Concrete is firmly established as one of the toughest and most durable substances used in any kind of DIY project, but how much do you really know about this material? Anybody inexperienced in handling such construction projects should always call in a professional tradesperson to assist with any work they may be looking to undertake.
If you’re adamant that this is a task that you’d like to tackle yourself however, this guide will ensure that you are fully equipped with all the information you’ll need to do so.
What is Concrete?
Well, for a start it’s the most oft-used artificial element in use all over the world – there is a reason that, almost any time your hands or feet are touching solid ground, they’ll be attached to concrete. Concrete is not just one simple substance that we use to build, however; it’s actually the result of mixing all kinds of different components together.
Different Types of Concrete
There are six primary types of concrete that can be created using a cement mixer, all of which will require different ratios of materials.
- Regular Concrete is ideal for general projects, such as pathways and patios.
- Lightweight Concrete performs the same task, but by using a lighter spread you will be able to cover a wider area for the same ratio of aggregates and cement. Obviously the trade-off is that this concrete will not be as strong and sturdy.
- Sand Mix Concrete is much lighter and thinner, only really suitable if you require less than 2” of concrete covering.
- Fibre Reinforced Concrete provides an extra layer of protection through small, discrete wires and metals.
- Gravel-Mixed Fibre Reinforced Concrete is a thicker, stronger alternative to Sand Mix Concrete.
- Anchoring Concrete is up to two-and-a-half times stronger than Regular Concrete, and is designed for upright use with steel gates and other associated projects.
How to Make Concrete
Concrete is basically just broken down stones, gravel or rubble – commonly referred to as aggregates. When these aggregates are poured into a cement mixer, along with sand, water and cement, a fluid is formed that can be poured into whatever shape you require – hence why concrete is sometimes referred to as liquid stone.
Once it sets, you’ll have a hard and impenetrable substance that has been used for countless buildings and constructs throughout history that can be laid into a pre-prepared space and left to set and solidify.
It is extremely important that you prepare this space before you start mixing concrete, including any digging if necessary, as the concrete solution will have to be laid soon after it has finished mixing).
You could use concrete for a garden path by forging a rectangle, a right-angled triangle to lie over the corner of a lawn to house a barbeque, or even a large circle that can be used as a plinth for a water feature or birdhouse.
Alternatively, concrete makes for a high quality and aesthetically pleasing countertop for a modern kitchen, or the element could even be used as a staircase.
What is Reinforced Concrete?
Concrete is obviously solid and sturdy as a material, but it’s not invulnerable to any weight – you wouldn’t want to drive your car over a bridge made purely of concrete, for example.
This is where reinforced concrete comes into play, which involves inserting metal bars and wires into the solid base to provide extra tensile strength against heavy weights. You shouldn’t need to use reinforced concrete in a basic home DIY project – if you do, either rethink the task at hand or call in a professional for further advice.
As previously intimated, the first thing that you will need if you intend to make concrete is a cement mixer. We’ll discuss where you can find such an item later if you don’t already own one, but attempting to perform this task by hand will result in a weak and unstable result.
Once you are set to go, use a large shovel to get your contents into the mixer. It’s advisable to start by creating a dry mix or cement and sand, before adding your aggregates and then water. How much of each of these different elements that you should use depends on your ratio…
Concrete Mix Ratios
There is very little margin for error when you’re mixing concrete, which is why it’s advisable to see the advice of a professional if you are in any way unsure. If you are happy to undertake the project yourself, the ratios required between your cement, sand and aggregates vary depending on what you are constructing, and how much concrete you require to achieve it. To this end, you should use an online concrete mix ratio calculator.
It’s not our place to recommend any one site over any others, but punching these words into a search engine of your choosing will help you find exactly what you are looking for before you drive to a DIY shop and pick up the items that you need.
How Much Water Should I Use?
Water is essential to mixing concrete, but the amount that you use is dependent on your requirements. The more water that you add to the mix, the weaker but more pliable the finished article will be, whereas if you skimp on the water you’ll have a very thick and dry – but still usable – mix. Again, a quality ratio calculator will help you assess exactly how many gallons of water should be included in your concrete mix.
Where to Get a Cement Mixer
If you anticipate using such an item with regularity you can purchase a cement mixer from almost any major DIY shop or website. Prices vary, but you will unable to pick up a reliable unit for less than triple figures, and remember that you’ll also need to have an available place to store it when not in use. If you’re just intending one-off or irregular use, you can also hire one from these same retailers.
When Was Concrete Invented?
Primitive forms of concrete have been in use since the days of the Roman Empire, but the first official recognition of reinforced concrete was in 1849.
Why Should I Use Concrete?
Concrete comes with a great many benefits. It provides sound insulation, does not burn in the event of a house fire, reduces flood risk and lasts for considerably longer than many alternative materials.
Will Concrete Break and Crumble?
This is possible if you live in a particularly cold climate, as concrete will absorb water from washing and rainwater. If that water freezes, it may put some strain on the concrete and push the binding cement apart. If you live in such a territory and have concerns about your concrete, use a curing seal to help your work last longer.
Is Concrete Environmentally Friendly?
Concrete absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, thus removing it from the air. How much and how quickly depends on how thick and strong the concrete mix is – the thinner the material, the more carbon is absorbs. This offsets the use of cement, the use of which comes with a higher carbon footprint.
How Long Does Concrete Take to Dry?
At least 24 hours, and you should avoid any contact with the concrete during this period, but for safety it may be best to avoid any heavy contact for at least three days.
Why Won’t My Concrete Set?
Contrary to what you may believe, it isn’t too wet – concrete that fails to set is often down to being too dry. Apply a little more water to the mix and the moisture will help the cement take shape.
Can I Make Concrete Without a Cement Mixer?
In theory yes, but it’s extremely inadvisable as the finished product will lack the consistency and quality of what a mixer can offer.
Is it Cheaper to Buy a Concrete Countertop for my Kitchen, or Make My Own?
That depends on whether you already have the equipment you need to mix your own concrete. If you have aggregates, sand and a mixer, it will definitely be cheaper to make your own. If not, and you lack experience, the cost of purchasing everything and any mistakes you may make could greatly outnumber the price of professional design and installation.