You know how watching the Food Network makes you hungry?
Well, something similar happened Saturday evening when Rob and I were watching the DIY Network.
After watching other people install slate in their bathrooms and on their floors, I just couldn't wait any longer.
Demolition on our ceramic tile countertops actually started Friday night, when I begged Rob to let me chip away at one row, just to see what was underneath. I suspected it was concrete board, and I was right. (This saved us a ton of time, by the way.) I stopped myself after a row and a half.
But Saturday, I figured I'd just chip away at another couple of rows and Rob could finish the job this week. We planned  to install our new countertops next weekend.
Before long, Rob had gotten his own chisel and hammer and after about two hours of careful chipping away, we'd taken out all the tile. It was about 9 p.m. We both love demolition, so it was a pretty satisfying Saturday night.
We stopped ourselves there – we know from other homeowners' experiences that you should never do something like take out a sink when the hardware store is closed.
But we woke up Sunday morning ready to work. We started with what we figured would be our easiest cut – the straight rectangle part of the counter.
We measured the space twice and the slate sheet at least three times. I'd heard that you should put masking tape down the area that you want to cut to prevent chips.
So we tried it, finding that the masking tape got wet under the tile saw and got in the way. After that, we just used a permanent marker to mark our cuts.
Rob rigged the saw up on a makeshift workbench made from sawhorses, 2-by-4s and plywood. Rob screwed the saw to this surface.
The cutting went pretty smoothly, although the slate sheets were brittle. A couple of pieces chipped a little, but we were able to minimize those areas. We dry-fitted the large rectangle and then tried to figure out how to cut the irregular areas around the sink.
I'd originally thought it would be easier to cut four sides, rather than cut a hole in the middle of a solid sheet for the sink.
I was wrong, though, because we would have had to cut all sorts of funky shapes. That would've been really challenging, considering that the weight of the sheets made cutting them with the tile saw an unwieldy, two-person effort.
After much discussion, we decided to cut down our second sheet into a square that basically fit the area, save for the angle in front of the sink. (See the photo above.)
We then put the squre on top of the cabinet, and Rob marked the angle that we needed to trim off. After we did that, we returned it to the kitchen and Rob got under the sink, drawing the shape of the hole for the sink on the underside.
He used a diamond blade on his circular saw to carefully (I think I held my breath the entire time) plunge cut the sink hole. He did each side and saved the corners for last. He sawed those, but the hole was still connected in two small places. Rob gently used a chisel to snap it out.
We were nervous about this piece, because some of the borders between the sink hole and edge were pretty thin. We were incredibly gentle in picking it up, carrying it into the house, dry fitting it, and then removing it so we could mortar the concrete board.
We mixed up our polymer-enhanced thinset, troweled it on and notched it, and added our slate to the top. Rob leveled it by pressing gently on a block of wood. I wondered if we should tap on the top of the wood block with a hammer; he said he didn't want a hammer anywhere near it.
(Tangent on buying salvaged chalkboards : when we were picking ours out, we were looking for large sheets in good condition. If we'd known what we were doing, we would've also made sure they were the same thickness. We didn't, though, and bought one that was 1/4-inch thick and the other was 3/8-inch thick. We were able to level the counters using our thinset, but it would've been easier if they'd been the same.)
Rob used the tile saw to cut 11/2-inch-wide strips of slate to trim the front of the countertops. He also cut 4-inch strips for a backsplash and plans to install them today with an adhesive intended for natural stone.
Before we attach the backsplash, we'll caulk the back of the countertop with clear silicone, to prevent moisture from getting underneath the slate. We're waiting for the thinset to cure before doing this. After that, we'll caulk around the sink and seal it with stone sealer.
I can't believe it happened this way, but this project turned out so much easier than we anticipated. I also can't believe we were able to stick to our budget. We spent about $50 on the slate and $30 on things like clamps (for attaching trim), adhesive, caulk and sealer. Granted, we used mortar purchased for a previous project and borrowed a saw. Even if we'd had to buy those things, this would have been a much cheaper countertop than granite or even laminate. And we minimized our contribution to the landfill by trying to chip out the ceramic tiles whole and save them, as well as not ripping out the existing concrete board and plywood.
Rob and I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon just gazing at our new slate countertops, even sans trim. They are gorgeous. Gorgeous. I should have more confidence in our abilities, but I cannot believe we were able to do that ourselves.
Rob and I make a good team because we were pretty much all smiles the entire time we were working on it. Some parts were a little stressful, but we love this kind of stuff. It was a well-spent weekend.
Updated Feb. 21, 2012: Here's a photo of the completed countertops. It only took me nine months to post it.