Cinder Block BBQ Islands – More Than Just Blocks
Grill Island Phase 2
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.
Start To Build Up Your Barbecue Grill Island
I found this whole process a bit tricky. Not to discourage you, but it does take a bit 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 is.
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.
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.
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 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 probably a tool for that, 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.
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.