Working with concrete may seem complicated for the novice do-it-yourselfer, especially with different mixes and directions to follow.
But with a little knowledge, it is easy to use around your home.
Here are the top five questions we receive about concrete, along with answers that will empower you to work with it.
1. How much concrete mix do I need?
Concrete is measured in cubic feet, so measure the project area’s volume before visiting the home and garden center to purchase concrete mix.
Math isn’t necessary, but you will need the project area’s length and width in feet, and its height in inches. Then, enter those measurements in our quantity calculator.
Need more specific calculations? Try Quikrete’s calculators for concrete mix, mortar mix, fast-setting concrete, concrete crack sealant, mortar joint sealant and polymeric jointing sands, among other products. The calculator will tell you the number of bags you will need for your project.
2. What are some precautions before working with concrete?
Wear personal protective equipment before you tackle any concrete project, but not just any PPE will do. Impervious gloves, such as nitrile, will keep your hands dry and prevent skin burns.
Proper eye protection also is important. Wear side shield safety glasses or anti-fog goggles to prevent dust or wet concrete from getting in your eyes.
Also, wear long-sleeve shirts and pants. Tuck those sleeves into your gloves and tuck your pants into your work boots.
This will prevent any skin from contacting wet concrete.
Finally, only use concrete mix in a well-ventilated area and avoid breathing in the dust. And always store concrete mix in a well-ventilated place and tightly close the container.
3. What’s the best way to mix concrete?
You can mix concrete by hand or machine — the best method depends on the project and its size.
For hand-mixing, empty concrete mix into a wheelbarrow or mortar tub and use a hoe, or shovel, to form a depression in the middle of the mix.
Then, mix in the water.
Each 80-pound bag of concrete mix requires about 3 quarts of water, so pour about two-thirds of that water into the depression.
Finally, work the water into the concrete mix with a hoe and gradually add water until you get the right consistency, similar to oatmeal.
You can hand-mix concrete with a trowel, a shovel or a hoe. Of course, if you want to speed things up, go ahead and grab a drill with a mixing paddle.
4. How do you get the right consistency?
There’s a good chance that your concrete mix will shrink and crack if it contains too much water, and not be as strong. Then again, concrete mix that’s too dry is much harder to pour and vibrate.
This is why obtaining the right concrete mix-to-water ratio couldn’t be more important. If you find you have added too much water, simply add a little more dry mix until you achieve the right consistency. If you need to add more water, add it sparingly.
For general concrete work, mixed concrete should resemble cookie dough or thick oatmeal and should hold its shape when squeezed in a gloved hand.
Concrete resurfacer, on the other hand, goes on thin, similar to pancake batter, and should be easy to apply with a trowel. If you pour the mix into a 9-ounce drinking cup and pour it on a slab, it should spread about 9 inches.
If you’re still not sure whether you have the right consistency, try the concrete slump test.
Spray the inside of a metal cone with cooking spray and pour the mix into the cone one-third of the way and tamp it down with a rod.
Then fill the cone two-thirds to capacity and tamp it down and then fill the cone all the way and tamp it down.
Next, lift the cone off the concrete mix and set it beside the concrete. Then measure the distance from the top of the metal cone to the top of the concrete. A 4-inch slump indicates the concrete isn’t too wet and isn’t too dry for general use.
5. What are some pro tips for working with concrete?
It’s easy to create attractive concrete projects that enhance your home’s exterior or interior — if you know these tricks of the trade:
Tap It: Air ‘bubbles,’ or voids, in dried concrete are the mark of an amateur’s work.
Air naturally gets trapped between the form and concrete, and you need to get it out.
After pouring concrete mix into the form, tap all around the form with a rubber mallet. Then let the project dry. This prevents those unsightly air bubbles.
Sand It: It doesn’t matter how much you’ve worked with concrete — rough edges are a fact of life, whether you’re a practiced concrete artisan or a novice do-it-yourselfer. After your project dries, always sand it down. Applying 60-grit sandpaper should handle most DIY projects.
Style It: Concrete’s traditional gray color is beautiful and timeless, but you also can add a pop of color. Mask the project with painter’s tape and apply a favorite design with masonry paint.
Or stain your creation — a 75% water, 25% paint mixture will soak into the concrete. You also can add glass or colored stone to the concrete mix before pouring it into the forms. Or use tint base and add Quikrete Liquid Cement Color to the mixing water. The options are endless!
Seal It: Concrete is built to last, but its appearance is another story. If you want to protect your project from acid, grease, oil and food stains (among others), you need to seal it. Apply Quikrete Concrete and Masonry Waterproofing Sealer for a natural look. Or get fancy and apply Quikrete Acrylic Concrete Cure & Seal for a satin — semi-gloss — finish or Quikrete Concrete & Masonry Gloss Sealer for a high-gloss, acrylic finish.
Now that you have a better understanding of concrete mix, along with some pro tips, I hope you’ll feel comfortable working with it.
Share the projects you’re working on in the comments below!