With all the materials available today, why would you do your crafting with concrete? Wood is more suitable for interior furniture because it’s light and warm by nature. There are also many modern materials that might seem more suitable for crafting and building so why go with concrete?
For me, it is because crafting with concrete is cheap and easy and it yields pretty good results. You can make a smooth concrete mix for casting different objects, and when concrete cures (hardens) you get a result that can last generations.
Check out these guides on garden spheres and concrete planters, for example of lightweight concrete crafts if done like the spheres. Your children will throw them away long before their time.
Since this is the opening post for this blog, let me go through why I think concrete is great for crafting.
Crafting with concrete is affordable
Concrete is cheap because it’s basically a combination of cement, sand, and gravel. Keeping that in mind basic crafting with concrete can’t be too expensive. People mix cement and concrete often, but cement is the glue in that mix that holds everything together.
Equipment cost is also from low to medium investment. Small amounts of concrete can be mixed by hand with a trowel, medium amounts can be done with a cheap power drill and paddle for mixing and only large amounts need a proper concrete mixer that still can get under $100. Then you only need some containers for concrete (plastic buckets and those can go as low as $2).
Cement craft molds are easy to use
With wet concrete, it’s easy to use molds or forms to make things like ornament bowls and furniture parts like countertops. Some even choose to build their houses either partially or fully from concrete as it is a stable foundation to build from if done correctly.
To make some simple concrete crafts, just select your concrete mix for molds and start pouring. The hardened concrete will give a suitable surface for coating, plastering, and painting.
Concrete has long history
Concrete is also an invention with a deep history. It might feel modern as it’s pretty much everywhere these days and used to build enormous structures these days. The invention of concrete goes back over 8000 years. Egyptian and Roman concrete feels most amazing as they discovered it will harden underwater if they mixed it with volcanic ash. Thanks to their pioneering we have some amazing monuments left in this world.
Roman concrete (and the ones from 8000 years ago) also shows me that if I can make something with aesthetic value today, it might outlive me by far. House decoration, public projects which are seen as valuable in the future (for culture, etc.), and projects we document to the internet might live on for hundreds of years.
Working with concrete safety
I’ve been working with concrete all of my adult life from my teenage years at the beginning of 2000 to this day. Can’t say I’m all pro on everything, but this blog is also my way of getting a deeper understanding and learning more.
On my concrete for beginners notebook, the most fundamental thing that I’ve learned is this: working with concrete is messy. I mostly joke that clean cement work contractors are ones who don’t work and that concrete worker who makes sure his working spot is clean works a lot.
So the way we solve this is by protecting our environment when we work by using something to cover all the vulnerable parts like the floor, walls, furniture, etc. We want to protect everything we don’t want to get concrete splashes on.
Preventing mess is half of the cleaning
Cleaning concrete splashes is hard when it dries and messy when it’s wet. If you let it dry it will most of the time damage the surface it’s on as well as you are removing it with tools and it sticks hard on the surface pores. It’s a really annoying job and the first cause of irritation among workers, really just easier to do right from the beginning.
Another thing to keep in mind when working with concrete is to protect yourself. As cement dries it absorbs water around it and that can lead to so-called “cement burns” and at mildest it dries your skin.
Also, you don’t want to get your best clothes dirty as it’s very hard to get dried cement off your clothes. Eye protection is also a must as if you get a splash on your eyes it will cause irritation and you need to wash it with water immediately and in some cases, even a visit to the doctor might be needed.
With your working spot and you ready, you’re ready for some business. The only thing to keep in mind after that is power tool safety (don’t go poking rolling mixer with trowel etc.) and making sure you work with safe power tools (no power cords are cut and it’s working as it should) and scaffolding (no missing legs or quick fixes).
Workability of concrete is short sometimes
Concrete working periods can be short or long, depending on if it’s supposed to set quickly or slowly. At the quickest, the mixing and working time can be up from 20 minutes.
With that, the best time to work with it will be just after mixing it with water for something like 3 minutes. If you’re impatient and get some quick concrete for your crafts, the next points could help you succeed (works also with slow concrete).
First, you need to prepare the place where you will do the work. If it’s mold/form, cover the surroundings if you’re supposed to keep it clean and set tools and other things aside so you will have a clean room to move freely.
Concrete is heavy
To me it’s very important as one 5 gallon bucket can weigh close to 100 pounds. With even half of that weight, you don’t want to be watching your feet too much as accidents happen.
The next thing to prepare is the place where you’re mixing. The surface you’re mixing on (if using a bucket) should be level and free of rocks and other things like that. Plastic buckets break easily with the concrete weight if you drop them on rocks.
How to mix concrete safely
Also, you might need to keep your legs on the side of the bucket to keep it in place at the start of mixing. I usually measure the water on the bucket first (like 90% of what the bag says, it might change a little from bag to bag), then start adding the dry concrete mix (around half of the bag at first). That way the bucket of concrete won’t be too heavy to mix and it will save your wrists and back as well.
If you’re mixing lots of concrete, you might also arrange the mixing spot so that you can mix with straight back if you’re a tall person. The place you’re mixing concrete in should also have a bucket of water or water hose to clean your tools.
I’ve met co-workers who never wash their mixer and just hammer the concrete off and some people are like me who like to let it roll a few rounds in a bucket of water to clean it. To me, it’s much more pleasurable to store it after work like that.
Water hoses (and buckets of course) are handy for washing tools, buckets, yourself, and anything else that gets dirty during the process. We don’t want concrete to dry on our trowels as it’s hard to clean and also if you let it dry on the finishing surface of the trowel, it will leave a bad finish on the surface.
Now if your mixing spot and working spot are in good order, at a good distance from each other and you’re ready yourself – you’re ready to work with minimum effort and successfully. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you have projects lined up or want to work on a good amount of concrete – it will save you some effort.
This is the little bit I’ve learned about how to craft concrete efficiently and safely. Next is up to the imagination as projects are all over the internet. Crafting with concrete may sound boring and easy on paper, but accidents happen every month. The larger the project is, the harder it is to succeed. Still, with proper preparation, most of the hazards can be dealt with.