Are you about to embark on your first concrete project? Concrete can be notoriously tricky to work with. From mixing to pouring to curing, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Because of this, you’ll want to be especially careful about how you make and use concrete so it’s strong, well-mixed, and lasts for years.
Start your next concrete project on the right foot. Here’s our essential guide for how to make cement and concrete, as well as the tools you’ll need:
A Word About the Differences Between Concrete and Cement
The words “concrete” and “cement” are used interchangeably, but it’s important to note here that these are two different things so that when you are planning your next project, you are fully prepared to take on the task.
Cement is actually an ingredient in concrete, while concrete is a mixture of aggregates and pastes that combine to form a substance that hardens as it dries. In concrete, the aggregates are things like small stones or sand, and the paste is made from Portland cement and water.
Portland cement sounds like it might be a brand name, but it’s a very specific kind of cement that makes for a strong finished product. It’s made by heating up limestone and silica, as well as other elements like alumina and iron oxide in a scorching hot kiln. What’s left is ground down to form the fine powder known to us as cement.
You can either make or buy cement and then mix concrete yourself, or you can purchase pre-mixed concrete mixes that require only water.
Tools You’ll Need to Make Cement and Concrete
To make cement (optional):
- A large kiln
- A wheelbarrow
- Rubber gloves
- A respirator mask
To make and mix concrete:
To work with concrete:
Making Your Own Cement
While it’s typically much easier to purchase pre-made concrete mixes, if you want to begin by making your cement, you can!
To start, you’ll need to crush limestone into very small pieces, and place it in a cool kiln and heat it until it reaches 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. When you do this, it’s very important to wear goggles and a respirator, because heating limestone can release a harmful gas. The kiln should heat the limestone at this high temperature for 3 to 4 hours.
Once you’ve fired your limestone and allowed it to cool, using rubber gloves and a shovel, transport the limestone into a wheelbarrow and break it up until it turns into a fine dust. Once you finely grind the limestone, you have your own, self-made cement to mix with your concrete.
You can also buy limestone cement at a hardware store or a home center if you don’t have access to a kiln and aren’t interested in purchasing bags of premixed concrete.
Making and Mixing Concrete
Making Concrete from Limestone Cement
If you are mixing your own limestone cement-based concrete, you can either use a wheelbarrow or a cement mixer to do so, although if you are mixing more than 80 pounds of concrete, it’s a good idea to use a concrete mixer.
Begin by thoroughly combining one part cement to two parts sand. You can mix this with a shovel in your wheelbarrow, or carefully in a concrete mixer. Next, add four parts gravel or crushed brick to your mix. For a smoother finish, you’ll want your gravel or brick pieces to be very small. Ensure that everything is well-combined and that your gravel is fully incorporated.
Next, you’ll slowly begin to add water (as much as two parts water, adding a little bit at a time), mixing with a shovel, or combining in your concrete mixer as you go. Your concrete mix should be thick, but if it’s crumbly, you need to continue adding water to your concrete until it reaches a smoother consistency.
Once you’ve finished, be sure to fully rinse off your tools, wheelbarrow, and mixer with a high-pressure hose, using a wire brush to carefully remove the last pieces.
Mixing Premixed Concrete
If you’re looking to take an easier approach, there are all sorts of pre-made concrete mixes available that require much less work; you just add water. Each mix requires a slightly different amount of water, so be sure to read the directions carefully.
For premixed concrete, you’ll again need a wheelbarrow or a concrete mixer, and if you’re mixing more than one 80-pound bag of concrete, a concrete mixer is a worthwhile investment. Anything larger becomes too unwieldy, too hard to contain in a wheelbarrow, and too hard to mix or transport.
Slowly pour water into your concrete mix, being careful not to overpour. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take water out if you’ve added too much. Mix thoroughly with a shovel or concrete mixer, working to remove all the lumps.
Don’t forget to rinse off your tools with a high-pressure hose and a wire brush when you’re done!
More Helpful Tools to Work with Concrete
Concrete can be fickle, and if you’re working with it, you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success. Here are some tools you might find useful the next time you’re working with concrete:
A concrete vibrator: When you mix and pour concrete, air bubbles form, which can weaken the structural integrity of your concrete. That’s not a good thing! A 10-inch or 14-inch concrete vibrator can be inserted into your poured concrete to shake out and remove these air bubbles.
A concrete saw: You should consider using a concrete saw or floor saw to create joints in your concrete to control and prevent internal cracking and shrinkage. By dividing your concrete up into sections once it sets, you have smaller portions that are less fragile, and less likely to break. You can read more about when, how, and were to make concrete saw cuts here.
A concrete trowel machine: Get a smooth finish for your concrete slab -36 inches at a time- with a concrete trowel machine.
No matter the project, Northside Tool Rental has the equipment you need to get the job done right. Whether you’re an experienced professional or a brand new homeowner beginning your very first DIY project, you can find everything you need to mix and pour concrete at Northside Tool Rental.
Can we help you with your next project? Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for you!