We’ve been noticing an increased demand for cement tables lately. They’re a great alternative to other tabletop options – and for countertops to – if you are looking for a natural, organic style. In this particular project, we were asked by the builder to fabricate a natural gray colored cement table for their clients in Dallas, TX. Their criteria was absolutely no seams, just one long, thick, solid slab. Overall it was to be about 4′ wide by 10′ long by a little over 3″ thick. We did a little math and determined that if it were truly solid the table top alone would tip the scales at over 1,500 lb. Some compromise was clearly needed.
We put our collective heads together to find an answer. The client had provided us with a rigid 2″ tubular steel frame with wood legs upon which to create our masterpiece. After looking it over, the easiest thing to do was to make the cement table appear to be 3″ thick. We did this by creating a drop down lip that rolled over the steel framework of the base, making it disappear completely. While the edge came in at 3.25″ tall, the center portion of our cement table was only about 1″ thick. This one trick dropped the weight by almost 900 lb.; still not a lightweight combination but now something you could actually move with four or five guys if you had to.
Now we were cooking with gas! There are two ways to build a cement table, one is cast in place; the second is precast. With cast in place we build the mold for the table top on site directly on the existing steel frame. With precast, we build the mold in our shop, pour the table top, then install it on the same frame. We’re big fans of cast in place for two reasons, no seams and safety. While technically it would be possible to create a cement table of this size as a single precast piece, imagine having to lift a 600 lb. + piece of concrete out of our shop, load it on a truck, move it without damaging it to the home, then trying to lift, drop, push, pull, rotate, and finally shoehorn something this heavy, long, and wide through a doorway and on to the frame, without damaging it, and more importantly, the installers themselves. Any slip and that’s all she wrote.
With cast in place, the heaviest thing we have to move at a time is one bag of cement (a paltry 80 lb.) into our cement mixer. Dump it all into a wheelbarrow and fill up the mold. Of course, there are pros and cons to each method. The biggest advantage of precast is control. You are doing it in your shop, you don’t have to deal with other subcontractors working on the same job who may damage your mold (has happened), spill or put their drinks on the table tops or countertops while they are still setting up (seen it, been there), have issues with weather (nothing like a summer rainstorm that blows up out of nowhere damaging your materials or while you’re mixing your concrete), etc. Since it is all inside in a nice, closed up shop, these issues don’t come up.
That being said, we still like the cast in place option for our cement table because we don’t have the seams and we don’t have the safety issues. It can be a pain as we have to do all the work on site, versus in the shop which is almost always closer, but the final result is well worth the extra hassle. One final selling point is the look. If a client wants a very finished, or what we call tight look, almost like it was machined out of a solid slab of concrete, then precast is the way to go. Since all the visible surfaces are created by pouring it directly against a mold face they tend to be very smooth and precise; however it also tends to be somewhat monochromatic with little variation is color or texture. Cast in place involves trowelling the horizontal surfaces; it is an artisan process that requires a high skill set as the installer repeatedly swipes across the hardening concrete surface with a steel trowel creating a lot of personality in the cement table or countertop but it will have variations in smoothness and texture. Either way, both processes are great options, which way to go just depends on your personality. In this case, everyone was pleased with the final result.