It is not difficult to mix concrete, but beginners must learn to recognize when the desired consistency has been achieved. One must also learn about safety precautions and about the materials to be gathered prior to mixing. The tips below will acquaint those new to concrete with the process. Once you have read this information, you should be ready to launch DIY projects such as making concrete garden stepping stones.
How to Mix Concrete: Getting the Consistency Right
- Buy some pre-mixed concrete at your local home improvement center. It comes in bags that will say something like "premix" on them. This product is "premixed" in the sense that all you have to do to it to make it ready to use is add water and stir.
- Pour some premix concrete into a wheelbarrow or tub.
- Add just a little water at a time as you go, working it in with a shovel. To mix concrete, thrust the shovel underneath the premix concrete and fold it over on itself, distributing the wetness.
- Continue adding small amounts of water as you mix the concrete until all of it looks the same and it achieves a consistency that is neither dry nor soupy.
- When you mix concrete properly, it ends up with a consistency that has been compared to cookie dough.
- To test the consistency, use the blade of your shovel like a knife and try to cut a shallow channel through the surface of the premix concrete.
- If it is too dry, the channel walls will be crumbly; add more water and mix the concrete further.
- If it is too wet, the channel will fill in with water; add more premix concrete and continue stirring.
- For small DIY projects (where one wheelbarrow-load of concrete will be sufficient), err on the side of "too dry" (in other words, be conservative in adding water) in the latter stages of the mixing process, until you get to the end. You do not want to have to open an extra bag of concrete at the end just to get the right consistency.
Tips on Safety and Design
- When you mix concrete, wear protective eyewear, gloves, and a face mask, since the dust can be caustic.
- For some people, the biggest challenge to address when they mix concrete will be lifting the product (it comes in bags that are heavy). When lifting, keep a straight back, bend your knees and cradle the load up against your torso (wear an old long-sleeved shirt and long pants). Wear a back brace.
- In the materials list below, you will see that #1, a coloring agent, is optional (since it pertains to decoration). You can also apply a coloring agent to jazz up a concrete patio so that the end product is more pleasing to the eye (unadorned concrete is rather plain).
- More concrete mixing tips were sent in by retired inspector Ed Adams.
Supplies Needed To Mix Concrete
- Optional: Coloring agent that you can apply when you mix concrete, to add pizzazz.
- Wheelbarrow or tub in which to mix the concrete.
- Water (having a garden hose handy makes the job easier)
- Premix concrete
- Protective clothing and gear (see above)
- Back brace
Where to Go From Here
Once you know how to mix and cure this material correctly, you will have two of the basic building blocks required for any DIY project involving concrete. Another question that typically plagues beginners regards determining the amount of concrete that will be necessary for a given project. You are in luck because there is actually a handy method of calculating how much concrete you will need.
The Complete Guide to Masonry & Stonework. Creative Publishing International, 2006.
Smith, Nathan, et al. Color Concrete Garden Projects: Make Your Own Planters, Furniture, and Fire Pits Using Creative Techniques and Vibrant Finishes. Timber, 2015