filtered.

Medium pond UV light setup
Example #3

For larger ponds, 5,000 gallons or more. These setups have a bottom drain and skimmer box, along with multiple return lines to keep the water circulating.

Large pond UV light set up
The diversion manifold seen in example 2 is necessary to ensure proper flow rate through the light. Most waterfall pumps are too powerful to pump straight through the light thus reducing its effectiveness.

Green to Clear in 3-5 Days… Guaranteed!

It is important to understand the proper flow rate through your lighting system. If the rate is too high then the light cannot do its job effectively. The flow rate must be at or below recommended for this guarantee to be honored.

My return line is 2” (Line from skimmer box to waterfall), so I wanted to maintain that, and divert some water through the UV filter. By adding the PVC ball valves, it allows me to have more control over the whole system. I can now slow my waterfall down to a slow trickle if that’s the mood I want to set.

The flow rate through this particular filter is 589 – 983 GPH. My pump is running at 5200 GPH, so putting the light straight in line with my return line will not be effective. It is necessary to divert some water to flow through the light at a reduced rate. By diverting some water through the light, there was no real noticeable difference in water flow from the waterfall.

Before You Change Anything

Keep in mind that every time water that is pumped through your system goes through a 90 degree turn it loses some power. Keep this in mind if you plan on taking your return line through a lot of 90 degree turns.

Below are the specs for this particular brand of UV lights. Always be sure to check the specs before purchasing. I used a 40 watt light because my pond is approximately 2,700 gallons.

UV light specs
The main line is a 2” line, while the lines that run through the UV filter are reduced to 1.5”. This is because the water flowing through the light isn’t 100% of the water in the system. The light used has a specific recommended flow rate. It is large enough to handle the flow through the filter without being too large.

Another Option

A submersible light is another option for people that my have everything in place and don’t want to disturb the surrounding landscape.  This submersible light can be placed directly in the water.  It will require its own pump, or water could be routed through it using the existing plumbing.  Just be sure to get the proper size for your pond and be sure the flow rate is not too fast so the light can do what it was designed to do.  If your flow rate is too great the light will not be as effective as it could be.

Follow up

It is recommended that the light bulbs be changed every 13 months of operation. That gives me 2 years of bulb life. If you live in a warmer climate where you can enjoy your pond longer than 6 months a year, you will need to change the bulbs more often. SO…. drum roll… Here are the results!

UV light before and after
As you can see, the light has been really effective! I am super pleased with the results. I recommend this to anyone with a pond who wants crystal clear water. Once this light is in place, pond algae control is a thing of the past!

If you have any questions about installing a UV light, or would just like to share your own experiences, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks for reading.

12 diy polish concrete countertops

Polished Concrete Countertops

Polished Concrete Countertops

Bring the wow factor to your grill island with polished concrete countertops.  Your grill island is really starting to look like something great.  Time to put the icing on the cake. I will show you how to get professional looking results step by step.  Follow along and when you’re done you will will be left with an amazing BBQ grill island, or outdoor kitchen.

You’ve come this far… why not

You have a raw slab of concrete resting on your beautiful stone or tile work. So let’s finish it off and make it look spectacular. This is how you make polished concrete countertops. Doing this process, will make it look worse before it looks better. You will need to purchase or rent a concrete polisher, then you will be ready to get started.  Let’s take a look at all the materials we need before we begin.

hand held concrete polishersMaterial List:

  • Portland cement
  • Fine grout
  • Acrylic bonder
  • Concrete sealer

Tools Required:

  • Concrete polisher
  • Diamond polishing disk set
  • 8” drywall knife
  • Safety glasses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rain gear

Do It Yourself Concrete Polishing

Hand held concrete polishers all work about the same. Look for one that has variable speed so you can adjust it to fit the finish you are trying to achieve.

Some polishing disk sets, come with more grits than others, but they are all numbered. The lower the number, the courser and more aggressive the grit. Start with the coarsest grit, it may be 30 or 60, and start removing the surface layer of the concrete. Be sure to keep it flat, holding it at an angle will create an uneven surface, especially with such an aggressive grit. Do this over the entire area. When you’re done it will look worse than when you started. You can see the difference in the picture below between polished and unpolished.

hand held concrete polishers

Add That Personal Touch

This is a great time to add an edge to your top with the aggressive grit. It will remove material very quickly. You can add a bevel or a round over. Play around with it. This is one of those skills you get better at the more you do. I put a bevel on the upper top and a round-over on the lower.

hand held concrete polishersWhen you are finished you will notice holes and crevices all throughout your top. Don’t freak out, this is perfectly normal. I know you thought you got all the air bubbles out, guess again! Now mix up a dry mix of 1 part Portland cement, and 1-part fine grout (I used fine grout because I had some left over from another project. The color of your grout will affect the color of your slurry. I used a black grout so it would blend in and be subtle). Instead of using water, use latex bonder. This will help the tiny bit you will be filling the holes with, stay put.

how to polish concrete countertopsPour the mixture, or slurry on your countertop. Use an 8-inch drywall putty knife to spread it around and push it into all the voids. Allow it to dry for 20 minutes or so, then use the knife to scrape off all the excess. Now walk away and let it set up overnight.

Using 100 grit on your polisher, remove all the slurry. Depending on the size of the holes, and how much your slurry mixture shrunk, you may need to repeat the above process. Once you are happy with the top and all the voids are filled move on to the next step.

Get Out Your Rain Gear

hand held concrete polishersdo it yourself concrete polishing before pictureThis takes some time and getting used to. You WILL get soaked. Now that you’ve got the whole thing polished to 100 grit it’s time to put in the elbow grease and make it shine. Go over the entire top, and sides with each grit. Be sure to rinse off the top between grits to get rid of any excess material. Let the polisher do the work. No need to press down hard. As you go it will look a little more beautiful with every pass. When you are finished you won’t believe that it is just ordinary concrete. It’s just the icing on the cake!

AHHH… The Finish

Allow the top to dry completely before adding sealer to it. There are countess options for this as well. I just chose a high gloss sealer to bring out the colors in the concrete. If you are going to acid stain your top, now is the time to do it. I don’t have experience with acid stain, but I have seen the amazing results you can achieve with it. Again, it all depends on the look you desire. As you can see below, sealing the concrete really brings out the natural color.

do it yourself concrete polishing

how to polish concrete countertopshow to polish concrete countertopsAccording to the manufacturer of the sealer I used required the concrete be at a certain temperature, and not in direct sunlight for proper curing. This was accomplished by doing it later in the evening when the summer sun went down. Be sure to follow the manufacturer instructions for best results. I applied the sealer with a 4” foam roller. This type of roller had 0 nap, to leave a smooth finish.

Lights, Then Action

outside lights for your houseoutside lights for your houseoutside lights for your houselights for outside your houseNow for my favorite part, adding the lighting. I used relatively cheap LED lighting. These aren’t just outside lights for your house. The color of these lights can be changed by remote control to match any mood you desire. Since the lighting will be installed under the countertop lip, it will be kept out of the weather. I’ve had mine for 2 seasons without issue. These lights come encased in a silicone type material. To install them I used clear silicone and placed a heavy bead under the countertop. I then encased the lights in the silicone. This method worked incredibly well.

Final Thoughts

What a difference polished concrete countertops make.  Customized for your outdoor space.  It truly is amazing what an inviting atmosphere a backyard barbecue grill island creates. You may start to make some new friends with the neighbors when they smell the tempting aroma of delicious grilled food and see the fantastic space you’ve created. All the hard work finally pays off, creating something that will last for years with little to no maintenance. Enjoy what has been done before moving on to the next project!

I would love to hear about your success stories and challenges you may have had doing your own projects.  Drop a comment below, and if you have any questions feel free to leave them below as well.  I will be more than happy to answer them.


8 concrete countertop

Building Your Own Concrete Countertops

Building your own concrete countertops are easier than you think.  Have you ever wanted to have an amazing outdoor bar or grill island that will stand up to the elements and look impressive year after year?  This is a fantastic project that’s the icing on the cake of that awesome grill island you built in the previous post.  Perhaps you need a custom top for your outdoor bar.  There is nothing like a concrete countertop!

First Things First

This is its own project all together, but when it goes on your island it will be most impressive! We will start similar to the foundation, not with digging, but with a form.

Measure your island and be sure of the dimensions before you start. Because of the irregular shape of the stones on the sides I wanted a 2” overhang on all sides. This time instead of using 2 x 4’s for forms we are going to use melamine. The reason for this is it is much easier to remove, and the texture leaves the countertop with a relatively smooth surface.

Cut your pieces for the top of the countertop 1.5 inches wider, to accommodate for the installation of the side pieces. Cut strips for side pieces as thick as you want your countertop. Mine was about 2” thick.
Clamp the side pieces in place one at a time and predrill and countersink the screws. If you don’t countersink the screws, they will be in your way when it comes down to leveling off the concrete.

Keep It Clean

Once your form is all screwed together, remove any dirt or sawdust that is on the surface. This can be done with a lint free rag and rubbing alcohol. Compressed air also works well to remove sawdust, just be sure to wipe it down before you go to the next step.
Using clear or white silicone place a small bead ¼ inch or so, on all the seams and smooth them out with your finger. Be sure there is no excess, as that will leave a void in the finished product. Again, be sure the surface is clean and let the silicone set up for 24 hours before the next step.

Another Crossroads

There are two ways to go about making this countertop. One is to pour your concrete, let it cure, remove the form, flip it over, seal it and viola “instant” countertop! If this is the route you choose then you can skip down to the next section. If you want to stick with me, then read on. The other option is the same, except after you flip it over the top and sides get polished. This is the rout I chose. If you plan on polishing your project, it allows you to place objects and designs into your top!

DIY concrete countertop with designNow is the time to unleash your creative side! After all you ARE building your own concrete countertop, why not put your won “stamp” on it.

For my project I needed to create 2 forms. One for the main surface for grilling, and one for people to sit at and enjoy the food and conversation. For the latter, I decided to place some broken glass and a “K” representing my last name. Now you don’t have to do as I do… I’m just giving an idea of what is possible.

That Personal Touch

To create the “K” I took one of the rocks and sliced it into ½ inch thick pieces on my wet saw. Then I cut the slices into strips to form the letter.  I drew a circle on my form, and used white glue and covered the circle. I was thinking it would work the same way glitter works, on projects from preschool. I’m returning to my childhood here!
I placed my pieces of cut stone and pressed them into the center to form the letter. Then I took the broken red glass and sprinkled it all around within the circle. Allow the whole thing to dry overnight.

Not sure if regular white glue is the best thing to use to hold it all in place, but it worked OK for me.  On my next project I will try using rubber cement or something a little more durable than white school glue.

Mix It Up

It’s time to get our hands dirty once again. My choice in concrete was a high early strength concrete. There are other types of concrete on the market specifically for concrete countertops, but for price and convenience I choose a type that was readily available to me at my local home improvement store.

To determine how much concrete you will need refer to the concrete calculator.
Mix the concrete thoroughly into a peanut butter like consistency, then shovel, or bucket it into your form. I started in the corners first, and made sure to pack it tightly. If you are going to put a design on your top, be sure not to disturb it too much when you place the concrete on top of it. It works OK if you pack it straight down, but try not to move it side to side.
Fill the form completely, then use a straight 2 x 4, or other straight edge level off the top, by moving it back and forth in a sawing motion. The same way it was done for the foundation.

Time For a Shakedown

To remove any voids and air pockets the whole thing needs to be vibrated. This allows the air to rise to the surface. Remember, your countertop is upside down, so any air will leave a void in the top. I’ve seen people use a rubber mallet to accomplish this, but it seemed like a lot of work, especially on a large countertop. My solution was to use my reciprocating saw without a blade on it. I held it directly under the form, and on the sides, and vibrated it like crazy. It’s amazing how much air gets trapped in the concrete during the mixing and pouring process. Do this until minimal air bubbles rise to the surface… yes, it takes a while.

Take A Break

The key to curing concrete is to not let it cure too quickly. I kept my counter covered with plastic for a week, spraying it with a hose daily to keep it moist. This helps to slow down the curing process, and to keep it from cracking. I poured my concrete into the form that I had resting right on the grill island. It took approximately 4 and ½, 80 lbs. bags weighing 360 lbs. total. That’s 163.3 kilograms for my friends outside the United States. This thing is too heavy for one man to move!
After it was cured for a minimum of one L O N G week it was time to remove the form and reveal my creation. Take care in removing the form. The concrete can still chip off the edges. Use a pry-bar against a piece of wood for the stubborn pieces, never use your pry-bar directly on the concrete.

Breaks Over

This next part took some engineering for sure. The task was to flip this monster and then place it exactly where it had to be. This is where we go back to that famous nation… DETERMI-NATION. There were 5 people to help and a determined mind, so using leverage, the top was maneuvered onto a few 2 x 4’s and my picnic table. We then slid the top, with the form still under it and the sides removed onto the 2 x 4’s.
installing a concrete countertop
With the counter off the island I mixed up a batch of mortar and placed a bed all around the perimeter of the grill island. Then using all our might, we flipped the monstrosity over. Slowly and carefully we put it in position and laid it to rest. If you do this, remember communication is key when working with other people. The whole process is no way to lose a finger, or worse, just be careful!

I repeated this step again for the upper countertop. That’s the one with the broken glass in it. Being much smaller and lighter, it was easier to maneuver, and required fewer of my tired friends. In the next segment you can see the entire project completed.

In Conclusion:

As you can see, it’s not too difficult to build your own concrete countertops, and get a professional looking result. If all you were after is a solid place to slice, dice, and roll out your pizza dough, mission accomplished. Just seal the concrete and enjoy. If you are like me and just HAVE to go that extra step further, go to the next post to see how the finishing touches can make all the difference.

<— LAST                    NEXT—>

12 DIY cinder block bb grill island

Cinder Block BBQ Island – More Than Just Blocks

DIY cinder block bb grill island

Grill Island Phase 2

When you hear someone say they are building a cinder block bbq island you probably get a certain picture in your mind and think of an unappealing cinder block wall.  Well the blocks are only the bones of the project, and when we are finished we are going to have something custom, and high class.  If you do this you will not be disappointed.  You are creating something that will stand the test of time.

Your foundation is in place it’s time to lay your first course of cinder blocks. I laid mine out first to be sure everything would fit properly before I started mixing any mortar. When laying cinder blocks in this fashion, use a string line to keep your “wall” straight. It’s very easy to start drifting off.

Build Up Your Barbecue Grill Island

I found this whole process a bit tricky. Not to discourage you, but it does take a bit of practice to lay down just the right amount of mortar for your blocks to rest in. You can watch video after video, but until you actually try it you will never know how difficult it truly is.

All you need for this part of the project is patience, cinder blocks, mortar, and a good trowel.

Since I wasn’t experienced, it took me a lot longer, and I wasted a lot of mortar! But the only way to learn is to try. One more hint is to only mix up as much mortar as you can use in 15 to 20 minutes. This will help to cut down on the waste as well.

Remove your blocks from the foundation and using 2 stakes, one on either side. Run a string line exactly where you want your blocks to sit. Keep your level nearby because you will be using it very soon. Now scoop up some mortar with your trowel and make 2 strips of it about 1” wide and about 1” high for either side of your block to sit on. Place the same size amount on the end as well.

Grab your block and place it evenly on the fresh bed of mortar. Be sure not to push down on it too much, as it will squish a lot of the mortar out. Now use your level and the handle of your trowel to tap the block until it is level.

One down, all the rest to go! Place a bed of mortar on the end of the block you just laid so it will connect to the next block you will lay, and another bed of mortar for it to set in. Repeat this process until you’ve laid the first course.

And Then There Were Two

Starting on the second course, be sure to stagger your seams. If you don’t, that will create weak points in the wall and you will have issues down the road. Just keep everything straight and level and you will be fine.

The average height of a counter top is about 4 eight-inch cinder blocks high, approximately 32 inches. If all you want is a counter top, stop there. I went one more course where the bar area is. This gave a good backdrop for my grill, and also elevated the people sitting there so we could strike up conversation as the food was being prepared.

After you’ve laid your final course, let it cure for a few days. The length of time depends on the temperature and the humidity.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

What look do you want to achieve? You could use a stone veneer, real stone, or even tile. The sky is the limit when it comes to the variety of choices available. I chose something timeless. Plus, I have an extremely generous neighbor who is a farmer, that allowed me to take all the rock I wanted from his field down the road.
So when I say that my island is made of field stone, it truly is made from stone right out of the field down the road. Thanks again Big John.

Once you’ve decided on the look start mortaring all of it up. If you are using tile, be sure to dry fit and plan it out before you start so you don’t wind up with a sliver of a tile at one end. In my case all the shapes were random and it took a lot of trial and error to get the stones to fit just right.

If you are using random shaped rocks, take your time. Make sure you are happy with the way it looks before the mortar cures. This thing is built like a tank and you will be looking at it for many years, so be sure you are content.

As you can see from the pictures, some rocks were quite heavy and required bracing until the mortar set. If you are using some sort of manufactured stone veneer it will probably go much quicker as they are manufactured to be laid a certain way.

Appreciate What You Accomplished

This took me a month to complete. Probably because I’m very picky and had to use just the right stone, in just the right place. The best feeling is when you put on the last stone! You may even want someone there to give you a drum roll when you do it (I did)!

I also used a couple of 4 x 4’s to go across the two openings you see in the picture. This is so I can easily attach doors, by screwing hinges into the wood in the future. I covered the wood with cement backer board and then with the field stone. I used a grinder with a diamond blade to make sure the rocks were not sticking up past the cinder blocks, to allow the counter top to sit flat on the top.
Inside the island I installed two wire shelves braced up on bricks. This is a great place to store all your grilling supplies and keep them out of the weather right at the point of use!

Fill The Gaps

Once you’ve admired work for a bit and how far you’ve come, it’s time to fill in the gaps between the rocks with mortar. Doing this will bind them all together and help hold up the heavy rocks during the freezing and thawing cycles of the seasons, at least where I live.

Use a grout bag (Amazon link) for this procedure. A grout bag looks like the thing used in the bakery to frost cakes. It works fairly well. Mix up your mortar and make not as stiff as normal so you can squeeze it through the grout bag hole. Then starting at the bottom, squeeze the mortar into the gaps. Be sure to use rubber gloves as the chemicals in the mortar will eat your skin away after too much exposure.

The easiest technique I found was to squeeze in the mortar, then smooth it out with my finger. I know there is a tool for this, but I felt I had more control doing it that way. As you go make sure to remove any excess mortar that may have gotten onto the rocks before it cures.

Do one side at a time. Once you are finished with one, go back to where you started and using a paintbrush smooth out all the cracks. The paintbrush leaves a nice texture as well and makes it all look uniform.

In conclusion:

Your walls look great, and are built to last. A project like this is not done overnight. It takes perseverance, dedication, and my favorite… DETERMINATION! Nice job so far. As you can see cinder block BBQ islands don’t have to look like plain cinder blocks! In the next section we will be putting the icing on the cake. The concrete counter top.

<— LAST                    NEXT —>

4 grill island concrete form

Outdoor Kitchen Grill Islands

Let me propose a question… What could be better than relaxing by the beautiful water garden or pondless waterfall you created with your bear hands. Yes, bear hands, because that’s how your hands feel after all that digging!

The answer is, relaxing by your beautiful water garden with a plate of delicious food that you prepared on your new outdoor kitchen grill island. And of course a nice cool beverage to go with it!

Yes, it’s time for yet another project to bring us closer to that at home getaway feel. This time we will be building a stone outdoor kitchen grill island with concrete counter tops.

Location is Key

As before, it’s important to select the right location. You don’t want to travel too far back and forth from your kitchen to your grill. It is also important to orient the entire project in such a way that it creates an inviting area for people to gather and enjoy the view of your water garden.

This is where I may have made a “mistake” in a selfish way. When I created my grill island, it is oriented so the one doing the cooking (ME) gets the best view of the waterfall, while the people at the bar only get to have a conversation with the grill master! But hey, what more could you want… I’m awesome!

When you plan out your project, just keep all that in mind. It’s things like that, that you don’t think of until after, when it’s too late.

When it comes to outdoor kitchen grill islands, you are only limited by your imagination. The island I built was a simple L formation. With a project like this you can always add to it in the future if you didn’t make it large enough or just want a bigger area for seating and entertaining.

Once you have decided on the location and the shape of your next masterpiece, measure it all out, and then use a can of spray paint to outline the foundation. It will be necessary to remove an area 8 inches wider than you plan the island to be.

For this project, my dimensions for my foundation were 16″ wide everywhere, which allows 4″ on either side of the 8″ wide blocks. The other 3 lengths being 32″ X 80″ X 88″

When doing your layout keep in mind the dimensions of the cinder blocks. The ones used were 8” x 8” x 16”. Make it easy on yourself and create a form that will accommodate these dimensions so you don’t have to cut any of the blocks.

Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy

Hopefully your hands and back have healed some since your last project. Now it’s time to break out you two best friends… your shovel, and your will and start digging again!  Remember it is important to know there are no underground utilities before you dig.  Always call before you dig.

You want to remove dirt until you are 12 inches from where the top of your foundation will be. In order to achieve this, you will need wooden stakes, a hammer, a level, and a string line. After you paint out your outline take one stake at the highest part of your site and pound It Into the ground. The top of this stake will be the top of your foundation.

Now pound another stake in around the perimeter. Now place your level on the first stake and pond the second stake in the ground until the top of both stakes are level. If your stakes are further apart than your level is long, rest your level on the straightest 2 X 4 you can find and use that span the gap.

Go around the entire perimeter and set a stake every 4 feet or so. This will ensure that you reach the proper depth. Now dig down until you are 12 below the top of your stakes. Be sure not to disturb the ground deeper than you plan on digging. Leaving this ground undisturbed will help stop your foundation from settling.

Use a hand tamper and compact the dirt on the bottom of your trench. If you are planning on having electricity in your island, now would be the time to put your conduit in place. Thinking ahead when doing a project like this will really pay off. Even if you don’t put electric out there immediately, at least you have an easy way to do it in the future.

Now That You’re Down…

Now fill the trench back up with 2” crusher run, the same kind of stone you would use to make a stone driveway. This will allow for proper draining beneath your island. Fill the trench to 6 inches below the top of your stakes. Use the hand tamper as you go to make sure everything is nice and tight.

It’s time to make your forms. This is sort of like a negative… remember when you had to wait to get your pictures developed, anyways the space inside the form you build will be your foundation. I used 2 x 4’s to build my form. The wood gave the foundation a clean edge and the ground acted as the lower part of the form.

When you make your form I recommend using screws. This way you can easily take it apart after it has cured. Be sure to screw it on the outside of the form because once you add the concrete you will not have access to the screws beneath the concrete.

Here is an example of the form I used:

Now take your form and level the whole thing. Pound in stakes next to it, once the top of the form is where you want it, screw your stake to the form to hold it all in place. Use your level to check from side to side and in line. This is one of the most important steps. Everything in this project is counting on your strong level foundation.

Figure out how many bags of concrete you will need for your project based on the calculations provided by the concrete manufacturer. Always be sure to buy a couple extra just in case.

Before you begin mixing concrete, you will want to reinforce the concrete with rigid wire mesh. Cut it so that it covers the trench. It does not’t have to go all the way to the edges. Using pieces of cut off wire as legs, prop the mesh above the driveway stone so it is suspended above it.

Mix It Up

Get out your trusty wheel barrow and begin mixing your concrete. It’s important to mix it thoroughly so the concrete will cure properly and not have weak spots. Begin to pour the concrete at one end of the trench and fill it to the top of your forms.

As you go, you will need another 2 x 4 and a helping hand. Place the board on the form, spanning over the freshly poured concrete and move it side to side in a sawing motion, while pulling it across the new slab. This will show where more concrete may need to be added. It’s OK if some spills over the edge. Making a mess is all part of the fun!

Keep adding concrete and leveling off the top until the entire foundation is poured. Once you’ve done this allow the concrete to set up a bit, then using a concrete float, go and smooth out the top. This step isn’t all that necessary for this particular project because all of it will be covered by the island.

Finishing concrete is definitely a skill I wish I had. But I figured this was a chance to practice and no one would be the wiser. Give it a shot and let out your inner mason! Full disclosure, prior to this project I had very minimal experience with any type of masonry. If I could do it … so can you!

So Far

Outdoor kitchen grill islands can give you that feeling you’re away while in the comfort of your own backyard. What we’ve created so far is a 6-inch thick floating concrete slab to begin building your outdoor kitchen. Although this is not a glamorous phase of the project it is the most important to get right.


FREE Quick Start Guide
We respect your privacy.