It’s safe to say that mixing concrete is no rocket science, but a few things can fail this easy-to-success task.
It has most often something to do with the quality of the product, so it’s good to take a look at the process here.
As stated at the beginning, mixing concrete isn’t hard and can be seen as really simple. It’s just mixing water, cement, sand, and aggregates at the correct ratios.
But to reach correct strength, correct flowing, and good workability overall, it becomes almost like science with how it’s measured.
Water has to be pure, sand and aggregates should be dry and not moist, cement should not be humid, and so on.
This is how it is when you start to work in concrete factory settings. For most construction sites, it comes ready-made with concrete trucks and what’s left on-site is a quality check.
As a beginner doing small home projects, you can easily make a pass on most of these things. You can buy a ready-mix bag of dry concrete that tells you how hard it is once the curing is over, and you have to mix in the correct amount of pure water.
How we use concrete defines the process
I mentioned that it matters where and how we use concrete. Various small jobs arise at home, for which concrete is the perfect construction material.
Fence post footings, countertops, deck footings, small concrete pads under the drain pipes to direct run-off water flow, stepping stones for the garden, and in-ground anchorage for the legs of a swing set or some other type of play set all quickly come to mind as great projects for home do-it-yourselfers.
For something like countertops, the aggregates can’t be too big or the countertop would be a quite thick and heavy piece. For something like footings, the aggregate size doesn’t matter that much.
Of course, we only have to think about this if we make everything from the beginning. This is to show there can be differences in concrete; it’s not all the same.
Using concrete is the least expensive and most convenient solution to all these project needs. However, none of these tasks require the amount of concrete available for delivery as “ready-mix,” so from where are homeowners to obtain what they need?
The answer is simple. They can mix concrete in just the right amount to complete each project on their to-do lists. It is not a complicated process. The greatest skill you need is the ability to follow directions carefully.
Start from the local hardware store
Start at the local hardware, building supply, or home improvement store. Bags with 60 to 80 pounds of concrete mix are purchased in one of those locations.
Sometimes the labels are confusing because they carry such tags as “fast setting” and “fiber-reinforced” as well as “high early strength.”
Fast setting means it has low working time, and it’s intended for places you want to work quickly. Fiber-reinforced has fibers in the mix, which hold together well even without rebar. High early strength means it achieves structural strength faster than your regular concrete so that you can use heavier structures on it a bit faster.
For home projects, just plain concrete mix is often all you need to begin. As you gain experience, you can check these others out to see if they have any particular qualities that make them more suited for your future projects.
Just be careful not to purchase mortar or some other mix by mistake. Only the concrete mix contains the needed aggregates for the thicker concrete most projects require.
How to mix concrete with a mixer
Mixing concrete with a mortar or barrel mixer is a traditional way. Depending on the size and place of the project, either method can work out.
A mortar mixer will work if it’s just a bucket of concrete that needs to be done. If you need a lot, a barrel mixer keeps on rolling and mixing while transporting the concrete with wheelbarrows.
If you’re using ready-mix bags, check how much water there should be for a single bag. It affects how strong it will be; less water is stronger but harder to work with.
If you measure by shovel, it is a bit harder to measure everything as a shovel is not an exact measure. It will be a bit in that direction quality.
For the barrel mixer, you throw in the water and place part of the ready-mix bag. After a while, you throw the rest in.
Remember that you have measured the correct amount of water for the bag.
There is also the option to use ready-mixed aggregates, cement, and water. Then it’s counted with shovels like one shovel of cement, four shovels of aggregates, etc.
When we work, we might drop it all in and leave it to mix, but if you measure the water first and mix the dry concrete in little by little, you won’t have any concrete that didn’t mix well.
If you work with a mortar mixer, the same tactic also works here.
Measure how much water you need for a bag, then place half the concrete in the bucket while you mix. After a while, place the other half and mix it.
Then leave it to wet and mix it one last time after 3-5 minutes.
How to mix concrete in a wheelbarrow at home
Sometimes we work in less than a favorable situation where we don’t want to spend money on mixers and containers. Just a plain wheelbarrow can work in those situations.
First, gather the tools needed for your work.
These are waterproof gloves, safety glasses (because cement material is caustic and burns the eye), a brush with stiff bristles for the clean-up time, a large bucket for hauling water, a strong hoe (or flat shovel or a garden spade), a wheelbarrow.
Put the concrete mix bag in the wheelbarrow and cut it open across the middle. Shake the mix into the barrow.
Like working with a mixer, it’s easier to measure the water in the wheelbarrow first, add half of the dry mix concrete and mix it around for a bit before adding the rest. Depending on the amount we’re mixing, of course.
Avoid the beginner’s mistake of adding too much water to the wheelbarrow.
Carefully measure the water so you will get the correct strength concrete
With people using the ready mix, I want to let this be the last part. It’s the only thing you control when using a ready-made blend.
When adding the water for the first time, only add a pre-measured amount from the bucket instead of directly from the garden hose. Pour it in on only one side of the wheelbarrow, then mix it with the hoe for several minutes.
This technique allows the mix to get thoroughly wet, and the dry mixture absorbs all the moisture.
As mentioned at the beginning, use pure tap water. If the water is from somewhere like a lake, it has organic materials that can weaken the bonding of the cement.
If the consistency is too dry, add water in one cup increments until the mixture reaches the right consistency. Always reserve a few cups of the dry mix if you need to add some when a combination becomes too thin.
You will know when your concrete is ready because the hoe blade when pressed against it, will leave behind a shiny patch on its surface.
The amount of water added makes all the difference during mixing. If too much water is added and the mix is soupy, the concrete will only be half as strong as it should be and take a long time to dry out and cure.
The more closely you monitor the water-to-mix ratio, the stronger your concrete will be when put to use.
My last warning is that if the wet concrete mix starts to cure, for a reason like being left in a container for a lunch break, don’t add more water to it to make it workable.
It will mess up the water-to-cement ratio, and if it’s a critical structure you’re pouring, it can lead to failure. Always make the amount you need and can use and plan out your pours accordingly.
Now you should know how to mix concrete in a wheelbarrow and with machines. A wheelbarrow, hand, and bucket may be the simplest ways to do it without machines helping you.
Of course, you will use the machines if you work with them. No one has time for making it by hand when you’re at a paid job.
Still, it’s good to know that you can do it without expensive equipment if you have to do small jobs at home.
For more significant projects, getting a mixer is recommended. Mixing in a wheelbarrow is more for the small things.