Tips & Tricks for Concrete Crafting

For many the idea of being creative with concrete brings visions of huge metal mixers, shovels and mess. Let me show you some of my Tips and Tricks for Concrete Crafting so you too can make concrete art, like baking a cake.

It’s no mystery that I have quite the love for working in concrete. My fascination with casting things from molds started as a little kid and led me to this. Before I knew it I had used a bunch of different Concrete mixes, made my own and created quite the slue of original projects. I learned from ‘hands-on’ experimentation to create my own easy system that makes it all mess free and simple.

“What is concrete?”

The term ‘concrete’ is for a material that is created from a mix of aggregates with a cement that is activated with water. Once it goes through it’s reaction, which usually involves some heat production it ends up almost as hard as stone. Lime-based Portland cement is commonly used and mixed with gravel (crushed stone) to make the typical mix used for your sidewalks. But as a crafter I often use a finer mix but there are still a few to choose from.

Question: “What concrete mix should I use?”

I get many questions about this. If you get the wrong mix, it will usually not work. Many of my projects are designed with the character of the mix. This post will also help explain the pre-made mixes.

Portland Cement

Portland Cement can be purchased as is so that you can make your own mix by adding other aggregates. It is also used when making ‘HyperTufa’. Depending what you mix into the portland cement will determine the final characteristics. It can range from just sand to perlite, peat, vermiculite, paper, styrofoam and probably more I’ve yet to discover.

If you want total control, this would be your choice as you are starting from ‘scratch’. I use this when making the CONCRETE ORBS using some dipping of yarn, and also the STEP SPOOK. In those cases the fabric fibres are the ‘aggregate’. Paper can be used as an additive and works quite well as in my PAPERCRETE BIRD

Sand Topping Mix

Sand Topping Mix is also one of my favourites. It is a simple mix of portland cement and sand. This inexpensive mix is meant to be used at less than 2″ thickness so it was perfect for the STEPPING STONES which were my first concrete adventure many years ago. They still grace my garden and are aging nicely. It has a fair strength when used at thicknesses over 3/8″ and worked well for the making of BOWLS and LIVE EDGE BOWLS and casting LEAF PLANTER. If you are new to concrete this is a good way to experiment. It can not be used at a very thin thickness.

Setting time is not accelerated and will need a good 24 hours before unmolding.




RapidSet Cementall

Rapidset Cementall is a brand name for a quickset concrete. This mix acts quite differently as it sets really quickly (5 minutes) and can be unmolded in 1 hour. I love this mix since I am impatient, but also because it is super strong! I experimented and have used it at 1/8″ thick with good strength (obviously not walking on) as it my LEAF COASTERS. This mix can be used at different consistencies such as pourable or thicker malleable concrete. This pourability has allowed the ‘slush pouring’ of the CUTE HEADS and the TIN CANS, and even the EGGS. Thicker use has allowed the sculpting of the LEAF CIRCLES and the hilarious SMILING STONES and LARGE FACE SCULPTURE. Even the GEODES and GEODE LAMP used this mix!

There is something about this mix that does make the end product much finer though, as there are many additives to set it quick and add that strength. If you like the more rough industrial look this concrete has less of that since the aggregates are very very (powdered sugar-like) fine. Those are decisions you have to make. It is also more expensive due to those ingredients.






If you would like to see side-by-side comparison of a few mixes visit my post about fast-set and extra strength mixes.

Top’n Bond

Sakrete Top’N Bond is a form of a patching concrete which makes it adhere to existing concrete. It is sometimes called vinyl patch as there are added polymers. It has a good strength at minimal thickness and also some has malleability. The final product does have the coarser texture since there is sand in the mix. It has a medium setting time so it worked well for the GIANT ORBS since they are worked in stages.

“What do I need to Work with concrete?”

This is a what my collection of concrete ‘stuff’ looks like. It is really quite simple and I have quite the system now.

  • Watering Can – is great as it just needs a bit of a tip to dispense, no fussing with a hose.
  • Bucket of Concrete Mix and Scoop – keep this scoop dry and in the container to be able to add mix when needed.
  • Plastic Mixing Containers – It is best if these are not too rigid (Yogurt containers work well). Wider containers are better for mixing than tall ones.
  • Measuring Cup to dispense small amounts of water into the mixing container.
  • Rubber or Nitrile Gloves – better quality makes them last longer.
  • Dust Maskrated for concrete silica dust I like my 3M8833 as it has an exhale valve.
  • Spray Bottle with water – to mist when adding to existing dry concrete
  • Mixing Spoons/Utensils – Plastic or wood
  • Concrete Colour – if you would like a darker or tinted colour ( acrylic paints can work as well)
  • Optional; Additives – if making a custom mix like Hypertufa or Papercrete; peat, sand, perlite, vermiculite, paper fibres, etc.
  • Other Tools – like brushes, sticks, skewers, depending on project

“How To Work with Concrete and not make a big Mess?”

Step #1

Use the scoop and place some ‘mix’ into the mixing vessel

Step #2

Use the measuring cup to add water slowly, mixing after each addition. The consistency that is needed will depend on the particular project and type of mix. The Rapidset Cementall works better if the water is added first. (each project tutorial also has details) Then follow the instructions to make your ‘great concrete project’.

Step #3

Do not wash anything, just let it set and dry. NEVER EVER wash it down the drain! It’s like NOT doing the dishes… We are not making a sidewalk here, usually just smaller craft objects.

Step #4

Once it is hard, just flex the container and the concrete will chip off. Bang it a bit and it will be clean enough for the next use. I like to use recyclable yogurt containers. Plastic buckets work well if you are working a bit larger scale.

Flex the spoon as well and it will become clean too.

Keep a bucket for all the cast off concrete. It can be used as aggregate later on or other planting uses. No mess or fuss!

“How do I make the concrete stronger?”

There may be times where you need a bit of assurance that your project won’t just crumble into pieces. In the big professional world they use steel rebar rods inside the concrete. We can use other methods of adding some reinforcement.

Drywall mesh acts as a reinforcement that can be cut and covered with concrete. If it is visible after curing it can be burnt away with a little torch.

You can also buy reinforcing fibres that are added to the mix. These work great as I have seen pieces that crack but hold together since there is the cross lacing of the fibres.

Anything that does not stretch can act as a reinforcement. Chicken wire, other metal mesh, yarn, wire, even fabric will add strength.

“How do I finish the rough edges?”

I admit, I hate sanding! I do not want to make a cloud of dust! So I design ways to keep that part to the minimum. That is why I like the rustic edges. There are times where you may have mixed a bit too much concrete, don’t throw it away! Make a ‘patty’ on some smooth surface (plastic is best) and let set.

This is now a great ‘sanding disc’, instead of using sandpaper or emery cloth. Also if you work with the pieces wet, there will  be no dust and it will work well enough to take off the sharp corners.

I like to come up with projects where the rough edges are part of the design as in the LIVE EDGE CONCRETE BOWLS. That’s an artist’s trick; make any ‘mistake’ look intentional…

Simple Clean up:

Fill a very large bucket with water. If you need to get your hands or utensils clean use the bucket of water like a sink (I keep a rag nearby to dry). The particles will settle and you can use this for a while. When done, pour off the water and let the bottom sludge harden/dry to be knocked out.

So, there you have it! It isn’t as bad as you had imagined?! I hope I have taken away some of the fear of being covered in concrete. It is similar to working with plaster of paris but is much more durable. Go check out all the concrete projects I have and give it a shot! I know you can do it!

See this post before you go to the concrete store…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. What I’d really love is for you to write a book on this. SO much easier and more enjoyable to read a book rather than scrolling. Then have all the info easier access and quick to refer back to. I’d buy!

  2. Concrete crafting is truly an art form, and I appreciate your passion for it. Your tips and tricks provide valuable insight into the world of concrete and make it seem much more approachable. I never realized there were different types of concrete mixes available for crafting purposes, and it’s interesting to learn about the finer mixes you use. It’s inspiring to see how your hands-on experimentation has led you to develop an easy and mess-free system. I can’t wait to give it a try and see what unique projects I can create. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

  3. I have wanted a greecian planter but cant afford it. Is it possible to make one from concrete and which would be the best to use?

    1. I am assuming it is one that has details on the outside. I am not sure if you plan to hand sculpt those or use a form/mold? A mold could work with a sand/concrete mix (aggregate added if thick walls) or a fast setting mix (Rapidset Cementall) is strong and dense. Making a specific planter may be a challenge as they become quite heavy with size. You could consider a ‘Draped concrete‘.

  4. Do you have to add sand to mixer. I seen and read other individuals projects where they add sand to mixer or is that an option. Sheri

    1. Well, it depends on what you start with. Similarly to buying a cake ‘mix’ or individual ingredients. I personally like to just use a mix that is right for the project instead of buying a lot of ingredients like portland cement and sand. Also some of the fast setting mixes can not be made from bought ingredients. Mayabe this post will help.

  5. Barb—
    I’m in love with the smiling stones! My first attempt at molding the teeth was last night. Consistency of the cement seemed just right. But when I unmolded half of them later, the front teeth were broken! I waited overnight to unmold the other two and the front teeth were broken on them as well. What am I doing wrong?
    Thanks so much—

    1. Which concrete mix are you using? Since the teeth are pretty small, it has to be an extra strong mix like the Rapidset Cementall. Regular sand mix will break.

  6. I love this post thank you miss barb for sharing your expertise..I’m just wanting to make pumpkin planters out of the pumpkin plastic pails and also the pumpkins you pour concrete into pantyhose and rubber band sections around it for the pumpkin sections do you have one you would recommend for these I know I do not like the more gravely ones

  7. Hi Barb! I’ve been reading through all your posts as I’m in the midst of my first cement project. I’m making chickens with Rapid Set CementAll. My main problem is removing the pantyhose after the cement is set. They just tear and rip and leave fuzzy lines all over the place. I just can’t get them off!! Do you have any tricks or tips for that problem?

    1. Well, that is not one of my methods so I do not know. I’ve seen it done in videos and always wondered about how it would come off. Maybe the mix they use is not rapidset. If it is sandtopping mix it has more sand in it, might come off easier. Try to see what mix they use. I love Rapidset Cementall but it is very fine so might get into the fibres of the hose more. 🤷🏻‍♀️

  8. Thanks for the great info about concrete crafting – just popped a stepping stone out of a mold after 2 days, used a fast setting concrete mix and glass blobs/gems on the bottom of the mold.
    Two problems – tiny holes from air bubbles and some concrete is covering the glass/ seeped under. Should I fix the air bubbles holes first or sand down the surface to expose the glass first? When is the “point of no return” for fixing things in concrete? Maybe I should put it in a big plastic bag for now so I can still fix it tomorrow or the next day? Thanks!

    1. Glad you are ‘making’! I understand that issue, as it would also happen when I put leaves on the bottom of a mold. I’ve since seen that some use contact paper (sticky film) on the bottom to keep things stuck down. Some of the fast set mixes are very plastic-like and seem to flow way more than a traditional sand/cement mix. That helped when I cast as well. If it easier to sand now before it’s rock hard, might be a better idea before filling. then fill carefully. Myself; I hate sanding since the dust is pretty bad (wear PPE) There might be better options with less headache. Cast the stepping stone and then once stiff add another layer and set the glass onto surface, use some brushes to tidy up… Best of luck