Concrete is doubtless one of the essential elements used in construction for thousands of years now. Learning to make it yourself is one of the primary and most essential aspects of a DIY toolkit. Mastering this skill will allow you to launch many DIY projects you would have had to hire workers before. After all, just about any significant building and improvement projects require concrete or cement.

You can either make concrete from scratch or purchase pre-mixed concrete from the store. However, either method requires following a few simple steps. Either way, this is a skill well worth learning for those of us who are serious about developing DIY skills.

Once you have mastered the process of concrete mixing, you will also customize your types to fit your specific project. Some mixtures are designed for quicker setting time, while you can create others to delay it and maintain some pliability. There are also some regional differences in the making of concrete. The addition or subtraction of elements can render it more or less sensitive to frost and other extreme weather forms.

One important note, people often use the terms cement and concrete interchangeably. However, they are far from the same. Concrete is an essential ingredient for making concrete. Concrete can also be used to make mortar.

What is Concrete Used For?

It is used extensively in most large structures, from traditional homes to massive dams. Builders also use it for smaller-scale projects. Driveways, fences, and walls are either reinforced by or made primarily of concrete. It can also act as the foundation for a structure in areas where there is no natural underpinning to be found. Due to its immense versatility, concrete is the most commonly found human-made substance in construction.

What is Concrete Made of?

Therefore, it has to be made right. Luckily it is quite a simple substance. We make concrete out of cement, sand, water, and aggregate material (most commonly gravel). That’s it!

Each part of the concoction plays a vital role in maintaining its adhesive properties.

· Cement: The binding properties of concrete are the product of the cement’s chemical reaction to water. It is the component of concrete that provides it with strength. The most common cement used for construction is Portland cement. This is not a cement brand name but rather a grouping of silicon, aluminium iron, and other chemicals. However, there are different, more specialized varieties as well.

· Aggregates and Sand: The term aggregates in this context refers to the gravel mixed in to help create concrete. The aggregates provide the structural skeleton of the concrete. Though the aggregates are not the active part of the concrete mixture, they are the largest part of it, and it makes up roughly 80% of its weight and 70% of its overall volume.

·  Water: Not all water is appropriate for the creation of concrete. As long as you use drinking water, you should not encounter any problems. Most other water types are likely suitable, but you should check them before using them in a concrete mixture. However, you should never use wastewater for construction in any form.

When these elements are added together and then allowed to harden, they turn into the highly durable component we see all around us.

Before we get into the description, a note. The act of mixing concrete is significantly different from that of mixing mortar. Concrete is more robust and can be used on its own, for example, in walls and other masonry structures. Meanwhile, mortar is a weaker material used to fill in the spaces between bricks and keep them glued together. Please do not use the mortar materials or its component to create mortar, as they will be unsuitable.

What Safety Precautions to Take

As we are often told, safety comes first. It is advisable to wear the following protective gear while mixing concrete and cement:

·      Mask or mouth protector

·      Respirator if you are using a kiln

·      Safety goggles

·      Safety gloves

Why take all these precautions? Although mixing concrete is not a complicated process, it can be a dangerous one. If you are making your own mixture, the toxins released by the kiln oven can be harmful. Therefore, you should not go near the furnace without a respirator.

When you are mixing the elements, be sure to wear a mask. The by-products of the mixture can be harmful to anyone breathing them in.

No matter what method you use, be very careful around concrete before it has dried. The mixture is highly caustic and can strip off or burn the skin quite severely. Therefore, make sure to wash off any material immediately and thoroughly if it makes contact with the skin.  For these reasons, make sure to keep any belongings, pets, or children away from it until it has completely set.

Ingredients and Tools for Making Quicklime for Your Own Cement

Now you can decide if you want to buy pre-mixed cement at the hardware store or make your own. If you buy the pre-mixed variant, skip ahead to the part about creating concrete from pre-mixed cement.

However, if you decide to pursue the DIY route and concoct your own cement fully, you will need to make quicklime, which will then be mixed with other ingredients to make cement. To do so, you will require the following items:

  • A container of appropriate size
  • Garden hose
  • Kiln oven or furnace
  • Limestone (you can purchase it or even find it on your own property)
  • Safety goggles
  • Shovel
  • Respirator/ Dust Mask
  • Tarp
  • Wheelbarrow

Making Quicklime for Your Own Cement, Step by Step

Step 1: Lay down the tarp on the ground. Place a container for mixing on top of it.

Step 2: Crush the limestone into small pieces, roughly 7-8 centimetres each, with a sledgehammer.

Step 3: Place the crushed stone in the kiln and raise the temperature to 1500 Celsius. Make sure to wear your goggles and respirator when you are near the kiln. It gives off harmful fumes, so one cannot be too careful.

Step 4: Wait until the pieces in the kiln have cooled and you can handle them easily. Two hours or so should be enough. If you are in a rush, a big fan will speed up the process considerably.

Step 5: Take out the parts that seem crumblier and weaker. You may find that there are sections that do not seem like they are about to crumble. Leave them in the kiln for the next round of burning.

Step 6: Place the limestone in a wheelbarrow and use a shovel to break it into dust. You now have limestone cement at your disposal.

The limestone cement you made is an essential ingredient for the creation of mortar. However, in this post, we are focused on turning it into concrete.

Ingredients and Tools for Making Concrete out of Your Quicklime

  • All-purpose sands
  • Two buckets
  • Gravel or crushed brick
  • Large liquid container – 20 litres or so
  • Mask or respirator
  • Ready-made cement or kiln cooked limestone
  • Portable cement mixer (for large amounts)
  • Shovel

concrete mix

Making Concrete out of Your Quicklime, Step by Step

Step 1: If you are making a relatively small cement amount, you will mix it by hand. However, for anything over 35 kilograms, it is best to rent or borrow a concrete mixer for the task.

Step 2: Place the major components in separate buckets or containers—one for the cement, one for the aggregates, and finally for the water.

Step 3: Once you have figured out the amount of concrete you wish to make, allocate your cement accordingly. Make sure to very carefully weigh out the amount of cement you use because the addition of every additional element will be in exact proportion to the amount of cement you use.

Wear your mask or respirator for this part of the process. The dust and materials which rise as you mix can be dangerous to your health.

Step 4: Add sand to the mixture. Always add twice as much sand as cement to create the proper consistency.

Step 5: Now add the gravel or crushed brick. You will want to put in four times as much gravel as cement. Gravel is key to binding the concrete together.

Step 6: Mix the components until you have created an even but dry concrete mixture.

Step 7: Fill your sizeable liquid container three-quarters of the way with water. Now fill up the remaining quarter with the dry mix concrete.

Step 8: Mix the water and concrete slowly and carefully. Mix it continuously until the material turns stiff. If the concrete remains dry and flaky, be sure to add more water.

Step 9: Once the concrete has achieved the desired consistency, carefully pour it into the designated area as needed. Please do not wait too long, or it will set too early.

Step 10: Vigorously wash off all of your tools that came into contact with the mixture with a garden hose. That stuff is tough, so it may take awhile at the highest water pressure you can muster. If that does not remove all of the remaining dry mix concrete, use a wire brush to scrub the remainder off.

Tools for Using Store-bought Premixed Concrete

  • Bucket or mixing board
  • Garden hose
  • Mask or respirator
  • Pre-mixed concrete bags
  • Shovel
  • Tarp
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Wire brush

How to Make Concrete out of a Pre-Mixed Concrete Mix, Step by Step

If you have decided to purchase a pre-mixed concrete product at a hardware store, be sure to follow the instructions provided on the package. Every mixture is somewhat different. The most important part is to make sure that you have bought a concrete mix rather than its mortar equivalent.

Here are general guidelines for the use of the concrete mixture.

Step 1: Lay a tarp underneath the area where you plan to perform the mixing.

Step 1: Empty your bag of pre-mixed concrete into a wheelbarrow while still in the bag. Now use a shovel to cut the bag in half and slowly lift it, leaving the contents in the wheelbarrow.

Step 2: Add water to the wheelbarrow in exact accordance with the instructions on the container. Place the water in a bucket and add carefully. Think twice before adding more. If the mixture requires more water, that is an easy fix. However, it is nearly impossible to remove excess liquid from the mixture.

Make sure to wear your mask or respirator while mixing as the process can have harmful by-products.

Step 3: Mix with a shovel until the mixture reaches an even consistency. Focus on any lumps to even them out as much as possible.

Step 4: Once the concrete is the right consistency, pour it into the designated area as needed. Do it quickly so that it does not begin to set prematurely.

Step 5: Wash off all of your tools carefully with a garden hose. You can use a wire brush for any remnants.

Using a Cement Mixer

If you are making a large amount, you may wish to rent a cement mixer. Mixers are relatively easy to use, but here are some pointers:

·      Make sure the mixer is placed on stable ground and properly positioned. Make sure to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer in this regard.

·      Point the mixer at a 45-degree angle when using it.

·      First, put in the other materials before adding water carefully and gradually.

·      Once you have started the mixer, please do not turn it off until done.

·      Clean with a mixture of sand and water before returning it. Otherwise, you may have to pay a fee!

Now you are ready to make cement and concrete. These skills will significantly expand the DIY projects you can complete on your own.