Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Adventures in budget renovations- Copper Counter tops

As I mentioned yesterday I have had A LOT of emails recently about my counter tops. So today I wanted to share a little bit about them, the up and the downs.
We did our counters all by ourselves, but I am a  Jeweler/metal worker who already has all the tools and loads of experience working with metal. Not that you have to be a metal worker to do this but knowing a lot about working with copper made this project a lot easier for us.

I chose Copper counter tops because of their unique warmth and beauty. I'm just not the granite kind of gal, I hate cleaning tile grout, and we wanted a higher end finish than laminate. My husband and I had always admired the copper counters at one of our favorite coffee shops so we decided to look into copper. I started researching, and reading forums, and calling every metal supplier in my county. Here is a list of everything I feel is important to know about copper as a  kitchen surface. If you still feel like it's the right choice for you then stick around for my tutorial.

  • Copper has a "living" finish, which means that it is constantly oxidizing. Anything that comes in contact with the surface will leave it's mark. This gives the counter a mottled depth and lots of interest, it also looks kind of grungy. I love it but I also have to remove everything from the counter, scrub it down with a sponge and soapy water, and spray a light wax on it 1-2 times a week.
Here it is before I scrub and polish it, notice the "verdigris" green spots from water drops. The spots will come right off but see the ring from a glass over in the right corner, that will not polish out unless you use a heavier polish.

Here is that same spot after it has been cleaned and polished, it's really not much different except now it is shiny and the spots are gone, but all the residual marks are still there

Here is the same polished spot but shot from a different angle, see how clean and shiny it is despite that mottled surface marks
  • You can seal the tops but most clear coats will just scratch and peel off in the heavy use areas.
  • Copper is a soft metal so it may scratch and dent easily. Mine is still dent and scratch free but I am very careful not to drop things on it, drag things across it, etc..
  • If you do get a scratch you can sand it out but depending on the gauge (thickness) of the metal you may wear down the surface.
  • Copper has anti-microbial properties, which you can read more about here, which is great for a kitchen
  • Copper is currently much more expensive that it has ever been. For (2) 3x5 sheets of 16oz copper we paid almost $500! This was for industrial grade copper, which means that it may not be scratch/dent free.I purchased mine from a roofing company, and the man who sold it to me told me I could not make a decent surface with it (which I just took as a challenge) and he tried very hard to talk me out of using 16oz copper.
  • Ideally for a surface you would use 20 oz. Copper. All I could get a hold of was 16 oz. and my counter turned out flawless but it wasn't easy. Basically what it means it that for every square foot there is 16 oz (or 1lb.) of copper, this makes it about a 24 gauge. It is thin enough to bend with your hands but too thick to cut nicely with tin snips.
  • We laminated our copper to mdf using a specialized glue called TC-20. This is the most important part and is what makes your surface feel solid. We chose to use 3/4" mdf over 1/2" plywood for the under layers of the counter. Stay tuned for a tutorial. We ordered the glue from this company, it is not expensive but you do have to order it and wait for it to come so order more than you think you need. you could use epoxy or contruction adhesive but this product is by far the easiest to work with. It is VOC free, cleans up with water, and is relatively cheap.
  • If you have an L shape or corner of length longer than the sheet in your kitchen you will have to consider how you will resolve the seam. You can have the seam braised but it may warp the the sheets and make it impossible to glue down. We chose to make our seam by laying 2 perfectly straight edges up against each other and then fill the crack with a copper epoxy. Yes you can see the seam, no it does not bother me. Truthfully I hardly even notice it, and the epoxy is holding up really well. To me it was much more important that my surface be perfectly flat and fully glued to the mdf than having an invisible seam. 
Here is the seam the day we layed the copper onto the MDF. 
Notice how "new penny" the surface looks
here is that same seam today, it is noticeable but just barely. 
Notice how "old penny" it looks now
  • When you first lay the copper it will be bright and shiny like a new penny, it will quickly turn to old penny. If you do not like the way an old penny looks then this is not the surface for you. It will never stay bright and shiny and perfect looking. It is very important to understand this. If you are not sure how you would feel about it go down to the hardware store and buy a small sheet of copper from the K&S stand. Take the little sheet home wash it with soap and a scrubby and set it out in your kitchen, maybe near your sink. Rub your hands on it, put a slice of lemon on it, get it wet and do a few experiments to see how it oxidizes in your home. If after a few weeks you still like it then go for it!
  • There are a lot of products you can use to clean and wax your counter tops. I tried all of them. For the first 6 months I tried something different nearly every week. To get your surface back to the bright shiny raw state it was when you laid it take half a lemon dip it in salt and rub it on the surface. It will eat away the oxidation instantly. You can then rinse it with water and bam it's brand new again. this is good to do if you get a mark that you really don't like, I do not recommended that you do this more than twice a year. If you do not wax the metal it will darken within a day or so. If you do wax it it will still darken just much slower.
  •  I do not like to use heavy wax like a car wax because it leaves a buildup that you then have to scrub off, yuck! I like to clean the surface with a warm soapy sponge then I towel dry it and apply a light multi-surface wax. 
This one said it could be used on wood, granite, or stainless so I figured Copper was somewhere in between those.

I have said it a few times and I feel like I need to say it again. Copper counter tops are not for everyone! I love them and I am okay with cleaning them constantly but there are still days when I feel like we should have gone a different way. I have had a lot of really nice complements on them but I have also had a lot of negative ones, including a few from a real estate agent about the resale value of installing copper surfaces :(
This was one of our splurges in our kitchen. It is a high end finish for a reason, we were able to DIY them for about a third of the cost of having them installed but it was a ton of work and stress and problem solving.
I hope that answers a lot of your questions, and feel free to keep asking. I will try to get the tutorial up tomorrow so come on back if they are still a surface you'd be interested in.

Peace and pennies from heaven!


  1. I love its look but not sure I could cope with its high maintanance but it does look fabulous.

  2. I love copper. I made my own countertop forms and bought the copper myself--then found a tin shop to add the copper to the forms and do the corners. I love seeing what others do with their copper and your post has really helped me. Thank you. NO they are not for everyone, but to each his own. I think they look very rich. Love yours and the cabinets.


A kind word always brightens my day!

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