Although it may seem intimidating to first-timers, working with concrete is actually pretty straightforward as long as you keep a few important best practices in mind. That’s why we put together a few helpful pointers to ensure your first concrete project looks great, and stands up to the test of time.
When properly mixed, concrete offers superior strength and durability that can last for a lifetime. The mixing process is not complicated, but to get the most strength from the mixture, you need to add just the right amount of water. Too little water will prevent the particles from sticking together, and too much weakens the mixture.
For small jobs, choose 60 or 80-lb bagged concrete mix, which is the most convenient and least expensive option. For jobs requiring more than 30 bags, consider using ready-mix concrete from a truck.
The mixing technique is the same regardless of the container you use, whether it’s a plastic tub, a homemade mixing tub or wheelbarrow. Generally speaking though, it’s easier to move and dump concrete when it’s mixed in a wheelbarrow.
To mix the concrete, you will need a sturdy hoe and large container. Remember to wear waterproof gloves and safety glasses to prevent skin burns from the cement in the mixture.
When you add water to the mix, pour a measured amount into the mixture first. Mix for a few minutes until the water is absorbed, and add more water gradually as you go. If you add too much water at once, the mix can get runny and hard to work with. Keep a few cups of dry concrete mix on hand in case the mix gets too thin.
Use a hoe, a flat shovel or a spade for mixing. Add the water to one end of the wheelbarrow or mixing tray, and pull the dry mix into it a little at a time to ensure all the particles get evenly soaked.
Resist the urge to simply spray water into your dry concrete mix with a hose. Although this technique may be quicker and easier to pour, runny concrete is half as strong as a proper mix and more likely to crack.
Once your concrete reaches a thick, uniform consistency, you are ready for pouring. Tap a rubber mallet against the sides and bottom of your mold as you pour. This technique removes holes and gaps in the concrete that you would otherwise need to fill later.
To achieve a smooth, even finish, use a melamine mold whenever possible. Other materials such as wood or cardboard are porous, which allows the water from the concrete to seep out and create rough edges. With melamine, the water has nowhere to go and the concrete will mimic the material’s smooth appearance. Regardless of what material you use, though, make sure your mold is sturdy enough to hold heavy concrete.