Orca Counter

Here the full photo series for this project


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This is one of my more recent pieces, and is the counter top that is on one side of my, very large, fish tank I am building in the basement room, that I also built,  but more on that in future posts, as I wanted to show the process I went through to make this counter top and the mosaic.

Originally I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with this brick wall.  I knew I wanted to make a counter top to extend the side of the tank stand, but wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. At first I thought I would put the plywood up and then tile the counter in white subway tiles but I wasn’t in love with the idea, or the added cost to of grout, sealant, thin set etc…

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We have kept a deep rock bottle for many years that we put all our bottle caps in, and I had always intended to use them to make some mosaic of sorts. I had tried a bit with setting them as mosaic tiles before with our house number sign, but the sign needs to be bigger for the mosaic to work. I also had several types of  cements in the garage outside, including white Portland cement, as well as a few different colored aggregates, which I had been using for building rock formations for the big tank.

I started by sorting all the beer caps by color groups, and took about 2 days to sort them all out. This was, in many ways, like taking census of your household beer drinking habits for the last 10-15 years, so it was kind of interesting to see. Heineken, Boulder Beers and Breckenridge are apparently are our top 3 beers.

Next I started trying a few different designs, including turtles and fish, but decided I wanted something that would stretch across the counter top, like a whale, or porpoise. In the end the Orca patterning and body shape worked best for this.

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After I had decided on the design, I penciled in the pattern before I removed the bottle caps, so that I could build the frame of the box around the counter to hold it all in. I then masked off all the edges I wanted to protect from the next steps.

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For the next part, I had decided I wanted to use different color concretes but to do that, I would need to make some sort of temporary form mold to hold the shape of the different concretes. During the process of building the tank stand, I had squared off a bunch of 2×4 boards, this meant I had quite a few super thin strips of wood, which I soaked in water to prior to setting the form. I used small finish nails to hold the form in place.

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Once the form was in, I mixed and poured the first concrete mix, which was White Portland cement and white reef sand. This went in all around the outside of the form for the ‘sea water’, and as soon as I spread it out, I would press the bottle caps it the concrete and then smooth it around the cap using various tools and a spray bottle.

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Let it sit for a few hours, then come back and remove the forms, and make the forms for the white spots on the Orca. I poured those in with White Portland cement, and a black sand for the aggregate, just to set it off from the other white cement. As soon as I poured both the white I started on the gray cement, which I used standard mason mix with some added black sand as well. You have to work quickly and methodically to get all the beer caps pressed in and cleaned before the cement starts to set.

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Somewhere during all this I had decided I was going to pour an clear epoxy resin over the top of this, so that it would look awesome, be solidly encased and waterproof, given there is to be a large saltwater fish tank next to it.  I did some research and settled on a Bar top epoxy that pours out in 1/8″ layer and is self leveling. At first I only ordered enough epoxy to do one pour, but once I did a bit of math I decided I would buy enough for 2 pours.

In hindsight though, I should have ordered 3, as one more pour would have filled the edges of the counter perfectly, but each pour costs about $80, and I had already exceed my budget for the month. I am still thinking of putting a third layer on it though, to fill it up before, I fill the tank and build some bar rails around it.

Doing the pours themselves are fairly nerve wracking and quite a process. For starters you have to build a tent around the area, and heat the inside temp to around 85 degrees or more. You then have to mix the epoxy, which is very specific in amounts and mixing times. Failure to meet any of the directions for the pour can result in a bad pour and ruin the whole thing. Luckily though I did my homework and planned it all out ahead of time.

Had one issue with the seal coat not completely sealing the surface underneath and some micro bubble made it into the first pour, but otherwise it turned out great and has really become one of my favorite pieces so far.

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To do on this is to add a molded bar rail around the front and maybe one around the feet area, but that will likely come sometime down the road.