Tips for Small Concrete Projects
Today I did something totally new for me: I went on TV! I’ve never even done video, so it was a big leap, but when AMNW asked me to demo a project on the air, I thought it sounded like fun. Here’s my segment, and I’m still working up the courage to watch it, but both my husband and dad said it was good! I chose one of my most popular projects, concrete and gold plant pots, and I made several more pots to show the project steps.
When I was getting together the supplies and practicing the steps for the segment, I thought of a bunch of tips, but the time on-air went by so fast that I didn’t get a chance to share most of them. I’ve done several concrete projects now, including one of my favorites, concrete ring cones. So I’ll share some of my best tips and tricks for working with concrete in this post.
Tips for Concrete Projects
- Choose the right concrete. Concrete is actually a mix of cement, sand, and gravel. For a smooth outcome, my favorite product to use is Quikrete quick-setting cement. It doesn’t have pebbles or gravel in it like other mixes. (So technically it’s cement, not concrete, but whatever.) It also sets quickly, which is good if you’re impatient like me, but it means you have to work fast. Which brings me to my next tip…
- Have everything set up and ready to go before you mix the concrete. Choose your containers, and grease them with a bit of vegetable oil on the parts that will touch the concrete. You can use spray oil, or just wipe oil on with a paper towel.
- Choose the right containers for the molds. It’s what’s on the inside that counts with the outer mold. Any texture, bumps, or ridges will be transferred to the final product. The wrong shape, like a container that’s wider on the bottom than the tip, might mean you’ll have to destroy your mold to remove the concrete, so it’s best to use containers you’re not too attached to. My favorite sources for containers are my recycling bin, thrift stores, dollar stores, and SCRAP.
- Don’t forget to weigh down the inner mold. If you don’t, the pressure of gravity on the concrete below it will push it up. Rocks, bricks, or even a handful of nails or screws can work.
- Shake it ’til you make it! Pour a little bit of cement at a time, and shake the container as you go to avoid air bubbles. If you have a portable tool that vibrates or shakes, like a hand sander, turn it on and put it against the surface the container is sitting on to help vibrate out bubbles. (Ha, I guess you could use something like a “personal massage tool” for this, too, wink wink.)
- Put about half of the water you’ll need in the bottom of your mixing container, then add your cement, mix a bit, and add the rest of the water. This will keep you from having dry unmixed patches in the bottom of your mixing container.
- Follow the directions on the package, but don’t be afraid to deviate a little for small projects. I started out adding exactly the amount of water the package of cement called for, but eventually I learned that adding a bit more leads to a smoother result. Just don’t add too much, because more water means weaker cement. You’re not pouring a concrete post, so it’s likely fine for it to be a little weaker than expected, but if fine bits, like the tips of ring cones, break off, that probably means you added too much water. You might need to experiment a bit to figure out what works best.
- Mix up a bit more cement than you think you’ll need. The cement I use is like, $7 for 10 lbs, ($12 for 20 lbs in my local store) so wasting a little isn’t going to cost you much, and having too much for your project is better than not having enough. But I don’t like to waste something I could use, so see my next tip.
- Prep extra containers and/or molds. I made the letters above with extra cement and silicone letter molds. Silicone molds for baking, ice, and crafts come in all kinds of fun shapes that are perfect for a bit of extra cement. You can make them into magnets, garden decor, or even jewelry, like I demonstrated in this post with the shapes I created with this gem mold. Or dump some extra cement in a cup, stick a candle in, and you’ve got a candle-holder. Get creative!
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