“Twice as Nice” – A concrete mantle project in Lucas, Texas
This outdoor fire pit in Lucas, Texas would go through more than one transformation before we were done with it. The first time around, we were contracted to build a concrete mantle around the fire pit. The pit already had a stone back and base, so the concrete mantle would enclose the fire pit on three sides and the sides of the stone wall. The homeowners also wanted the mantle to be wide enough to double as a countertop, so the mantle would need to have a lip that extended past the edge of the stone base.
The countertop would be cast-in-place, meaning it would be built at the home in Lucas. Cast-in-place countertops and mantles require us to build custom-made molds. In this case, a custom mold would allow us to create a seamless concrete mantle that fits the space exactly. First, we took measurements for the custom mold, which we then built on top of the stone base. We added wire mesh to reinforce the concrete, and we poured the concrete into the mold. After applying a chocolate-brown stain to the mantle’s surface, we hand-troweled the surface to smooth it out. Hand-troweling also creates swirls and other beautiful, unique variations in the color stain.
After the concrete hardened, we removed the mold by tearing it apart, and then we sealed the surface. The finished concrete mantle had a lip that extended four inches away from the fire pit’s stone base, making it possible to use the mantle as a counter. The homeowners loved it. The seamless mantle looked great, and its unique shape and color variations added character to the fire pit. It was exactly what they wanted. A week later, they called us again. They still loved our work, but they were no longer satisfied with it. In the days since we’d left, they’d thought it over, and they’d decided that the concrete mantle just wasn’t wide enough. They wondered if it could be widened a little bit more.
We had two options. We could tear it all out and start over from scratch, which would require us to build a new mold and pour new concrete into it. This would take time and expense. Our other option would be to widen the existing mantle with the help of an overlay. This kind of overlay is also known as a “cap.” The cap would take less time and would use less material, but the mantle would no longer be one seamless piece of concrete.
The homeowners approved the addition of an overlay. With the second layer of concrete, the concrete mantle became two inches thicker. The base of the mantle stayed the same distance to the ground, while the surface was now two inches higher. We also widened the lip by an inch. We added special edges to the concrete mantle’s lip. The finished edges were at an angle; the base of the lip didn’t stick out as far as the top. We applied a second chocolate-brown stain to the concrete mantle’s surface, now covered by the seamless overlay. As a final step, we sealed the surface to protect it from liquid stains and other damage.
Once again, the homeowners loved the changes we’d made to their fire pit. We packed up and left, but we still wondered if they’d contact us again. We were not disappointed; we heard from them again six months later. This time, they weren’t interested in making additional changes to the concrete mantle; instead, they wanted us to work on a grill on the other side of the house.