DIY Slate Blackboard Countertops – Living with Slate

In March 2016 (way way back!) I introduced our plan to make our own kitchen countertops from salvaged slate blackboards. Well, after nearly a year and a half of other projects, we have been living with these counters for nearly 3 months. The verdict: we could not be happier with them.

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The natural grain (we used the natural side up instead of the polished writing surface) is stunning, and is the first thing everyone comments on. We were hesitant about scratches and chips, and so far have had zero issues. And this is in a kitchen that we are using AND continuing to do major renovation projects (ie: tools on the counter etc). We are thrilled.

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The slate wipes off like a dream, and we have not had any issues with water, oil, wine or any other substance leaving a funny residue. We still have plans to finish them with mineral oil, but between other projects, cooking dinner, and wrangling a 4 month old we just have not gotten around to it. And they seem to be fine.

We are currently working on cabinet paint and hanging trim. And oh boy does that pull the kitchen together!!! These countertops are the star though, and truly embody the efforts of this DIY remodel.

Progress updates can be found here, here, and here for more details on this DIY project!

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DIY Slate Blackboard Countertops – Install

When we embarked on the DIY blackboard slate countertop project we had a general idea of how to do it, but in the end had to make a bunch of decisions, trial and error, research and pure guts.

Step 1: Cleaning the slate

These blackboards were from the 1940s, and had been glued to the wall with who-knows-what adhesive back in the day. Then at some point they had white boards glued on top of them! In other words, a TON of stuff to remove. You can read more about that process here

Step 2: Building the understructure

Just like a tile countertop, we needed to build up a structure for the slate to attach to. This was pretty straightforward (especially after doing the brick fireplace the same way). A sandwich of ¾” plywood, backerboard attached with thinset and screws, and then taping any seams. This flat, level surface then gave us the template for the slate. We took the opportunity to make the new surfaces a half inch further offset from the cabinets below giving the counters a bit more surface area and a more attractive overhang.

The best part of making our our counters is we could experiment as we went, and truly get it exactly how we wanted. If we had ordered them, we may not have been able to look ahead as far to see how we wanted it.

Step 3: Cutting and Installation

We used a borrowed diamond stone cutting saw (like a mini circular saw with a water attachment) to cut the slate. Matt would measure out the pieces we needed, set them up on sawhorses in the driveway and cut away. He scored guide lines with a metal scraper since drawing them on would wash off with the hose water from the saw. He also learned that using a guide was critical. We used a combination of a standard clamp guide from Harbor Freight, and some old trim clamped on with c-clamps to ensure a straight cut. This step required LOTS of patience and attention to detail. There were certain pieces we had picked out for particular areas due to the grain in the stone, so we only had one shot.

Installing the slate was just like large format tile. We used large format thinset and a wide notched trowel. There were some great resources online demonstrating the importance of how you  lay down the thinset and how it impacts the strength of your floor/counters etc.

We set the slate with as minimal of grout lines as possible, starting with the edge pieces. This would ensure that the top pieces would overlap perfectly to create the counter edge. Clamping them in place was critical to ensure they would not slide as the thinset set up.

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Look of pure relief when the island piece was finally  installed. This one had a super unique grain patter  and was a complex series of angles to get it cut just right.

 

Once the sides were installed and cured, we could move on to the top pieces.

Step 4: Finishing

After experimenting with some trial pieces, we decided to slightly sand a bevel into the leading edge of the counters. This smoothed out the look of the stone and also should reduce chipping in the future. To achieve this, we used a belt sander to take off a fine bit of slate. It made all the difference in taking this project to a pro level. Some we sanded once they were set, some we did before.

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Step 5: Sealing

After reading up on options, we decided to just finish our counters with mineral oil. And well, honestly have not done that yet. We still plan to, but they are performing so well just as they are.

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By doing this project ourselves we save a TON of money, got the material we wanted (dark, solid, natural stone), saved materials from the landfill and truly achieved a unique one of a kind feature for our home. We still have a pile of leftover slate so we may do this again for an outdoor kitchen…

Questions? We would be happy to answer them!

A Sewing Project: Maternity Caftan

A few months ago now I ordered a maternity caftan dress. I really liked it, but there was something just “off” about the fabric, and the neckline…concept  was great, but it was not right for me. So I decided to dust off  the sewing machine I have received last Christmas (still in the box) and make my own.

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My friend Jenny was visiting and we scouted the perfect linen/rayon fabric, adorable buttons and I was inspired to start.

Then came the actual starting. I did not have a real pattern, just one I had made (and I have never made a pattern before) and so was a bit lost in what parts to do first. I was thrilled  with my success with threading the machine on my first try, and remembering how to wind a bobbin. YouTube later came in very very handy  as I started putting things together and came across questions. You see, I have sewn in the past, but never on my own. It was always a project with my mom at the ready to step in and help. This was my first true solo project, on a new machine all by myself.

Two weeks ago I finally did make some progress. I had the major parts cut out and pinned…and then I was stuck. Interfacing the neckline was a new concept, and I was not making heads or tails out of the tutorials online. So the project sat.

And sat.

And I kept getting closer to my due date. If this was supposed to be a maternity (and nursing) dress, I had better get it done if I wanted to wear it!!!So this weekend I unpacked all my supplies and really gave it a go.

I conquered the neckline, and pockets, and button loops. I even gave the hemming foot a shot…and ended up making a turned hemline the old fashioned way (or sloppy way?) with my hands, an iron and lots of patience, finished with two rows of top stitching.

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Result? I am beyond pleased! The caftan dress looks great! My nearly 37 week belly JUST fits, but it will be wonderful for nursing. The neckline is exactly what I wanted. It was a learning project, so there are things I would FOR SURE do differently next time, but I am excited to wear this in the coming weeks and years.

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Kitchen Demo

Memorial Day weekend Monday the first bit of granite tile was smashed in our kitchen. By Wednesday afternoon, demo was done! There were a few (very frustrating) snags, but overall it was quick and successful!

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The biggest snags were what were supposed to be the easy quick parts: taking out the gas stove and sink. Disconnect, lift up and out. Right? RIGHT? Wrong.

For both of these, the attachments were in too cramped of a location to utilize tools to loosen connections. Both ended up being cut and will be a repair job later. Not ideal, but that is what you deal with when you remodel (and want to save things!). We really like our stove, and ADORE the wall mount farmhouse sink and did not want to repurchase either of them…never mind that replacement was not in the budget!

The sink was also grouted in place rather than calked, which was a large concern for additional chip/cracking damage. It is successfully out in one piece though and waiting to be reinstalled.

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Backsplash and counter came off pretty easily and cleanly. The plywood is still in good shape so that is some time and cost savings.

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Now we are on to the rebuilding phase. New drywall and backerboard, then we can lay the counters and tile backsplash. Cabinets are ready to be sanded and painted. The end is nearer than it has ever felt!

34 Weeks Pregnant without a Kitchen

And the remodel journey continues…

Today I hit 34 weeks in my pregnancy with our little Grain. Belly is big and sleeping is not great. This week baby found that he/she gets a few extra inches by stretching feet into my ribcage at night. It is painful!!! As if it were not already hard enough to roll over or get up to pee every hour! Luckily as soon as I am up the pain is gone and I can generally go about my day, with a slight waddle of course.

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nearly 34 weeks pregnant, prepping the garden!

For the long Memorial Day weekend we took a break and played!

Ha, just kidding. We do not feel like we have time for a break right now. Although a day at the lake sounded perfect with 80 temps, we remind ourselves how good it will feel to have the house back, but to get there we have to keep plugging along. So we did.

It took a day and a half to empty the kitchen and remove cabinet doors/hinges. Then we paused and took a day to seriously get the garden started for the season. Matt broadforked the areas where we pulled out the overgrown winter garden while I prepped for and planted beans, zucchini, squash and zinnias. We moved some kale starts, and prepped a bed for corn. The garden looks SO much more under control, at least for the house facing half. We will need to get more space cleared for 60ish tomato plants, but that is likely a few weeks out. They are happy on the deck for the moment.

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garden prep day

After killing ourselves in the sun and garden (oh boy did an Epsom salt bath feel good on this pregnant body!) we slept like rocks. Good thing, because Monday was full too. Matt bottled hard cider in the morning, I planted corn, and then we started on the kitchen demo.

Demo on the kitchen counters and backsplash have been a looming milestone for months now. The final really messy piece of this remodel…and a time critical one since it means a stretch of living without a kitchen. It is also an unknown of how easy (or hard) the removal of these old materials would be…while preserving the sink, appliances, and cabinets.

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kitchen ready for demo!

I am happy to report that the counter tops came off easier than we were expecting, and the backerboard and plywood under the old granite tile is in great shape! That will be a time/cost saver. Taking out the sink was not an easy task. It was a) grouted in place (ugh!!!) and b) the plumbing is soldered copper that is tucked way up behind the sink where we cannot disconnect it. This will require cutting and more rebuilding when we go to put the sink back. Figuring that out took more time that we anticipated, but this week Matt should have a whole lot done! We are anxious to see how the rest of it goes.

So yes, we are living without a kitchen, 6 weeks away from our little Grain’s due date. Luckily the sunny weather has made evenings on the deck a perfect retreat from the chaos of the house, and Matt and I are riding the happy wave of progress, sunshine and excitement of our growing family.

DIY Blackboard Kitchen Countertops: An Update

Remember wayyyy back, like over a year now, when I introduced our grand plan to DIY our kitchen countertops? Well, that is still the plan and I am THRILLED to report that we are actually now working on that project.

The house remodel scope significantly morphed, and ended up going far past the kitchen and dining room, so we decided to finish up those other spaces (keeping our kitchen usable) and finally ending with it’s demo…and the long awaited counters!

If you don’t know the story of how we came to choose salvaged solid slate blackboards as our countertops, you can check that out here. These beauties (or rather, diamonds in the rough) have been leaning against our house for the past year, patiently waiting for their turn.

While they have been waiting, so have we. We always a knew that they would work as counters, but were still just assuming that we could successfully get off the old 1940s adhesive that is awkwardly stuck all over the slabs. If we could not get it off cleanly, we were going to have to come up with Plan B for counters…and that was NOT the goal.

After a super rainy start to spring, this week blessed us with some sunshine, and an opening to get outdoors, set up the sawhorses and get to glue removal. I need to keep baby away from all construction fumes, so this is a solo job for my sweet handy husband.

He set out with two main approached: a heat gun (borrowed from our local tool library) and Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover. Much to our excitement, the heat gun worked like a charm to pull off big blobs of glue and then the residue remaining dissolved with the chemicals…and a significant amount of elbow grease. We are planning to use the “natural” more textured side of these slabs and it is stunning to see them really clean. It is a huge weight off our shoulders to know that we have a solution that works!

Two down, maybe 6 more to go? We have roughly 35 slabs to work with (!) but only need 6 for the kitchen. Extras will be practice for cutting, other projects or maybe passing them along to other inspired DIYers.

The forecast promises more rain this week, but then we hope to get back to our lovely counters, finish glue removal, demo the kitchen and then cut the new counters to fit!

10 Week Countdown

Today we hit 30 weeks in our pregnancy with Grain. My belly is a basketball and Matt is constantly cracking good hearted jokes about me being a turtle with my shell on backwards.

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Matt is cranking away on the remodel…we are going to need every last day to get this thing done. What is left? A lot:

-finish building/installing kitchen cabinets

-clean blackboard slate (old glue from when they were installed in a school)

-demo existing counters and backsplash

-install new counters and backsplash

-refinish hardwood floors

-install crown/baseboard and other molding

-paint kitchen cabinets, pantry and new fireplace builtins (this may be a post baby project)

Ambitious? Yes, but it is what we need to do. We scheduled the crowning piece for the final week in June: refinishing the hardwood floors! Two weeks before my due date could be an issue, but we have a place to stay nearby, with backup plans if baby has decided to come early. People keep asking about the nursery and I just have to laugh…not till the upstairs is done!

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We decided to put open bookshelves for cookbooks etc on the end of our new cabinet section. When all trimmed out and painted white, this kitchen is going to look SO GOOD!

Spring is still taking it’s time in arriving in the PNW. We still have not hit 60 more than a few times! The garden is so far behind and it has been so wet that there has not been much motivation to do anything. We have some tomatoes and squash started in the house, so when it does warm up we will get them outside (and free up space!).

Living in a remodel has been not comfortable, but we are managing it pretty darn well. Luckily our master bedroom is still an untouched retreat where we can have some sense of normalcy in our house. I have been doing a lot of sleeping, resting, taking baths…Matt has been fabulous at just letting me be however I need to be to grow little Grain. It is exhausting!

Since I do not have a direct role in the remodel physically, I am supporting with a constant stream of supplies, research, food and project management (ha!). Getting bids on hardwood floors was a focus last month and we are thrilled with the team we found. I need to order backsplash tile soon, and measure for crown and baseboard molding (I misplaced my list of lengths many months ago…ugh!)

Wish us luck in this last stretch! It is slightly intimidating, but we can see the light at the end of this long long tunnel. And there will be a baby to snuggle when we get there!