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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. For many the idea of making 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 it all the time, like baking a cake.

“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?”

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 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.

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

 

 

 

Lacy-Leaves-Concrete-Circle--madebybarb-1

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. 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.

 

 

Sakrete Top’N Bond is a form of a patching concrete which makes it adhere to existing concrete. It is sometimes called vinyl patch but I see no vinyl properties. 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. It is best to have wider rather than tall to aid in mixing.
  • 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 Spoon – 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. The Rapidset Cementall works better if the water is added first. (each project tutorial also has details) Then 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…

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.

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.

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!

 

 

barbmaker

I’m an artist & I make things… all kinds of things.

This Post Has 43 Comments
  1. I love this site of yours Barb! Sadly don’t have the work space–I’ll stick to crocheting..
    Question: Did you post the picture of a somewhat turgid male member on purpose?
    (Top left corner)
    Hoot!

    1. Well, I have even resorted to small pouring of concrete in my basement when the weather does not cooperate! The coasters use so little mix that it’s easier than a cake. As for the member, yikes, it’s the thumb of the hand!

  2. Brab, I always love your site, always great ideas. I make concrete leaves using vinyl patch cement and certain leaves always have more “bug holes” in the concrete than others. I pat the wet cement a lot but still they show up. Any suggestions.

    1. If you want really detailed prints maybe a layer of a quickset concrete like the rapidset cementall and then a layer of the other stuff. It is so fine it almost doesn’t even look like concrete. You could add the other layer within the hour. Or make sure it is a tad on the wetter side and really ‘slap-slap-slap’ the first layer. I use sand topping mix for my leaves.

  3. I just found your wonderful site. I’m new at crafting with cement and I LOVE it. Soooo many wonderful ideas to try. Keep them coming please.

  4. Hi Barb,

    I have always wanted to try crafting with concrete, but haven’t dared to take the plunge. You help take the mystery out of all the different types of concrete (& availability), best uses and final results. I am making plans for next summer’s project(s). Have you heard of Shape Crete? What are your thoughts on this type of concrete?
    Martina (from Waterloo,ON)

    1. Yes, I have heard about Shapecrete! I did want to try it but I was a bit surprised at the cost per amount. It would be well worth it if you are not making a lot. I always like to figure out a cheaper way of doing my arts/crafts (maybe I do too many) and I like the availability for everyone. Maybe the ShapeCrete guys should send me some to test (hint-hint) I used to sculpt with real clay that needed to be fired and that is what it seems like. Honestly. I can’t keep up making all the ideas that pop into this brain of mine… If you try it let me know.

      1. I’ve used the Shapecrete, it’s ok…. My favorite is still the Rapid set, as it seems it is yours too…. the shapecrete isn’t like clay, which I was hoping it would be…. it works best if you have something to mold it onto, doesn’t work if your trying to “freehand”sculpt……

        1. Oh, thanks for letting me know. Yes, I love the RapidSet, so little waiting! Sometimes I pop a load of laundry in and pour a bit of concrete… both done about same time!

  5. Barbmaker,
    Thank you for all your great info. I would like your input on a project I haven’t the knowledge to do. I have two outdoor cement flamingos that are falling apart. How can I repair them ? Please advise
    Thank You
    Isela

    1. Hmmm, sounds like a bit of a patch job? If it is a matter of filling in the cracks to hold it together I think the Rapidset Cementall would work for that. The only issue is that you get good adherence by wetting and perhaps using a bonding agent (buy at hardware/home depot) or sub some white glue. (I’ve heard) The key is not to have the old concrete ‘suck’ the water out of the new add. The beauty of this mix is that sets really fast and is workable. You could use a putty knife or artist palette knife and ‘butter it’ into the cracks. I usually have a spray bottle handy for the wetting. I did that to some cracks in the sidewalk a couple years ago and they have been holding and we drive over it… If you are not sure, do a tiny test on the bottom. It’s all about experimentation. Good luck

  6. I have tried making orb’s by buying glass light balls then breaking the glass. But all the quick cement seems to harden so fast. And I struggle getting it to be level and air bubbles out.. What other type of cement product would you use.. Also do or have you used a vibrating table to help get the air bubbles out?? I have kinda drunk the cement loving cool aide… Thanks so much…. Off to play some more…

    1. Hi There! I don’t make the solid orbs as they use a lot of concrete and need the glass. I make other orbs that are hollow. Then I also don’t need to worry about bubbles so much. Maybe you would like the large ones and you could the quick set concrete for them, and add the layers. They will end up more rough though. If you want to use the glass, then why not use the sandtopping mix. It is a general purpose mix and you can tap and use s tir stick to get the bubbles out. I personally like the bubbles so that it looks like concrete’ not plastic. Good luck!

    1. Well, that is a good question… I personally like the look of aged old plain concrete. I find sealers change the whole nature of the concrete.

      Even the neighbourhood driveways that had sealers seem to look worse and need refreshing more than the natural ones. I am always hoping that some moss will grow and make it look even older.

      Sealing the inside is sometimes a good idea, but I have yet to find one that I can get in smaller quantities and feel that it would be safe for the plant. Even beeswax feels like it would be a good sealer (works for waxed cloth) and is natural

      The Rapidset Cementall is so dense that the water I left in an untreated bowl stayed for days without leaching through. My ‘sandtopping mix’ bowls have been inside over a year and don’t leak, but do need a bit more watering due to leaching.

      If you want to buy some, look for a food-safe counter sealer. It would probably make it darker and change the sheen…

  7. I am a first-timer who would love to make a draped fabric “sculpture” out of concrete. I have an old shirt I would like to dip and then hang outside. I need guidance! Thanks!

    1. Oh, sounds like fun! Have you seen this fellow? He is made with draping. When I have used fabric I try to find one that has some texture that will hold the concrete. Just as the orbs were a fuzzy type of yarn. The next thing to consider is what will hold the heavy shape til it is cured and will you be able to get it out? Or leave it in? If using a fuzzy fabric then I use the ‘Portland Cement” since the fabric is the ‘aggregate’. Not sure what shape you are hoping for…

      1. Hi Barb,
        I have been wanting to try my hands on concrete Crafting , making hypertufa first (glad I found your website) but couldn’t find Portland cement here in Queensland, Australia. Any substitute?
        Thanks a lot!
        Edita Walsh

        1. I’m glad that you are starting some concreting. There must be a similar product in your country. I did a quick search and I think this is the same as portland cement. The brand may be different but it is the most important ingredient in concrete mixes. There are also hypertufa groups online that could possibly help you. It is a small world on the internet

  8. Hi Barb,

    Thank you for THE best concrete tutorial ever! I’m just getting started with concrete and the information you have provided is awesome!
    I live in Australia so I’ll have to research the equivalent products over here. Shame, guess I’ll have to spend some time at the shops (any excuse) 😉
    Hope you don’t mind me picking your brains but can you please tell me what you use to make lightweight concrete products? I’d prefer to not have aggregates show through the surface. I’m a bit stumped.
    Thanks again 😊

    1. Light weight concrete? Hmmm, some people make the hypertufa with the peat, perlite, vermiculite added in but I think that is not what you like since it shows on the surface. I have tried it as well but I am so impatient as it takes longer to cure and has a different consistency than I really like. It is much more porous. When I made the papercrete Bird it did end up quite light due to the paper content AND that he is hollow. Sometimes it takes a bit of thinking at how to design to create less bulk = less weight.

      Funny though; I had just picked up a small bag of styrofoam pellets (used as fake snow for christmas ornaments) and had an idea that involves concrete… I have yet to test it though. And sadly it is getting cold here on the other side of the world, not much concreting outdoors anymore.

      Draping can make lighter products as well, and hoping to post on that soon.

      Do watch for new ideas…

    1. I was looking to see what exactly the Pelefix was? I am not familiar with it. If I am right it looks like a glue type substance that can add strength? If so, then I would add it with the liquid(water) so that it gets incorporated before the dry mix. I do also sometimes use the fibres in the concrete, and add them after it some mix is added and then adjust til you get the desired consistency. Hope that helps…

  9. Thank you do much for all this useful information! So many sites assume everyone already knows the basics.
    I can’t wait to give this a try!

  10. I’m interested in making some snowmen using concrete and unfortunately every blog I look at is in another language! I’d appreciate any thoughts on what type of concrete to use, I’d like them to be about 12- 15 inches tall. You have some great info on here thanks so much!

      1. Hi barb!! Me again!! Snowmen turned out great.. used nylon hose for mold to hold together and I feel I let them set too long. That being said struggling a bit getting-them off any suggestions to soften the concrete to remove? I removed one the next day and it was a breeze but these have set on for about 10 days. Frustrated!!!

  11. This is the BEST tutorial I’ve come across!! I too enjoy working with cement but have struggled to get proper instructions. Thank you for your detailed information. AND the tips on not making too much of a mess!!!

  12. Thank you! This is the best , clearest, easiest to understand posting I’ve ever read on this subject. I have gathered most of what I need, a great addition to the creative clutter in my home! Now to find the time to just jump in and play! Thanks again for sharing!
    Boni

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