This year we finally hired a lawn service. I’ve been doing all the yard work myself for the past 18 years in this house but that was getting old (and I’m getting old too). Plus I imagined what else I could be doing with my time if I wasn’t spending 4-6 hours every weekend on back breaking yard work. I could definitely work on a lot of cool projects that I never had a chance to get around to. When we hired the guys to do the lawn, one of those cool projects that I got to work on this past summer was a DIY Concrete Fire Table.
At least 10 years ago, I built some outdoor coffee tables for around the pool. They were pressure treated bases with a ceramic tile tops. When they were new they looked great but after 10 years outside in the weather, they were looking pretty beat up. The bases were still okay but the tile tops were shot. The grout was stained and all broken up, the tiles were loose, the 2×4 frames around the tops were rotting. Definitely time for an overhaul.The kids also wanted a fire pit so I figured that I kill two birds with one bag of concrete (actually several bags) and make a DIY concrete fire table.
Since I subscribe to a lot of DIYers on YouTube, I’ve seen a few people do these cool concrete counter tops and they didn’t seem that hard to do. This video by DIYPete convinced me that building a DIY concrete fire table was worth trying.
Now I definitely have experience with concrete. When I was young, my father would use me as cheap (free) labor for his DIY projects. He’d take a week vacation and build some project that usually required me to bust my ass all week. When we built a ridiculously huge deck in the backyard, I had to carry a giant truckload worth of wood from the front of the house to the back. Or when we built a concrete patio, I had to mix a literal ton of concrete by hand. No reason to rent a cement mixer, we’re only making the patio about the size of airplane runway. Here’s a shovel son.
Well those staycations actually gave me some valuable experience. Like mixing concrete. I have a feel for that now because I’ve done it so much. How much water, how much mixing. Lots of shortcuts and things. So building concrete counter tops for these old coffee tables sounded like a great DIY project for me.
Building the wood frame
Now after some concrete calculations, these concrete counter tops were going to be heavy. I think my calculations were about 175 pounds. So I needed to make sure the bases were strong enough to support them with no problems. The bases were built using four 4x4s for the legs with 5/4 decking as cross pieces. I used my table saw to rip a corner out of the 4x4s to connect the decking boards too with screws. It seemed pretty solid already but I wanted a little overkill so I’d never have to worry about it.
I also took pressure treated 2x4s and built a frame on the inside for additional support. The combination of the 4x4s and the new 2x4s made these tables ridiculous sturdy. I could definitely stand and jump on top of them without noticing any wobble. The concrete counter tops would be fine for this DIY concrete fire table. And after a fresh coat of paint, they looked good as new.
What kind of concrete mix to use
When picking a type of concrete to use for the counter top or tabletop, where else do I turn but YouTube. Unfortunately, there’s tons of cutting edge and specialized concrete mixes out there that most people use that aren’t available at my local big box store. They have concrete reinforced with fiberglass that is strong enough that you can make a 1″ thick counter top and not worry about it cracking or breaking. That would have been cool but Home Depot doesn’t sell that. No I would have to work with what I could easily get my hands on. I’d have to make these tops 2″ thick with rebar or some kind of reinforcement.
Dying the concrete
Using a concrete dye is a great way to make the concrete tabletop look a little classier. I used a product called Quikrete Liquid Cement Color. It’s easy to do and comes out great if you follow the directions. Now if you search for concrete dye online, you’ll see a lot of people complaining about how it didn’t work. I’m here to say that if you follow the directions it definitely works. You have to add the dye to the water in a bucket before you add it to the concrete mix. Just pouring a bottle of dye into dry concrete mix does nothing. Keep that in mind and you’ll have a nicely colored concrete counter top.
How to Make the Forms
To make a concrete tabletop, you have to make a form. You can use melamine sheets to build your form. There should be 4’x8′ sheets of it somewhere near the plywood in your big box store. Measure and cut the pieces to size on a table saw or with a circular saw. You’re basically building a shallow box for the concrete to sit it. Use sheet rock screws to put it together. Don’t glue it up because you’re going to take this apart after the concrete cures. If you’re making the table top 2″ thick, then the box should have 2″ inch sides pieces measured from the inside of the form. So if you’re using 3/4″ melamine then cut the side pieces at 2 3/4″ so you get 2″ tabletop. For the fire table insert I cut more melamine and duct taped to it. You can screw or nail it but duct tape worked fine. I’ve seen other people use a foam board insulation for this too.
Once the form is screwed together snap a bead of silicon caulk along the edges. This will help get you a nicer edge. If the concrete is too wet or the form isn’t perfectly square you could get some seepage. Not a big deal but there will be more to clean up later. So the silicon helps you save some time in the long run and it’s worth it.
How To Get Rid of Air Bubbles
Once you have all the concrete in the form you’re going to want to pack it in there. Get some rubber gloves and poke your fingers in there. This will help get rid of little air bubbles that will cause your table top to have little holes in it. You can also use hand sander to vibrate the form. Since I’m building an outdoor fire table and not a kitchen counter top, I wasn’t worried about how smooth it was. A few holes in there give it a nice rustic look so I didn’t concentrate on this step too much.
Letting it Cure
Now here’s the part where you need patience. You have to let it cure for at least 48 hours. When I did this project over the summer, it was really humid so I gave it a week before I took it out of the form. Then I gave it another week to dry outside of the form. There was definitely moisture on the bottom of the tabletop so I flipped it once to make it got enough air to cure properly. Get a friend to help you flip it because these things are heavy.
Now comes the fun part. Now that the table top is out of the form and it’s totally cured, you’re going to get your first idea at what your DIY concrete fire table is going to look like. Time to sand it smooth. Just use regular sandpaper and a hand sander. Use your hands to feel how smooth it is. You don’t want your guests to scrape their hands when they pick up their drink. Even if you leave it looking rustic like I did, it still need a good sanding.
Sealing the Concrete
Just like a patio, you’ll want to seal your concrete. It’s pretty easy, you just paint it on. Let it dry in between and use several coats. I think I used five coats. Follow the instructions on the container.
Attaching the Top to the Base
You’ll need to get a friend to help you life the table top into position. If you build a wood base make sure you include a flat surface for the concrete slab to sit on. The table is so heavy that it’s definitely not going anywhere but you should use some construction adhesive just to be safe. There’s a few different brands that I’ve used in the past but I’ve had good results with Liquid Nails.
Choosing a Fire Table Insert
I bought this Drop-in Fire Pit Pan from Amazon for about a hundred dollars. They come in different sizes and shapes so browse around and pick the one you like. Obviously you should have one picked out before you make your concrete form. In fact, it’s a lot easier to get the dimensions of the form correct if you actually have the fire table insert on hand to measure. Some of these inserts come with all the plumbing you need to connect to a propane tank or to a natural gas line. Make sure you read all the product details and get everything you need. You may need more hose or a breather or different fittings to make it all work together.
Selecting Fire Glass
Now picking out the fire glass was much easier. I picked this Dragon Glass – Red Fire Glass because it looked nice. I got two 10 pound bags to make sure my fire table insert would be full. Wound up using about a bag and a half.
Depending on what you fire table insert you bought and what it came with it, the set up may be as easy as hooking up a propane tank to your BBQ or difficult enough that you should call a plumber. If you’re not comfortable with hooking up gas lines then definitely call a plumber. If you’ve done this before, then get your soap bubbles ready and connect everything.
That’s about it. This was a fun project that most intermediate DIYers can tackle on their own. After I built this DIY Concrete Fire Table I actually updated my 8 foot patio bar with a concrete top too. Needed three people to lift that thing but that’s a DIY Project post for another time.