DIY Guide: How To Mix Concrete

DIY Guide: How To Mix Concrete

Concrete is a rigid building material made of gravel aggregates and cement paste. The paste is a mixture of water and portland cement, a fine powder produced from raw materials like lime and silica.

As the materials bind together throughout the mixing and drying processes, they turn into a rock-hard substance. The substance continues hardening for years, making the concrete stronger with age.

You’re in good company if you plan to use concrete for your next home improvement project. Concrete’s cost-efficiency, strength, and versatility have made it the most-used building material in the world.

A primary benefit of the substance is that you can easily buy and use it without help from a pro. It’s perfect for building DIY home projects that will last for years.

This article will show you how to properly mix concrete for the best results. We’ll provide step-by-step instructions so you can get mixing in no time.

We’ll cover:

  • Tools and materials you’ll need to mix concrete
  • Costs associated with DIY concrete mixing
  • Instructions for efficiently mixing your own concrete

Tools and Materials

The tools and materials for this DIY project are common ones, and you probably have a few of them on hand already.

Tools: 

  • Garden hoe
  • Wheelbarrow 
  • Watering hose
  • Bucket
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)*

Materials:

  • Concrete mix
  • Water 

*Please ensure you wear the proper personal protective equipment while mixing concrete. This includes a dust mask, safety goggles, and work gloves

A dust mask prevents you from ingesting harmful silica aggregates in cement powder. Eye protection is also crucial; cement powder can bind with the moisture in your eyes and cause severe damage. Lastly, work gloves keep your hands safe from the substance’s corrosive chemicals, which can create painful burns on your skin.

Costs Associated

The cost of your concrete mixing project will depend on how much mix you need and what tools you already have. 

The table below shows the cost estimates for the project’s required tools and materials.

Tool or Material Average Cost
Wheelbarrow  $140 to buy

$15 for 24-hour rental

Hoe $25
Watering hose $25
5-gallon bucket $5
Safety glasses $10
Waterproof gloves $10
Dust mask $3 per 5-pack
Ready-mix concrete $5 per 80-pound bag

Say you’re building a concrete patio in your backyard. It will be a 100-square-foot area that’s 4 inches thick.

In this case, you’d need approximately 50 80-pound bags of concrete mix. If each bag is $5, you’ll spend $250 on concrete mix for the patio.

If you rented the wheelbarrow for a day and bought all the other supplies, the project would cost just under $350.

How to Mix Concrete

Once you have your tools, materials, and protective equipment handy, you’re ready to start mixing. 

The following sections will provide a step-by-step beginner’s tutorial for mixing concrete by hand. We’ll show you the basics of the process and offer helpful tips along the way.

Step One: Find the Right Concrete Mix

The first step in any home improvement project is selecting the right materials. There are countless concrete brands on the market, each offering mixes of varying characteristics.

Before you start lugging bags of mix into your cart, look into the different types of concrete to find one that fits your project needs.

Depending on your project, you may need one of the following products:

  • Fast-setting concrete sets in under an hour. It’s best suited for small projects like staking fence posts or a mailbox.
  • High-strength concrete is a highly durable material suited for foundations and areas of heavy traffic like driveways or patios.
  • All-purpose concrete is popular for DIY projects like laying sidewalks, building stairs, or repairing existing concrete structures.

If you’re unsure which option to choose, go with an all-purpose mix. It has quick-setting and high-strength qualities and works for most home improvement needs.

Regardless of what concrete mix you settle on, you’ll have to decide how much to buy. 

Concrete slabs are measured in cubic feet. You’ll have to determine the slab’s square footage and thickness, then purchase enough mix for that area.

If you aren’t a math wiz, don’t sweat it. Quikrete developed a handy concrete calculator to help you figure out how many bags of mix you need.

Step Two: Dump Out the Bag 

The next step is to empty a bag of dry concrete mix into your wheelbarrow. 

You can use any tub or bucket to hold the mixture, but we suggest a wheelbarrow. Not only can you move your concrete mixture around the project site, but you can tip over the wheelbarrow to pour the concrete. 

You’ll face a lower risk of straining your back or pouring out too much of the substance at once.

Start by slicing open a bag of mix and gently pouring it into the wheelbarrow. You can use a garden hoe to rake the dry mix from the bag into the trough; this will reduce dust clouds and the risk of spillage.

Once you’ve emptied the bag, pull it out of the wheelbarrow and set it aside. Then, use the hoe to push the pile of concrete mix to one side of the wheelbarrow.

Step Three: Measure and Add Water

Next, you’ll add water to the dry mix. 

The key to this step is to not add too much water right off the bat. The concrete will be stronger with less water, but it needs to be wet enough to bind without crumbling.

Fill a bucket of water with your garden hose instead of hosing the liquid directly into the wheelbarrow. This gives you the chance to measure the water ahead of time without oversaturating the dry mix.

Carefully pour water from the bucket into the wheelbarrow, not yet combining it with the pile of mix you pushed to the side.

Step Four: Combine the Materials

Use the hoe to scoop the dry mix into the water gradually. 

The key to mixing concrete by hand is to start with a small batch and add materials until you get the right consistency. If you scoop the concrete pile into too much water, you risk the mixture becoming soupy and weak. 

We suggest noting the amount of water you use to add the correct measurements for every batch.

Once you’ve pulled all of the dry mix into the water, continue mixing it. Move the hoe back and forth through the mixture, ensuring all parts are thoroughly combined.

If you can’t get the proper leverage with the hoe, try using a garden trowel or shovel to combine the materials.

Step Five: Check the Consistency

Now that you have a wheelbarrow full of wet concrete, you’re ready to pour it.

Not so fast – you first need to check if your batch of concrete is the right consistency.

You may be tempted to whip up a batch of watery concrete that’s easy to pour out and manipulate. 

Despite its ease of use, soupy concrete mix will likely suffer consequences. Concrete with high water content is weaker and more likely to crack and buckle under pressure.

A concrete mixture that doesn’t contain enough water will crumble apart as you try to spread it across a project site. You won’t get the smooth slab-like structure you’re likely seeking.

Check your concrete’s consistency by sticking the sharp end of the hoe into the mixture and pulling it toward you. The pile should exhibit a clean, flat surface where you inserted the hoe.

If the mixture is too dry, crumbly bits of the mix will break off and fall into the ditch you made. If this is the case, add water one cup at a time until the mixture is smooth.

If the concrete is too wet, it will flow with the hoe’s movement and fill in the ditch as you pull the tool through the mixture. Solve this issue by adding more dry mix to the wheelbarrow until the mixture is smooth.

Once you reach the proper consistency, you can start the rest of your project. It’s best to empty the concrete from the wheelbarrow within 90 minutes after mixing it for the best results.

Step Six: Clean Up ASAP

Cleaning your tools is the last step. Don’t get so carried away building your concrete slab that you forget to wash out your wheelbarrow. 

Concrete hardens significantly within 48 hours after mixing, and you don’t want to get stuck scraping it off your tools. 

Scrape out as much leftover mixture residue as you can. Either add it to your poured batch or scrape it onto a scrap piece of wood or plastic. 

Then, use the hose to rinse the wheelbarrow, wetting all the concrete residue. Use a brush or rag to wash away the mixture.

Avoid getting concrete wastewater on the surrounding grass or dirt throughout the washing process. Concrete is highly acidic and can pollute the water supply and kill plants.

Instead of dumping the slurry out into the environment, research wastewater treatment and recycling centers near you. You’ll responsibly dispose of your project’s waste while protecting the ecosystems around your home.

Final Thoughts

Concrete is a popular building material for a reason; it’s resilient, versatile, and affordable for many homeowners.

As versatile and durable as concrete is, it’s still composed of harmful chemicals. Practice vigilance in wearing your PPE and keeping concrete wastewater from soaking into the ground.

Once you’ve poured your mixture and leveled it to your liking, you’ll have a functional concrete slab.

You’ll feel handy and satisfied as you admire the new concrete patio or walkway you mixed yourself. You’ll have another DIY home improvement project under your belt and a finished product to enjoy for years to come.

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