My how the concrete countertop industry has grown over the last 10 years! Knowing what we know now, it is comical to reflect back on my first permanent countertop dating back roughly 18 years. This rather crude piece was cast out of a self-leveling overlay then chemically stained complete with precast back splashes -- it actually came out quite nice despite the lack of available information. This 30-square-foot counter had a happy life of over 14 years before being ripped away from the cabinets and replaced with high-end granite. The countertop was still very functional and looked decent; however, it was time for a complete kitchen remodel at my sister's house. Once her remodel was complete, she had to be the bearer of bad news and phoned letting me know my first-ever concrete countertop now rested in peace at the bottom of the construction dumpster. Thanks, Sis!
Since that first countertop, it is hard to put a number on how many cast-in-place and precast countertops we poured through the years. What a learning curve it was and still is! On the subject of cast-in-place vs. precast, I find it is a somewhat divided topic of discussion. Some precast professionals maintain their method is by far the best method, claiming that if you are going to cast a concrete countertop in place "you may as well put a slab of sidewalk on the countertop." They add that there is no mess to clean up inside the client's home. On the other hand, some cast-in-place professionals proclaim "a good percentage of precasters don't have the necessary skills to produce a high-quality, hand-troweled surface." These are some of the comments I've heard through the years, and since I'm not trying to start a debate I will stay neutral on the subject and say I believe both methods have very distinct and unique qualities. The bottom line is you can achieve certain looks and effects via precasting, such as exotic embedments like decorative glass and certain minerals, while cast-in-place lends itself to a rich, hand-crafted look that is difficult to obtain with precast. Both methods have important considerations to take into account when pursuing the concrete countertop market.
If you are considering the precast method, you need a shop large enough to facilitate the casting tables, mixers and raw materials as well as woodworking tools like table saws, routers and sanders. In addition, you also need the carpentry skills to fabricate the sometimes-delicate formwork. Don't forget that after you have successfully finished your countertop at the shop you will need to deliver the piece to its new family, which can sometimes be a challenging endeavor due to its weight and vulnerability to chipping or cracking.
I have heard horror stories of contractors shipping their award winning pieces via common carriers only to find them totally destroyed at the other end. One such story included a countertop project with a very tight schedule that required shipping the finished pieces cross country on a common freight carrier only to find out that each piece was damaged by the freight company. The contractor's client had chosen the freight carrier trying to negotiate the most economical freight rate which turned into an insurance claim and more importantly, a huge delay on the project since virtually every piece had to be re-cast and re-shipped. Dominick Cardone, The Concrete Impressionist, was so concerned with these issues that he actually hand delivered his finished counters to the Luxor in Las Vegas all the way from New York!