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concrete mixes - Choose which concrete mix is best for what you want to make

I know what it’s like standing at the concrete aisle and getting that odd look from the guys at the building supply store… Since I get a lot of questions about which concrete to use I’m going to eliminate some of the guesswork. Follow me as I Compare Concrete Mixes for Crafting

So many Concrete Mixes for Crafting:

I remember many years ago when I started buying concrete, I’d stand there reading and checking the packages, looking quite puzzled, and then someone would think I was sent by my husband to buy ‘normal’ concrete. After a few attempts of trying to explain what I wanted to do I would just buy what I felt was right since they usually thought I was a bit crazy… Even nowadays there are so many that it’s quite daunting.

I knew what I did not want; large aggregate in my mix, which is what the regular Concrete mixes have. They are quite cheap and can work for large pours in large molds or sidewalks. I am usually making small things that were going to be cast in molds or hand shaped for decorative home use.

‘Leaf-casting’ was perfect to make my Concrete crafting tests since I like to work quite thin. These leaves are my new favourite; Savoy Cabbage!

Working Fast:

Since time is always short around my place so I like to see my projects finish quickly and I am constantly improving or redesigning so I can’t wait weeks or even days!

I really do love the ‘fast set’ mixes but am not exactly sure about what makes them so quick and also so much stronger. There are special additives in the concrete mix resulting in a dense less porous finish. With that comes quite a hike in price, but it’s worth it in my eyes!

Rapidset Cementall:

The above Rapidset Cementall is probably my all-time favourite!  The specs say that it can be used at different consistencies and it will cure much harder than regular concrete. I am sure there are additives like polymers for strength and those also make it quite moldable at a thicker consistency. I learn by testing and it has worked well for many of my projects. Usually readers who have had concrete problems it’s because of the choice of concrete.

Rapidset Cementall Concrete Mix will start to thicken in about 30 seconds and can usually be taken out of the mold after 1 hour. The molds that I make are quite stiff and this mix will withstand the vigor needed to sometimes take them out. This mix is super fine, will pick up all the details and provide a super smooth white finish. It will be even be shiny when the mold is also shiny material.

So Strong:

At a thin consistency it will be easily poured such as the Coasters and the Monster Eggs. The strength achieved in a thin wall is quite amazing!

When reading the specs for different mixes it will give you a clue at how it can/should be used. ‘Featheredge’ means that it can be used at a very thin layer. Some mixes will state not to be used above a certain thickness.

The Rapidset Cementall can also be used at a thick; sculptable consistency. It will still slump ( a high pile of mix will flatten and sag) but not usually run away. That makes it work well for leaf casting such as the Lacy Circle the Smiling Stones. The workflow can be quite fast since sections harden quickly allowing more material to be added such as around an Orb or a Face sculpture. Dampening the drier sections is good practice before adhering new mix.

Quikrete Fastset All-crete:

Different brands offer similar products. Since entering the Quikrete contest I wanted to use a Quikrete product that compared to the RapidSet Cementall. I find this mix is almost exactly like it. It does seem like it comes under a few different names; Dual Purpose Grout & Structural RepairFastset Repair Mortar and Quikrete Fastset All-Crete. (See a selector guide here) It may be a difference of countries (here in Canada) Do NOT confuse it with any regular Fastset Mix though, as it will have large aggregate in it. If it says that it is meant to make sidewalks and post foundations that is usually the indication.

It has much of the same qualities, workability and also stated it can be used at all kinds of consistencies. It also a fine powder but the colour is more like a true concrete ‘grey’.

A new huge 20″ Orb will be posted soon and it used this mix. It performed well at less than 1/2″ thick and quick-setting allowed great workflow.

Quikrete Vinyl Concrete Patcher:

If you can wait a bit longer but still want strength then the Vinyl Patch products will also work well. Quikrete Vinyl Concrete Patcher also has additives to make it really strong but does not set as fast. It has a window of 30 minutes of work time (conditions can affect it) and will be hard in 24 hours. It has good bonding abilities so layering works great as in Giant Orb making.

You can see it still is a fine mix but I’d say it feels a bit more sandy. It cures to a similar concrete colour to the Fastset. You can see a slight bit more texture in the final product.

Sakrete Top’n Bond:

This is another of the bonding mixes with great strength and it performs very much like the Quikrete Vinyl Patch. Sakrete Top’n Bond will work for the continuous building around an orb or casting of thin leaves. It will set in a day as well.

My 20″ Giant Orbs have lasted well through the canadian winters and are light enough to carry with one hand. Amazingly only 1/4″ thick. Stomping on it would likely break it but they are really ornamental garden sculpture.

So, there you have 3 direct comparisons (left to right) Quikrete Fastset Allcrete, Rapidset Cementall, and Quikrete Vinyl Concrete Patcher. This is by no way the only available mixes but it does give me quite the selection to get my concrete crafts done.

If you are still a bit apprehensive about working with concrete visit my tips post as it does not mean that you need to be ‘covered in concrete’ to make some easy treasures! Crafting with concrete is like making a cake mix that does not need baking… And you can keep it forever!

 

barbmaker

I'm an artist & I make things... all kinds of things.

This Post Has 60 Comments
  1. Hi I am in the process of making a mold for melting lead into for fishing weights I have used the fire cement they use in setting fireplaces it works but not the best as it breaks up after a couple of uses. Do you know of or can recomned some mix or make of cement that would be suitable for me to use.
    Michael

    1. I’d say that you are using the mortar mix? I don’t think lead gets that terribly hot as other metals and cools pretty quickly. I bet (but am not sure) that the Rapidset cementall could work since I find it ‘crazy strong’ for a concrete mix. You can cast it a bit thicker to ensure that it can dissipate the heat quickly. I think the problem is if there is moisture in the mold, so make sure it is REALLY dry. I do wonder how you get the lead out though? The rapidset cementall is very smooth if used with a smooth object to mold from. Dumb question; silicone molds don’t work? (saw some on youtube)

  2. Can you please help? I tried to make a concrete pot this weekend but when i took it out it crumbled in my hands. What is the sand to cement ratio? I cant get the ratio right. Please help. I am from Rep of South Africa. We dont have the same products as you.

    1. It would help me if I knew what ratio your used. It may also be that it cured too fast. Keeping it damp will help strengthen the concrete as it cures as well. The ratio for mortar is 1 part portland cement to 3 parts sand. Slight more cement will make it stronger as will some acrylic additive. If you add some fibres that will strengthen as well. My bowls are made with a sand topping mix.

      hope that helps

  3. Good day Barbmaker.

    I want to attempt my first try to make something out of concrete.

    I have had this idea for a long time now and have been searching for information and the what and how’s for a long time now.

    I want to make Hands but the arm should be a little longer than what we usually see in pictures. I want to make a few as i want to set them up in my garden in a specific corner. So these hands must stand with the hand pointing upwards.

    Do you think those long, thick, garden gloves will work for such a project. Also, will it not be a problem to cut the rubber loose from the concrete after it has set?

    I would appreciate your advice.

    Thanking you

    Anneke

    1. Haha, I have tried the rubber-gloves-concrete-hands. It did not go so well. You need to consider that the rubber needs to be pulled out from between the fingers so any really close fingers is a problem. IF I did it again I’d use really strong mix like the RapidSet Cementall as I had the fingers break when I used hypertufa. (I hate waiting eons for it to set) So that may have been the problem.

      If you want a REALLY cool result you could do some life-casting with alginate… I LOVE how much detail you can get! But unless you make a mold from the first plaster you will only be able to cast one from each. See mine here

      Good luck, any concrete project is good… if in doubt try a small test first

    2. I have tried several cements and mortars for crafting projects like on you tube but can’t seem to ever find the right products to make them look smooth. My mixture is very grainy and my crafts never hold together. What should I be using for a smoother, stronger craft?

  4. I really appreciate this post! I have been afraid to try the rapid type concretes and have had to be so patient waiting for my projects to set! It was driving me silly, so now I can’t wait to try the rapidset cementall!
    I have been making concrete leaves this summer to make a rhubarb leaf water fountain. As a fellow Canuk, i’m wondering what you use to seal concrete, especially if you “paint” it or dry brush some color? Do you find sealing is enough to help it last through winter, or do you store your cement creations indoors through winter? (I’ve been using Portland cement with sand in a 1:3 ratio for most of my concrete).
    I’m grateful and thankful for any advice you can provide.

    1. I have made what seems like millions of rhubarb leaf stepping stones, everytime I cut rhubarb. The birdbath bowls that I made were not sealed and left out all winter. They have now lost some of their nice detailed texture but they are probably over 10 years old. I have yet to really get into the sealer issue since I see how the neighbourhood driveways never have a long lasting seal and they don’t even hold water. I think it’s an ongoing battle. Maybe a pool paint would be best since it does hold water and should be human safe. Concrete is porous in most cases so that is one reason that paint does not tend to stay that well as it gets ‘pushed off’ by the moisture if it’s penetrating. (as seen in block walls)

      Sorry it’s not a quick answer… I have noticed though that Cementall is so dense that when I made some sealers to test they did not perform any different than the ‘naked’ concrete, ie- it did not leach any water through. I’d almost be inclined to see how it would last just as is without any coating. The water would be running over the leaves? or sitting?

      I have made the stepping stones with a sand-topping mix which would be much like your mix. They have held up as well as any sidewalks. The ‘cream’ will eventually wear off and will show more of the sand or aggregate.

      Last thing I want is to be a slave to my concrete… that’s why I make concrete. If it does not last I’ll make some more. It outlasts my attachment in most cases.

  5. I have recently moved to Nicaragua from Canada, any idea as to what ratio of builders concrete I would have to use to make concrete planters? It is all that seems to be available here. Thanks for your time.😀

    1. That is a tough question. Sometimes people refer to Portland Cement as concrete. When you say ‘builders concrete’ is it a mix? or the portland cement? If it’s the cheap mix with the stone/aggregate I have heard that some people just sift out the big rocks and use it as a sand mix. If it’s portland cement use a ratio of 1 part portland cement to 2-3 parts sand. Do keep the curing planters out of the sun and dampen during curing.

  6. Hi Barb, thank you so much for sharing this very useful information, I truly appreciate it! I’m interested in making jewelry (pendants, bracelets, rings, etc.) is there a mix that you’d recommend for that?

    Many thanks!

  7. How do you feel about pure portland cement?
    I got it as it was 10 bucks for 90 pounds. It works but just wondering what you may jave experienced.

    1. Pure portland cement is quite versatile as it’s generally in most mixes. You could make a hyper tufa with it or add sand to make a sand topping mix which I make stepping stones with. Use it alone with fabric to make the ghouls. Just be aware concrete does seem to get ‘old’ especially if not stored properly… The general understanding is that aggregate/sand etc in addition to the portland cement makes it stronger, but you have many options. I like learning by practice and doing…

  8. Hi barb, thank you so much for sharing this very useful information. I’ve been testing different materials for 1 month and I really needed this information. Although I do not know English very clearly, you are so glad you learned so much

  9. Hi, Barb! I love your pins on Pinterest! I am retired and crafting away. I’m recently interested in sculpting; i.e., clay, cement, etc. I want to build/sculpt a figure using cement and want your opinion. I feel like Rapidset Cementall will be my best bet after reading your blog on all the different types of cement. Whew! There’s a lot to know when going into this. The figure will have some height (not more than 2 feet) and will be an outdoor decoration for a plant, or birdseed, etc. In building the ‘body’ of this figure, is it best to let it dry first and then build it up and up after each application of cement? Meaning, if thick enough, it won’t slush down? If necessary I can send a picture of what I’m trying to make in a separate email. Thank you! Virginia Dryden

    1. Frankly the Rapidset Cementall sets so fast that I manage to keep working and adding as I have for the Gigantic Leaf orb. It will depend on how/if you need to maneuver the sculpture as you work on it. Sometimes it even sets too fast, before I can use what I have mixed. If you are subscribed you can reply to an email post.

  10. Hi Barb,
    I just love your artwork. Thank you for sharing with us. I have a question about sand. I’ve tried using an all purpose sand, but it was too rough and gritty. The hardware store suggested paver sand, which I purchased today. After opening the bag I found it to be kinda chunky too. I tried finding the Quikrete sand/topping mix locally, but had no luck. Do you have any other sand suggestions? Can I use play sand?

    1. Well, the sand topping mix is much like regular concrete but does not have the large aggregate in it. I have read (but not tried) to sift out the large bits to be ending up with something like the sandtopping mix. I would think the portland cement and sand would make a good mix. I recall there being some recipes printed on the bag. The sandtopping mix is not a super one like the Rapidset Cementall but it finishes pretty smooth since the portland cement fills the voids between the grains of sand. When I am trying to figure out things I do a small test mix of just a little pour. It does also depend what you are making…

  11. Hi iam from NZ i am wandering what tuoe of cement i would use to do a few simple DIY garden pots . This will be my first attempt.

  12. Hi Barb, thanks for your helpful information!!! I am planning to DIY concrete planters. Since I am going to paint some cute patterns on it, I am looking for a concrete mix that will have a smooth surface and not pricey (I am a student, and don’t have lots of budgets). which concrete mix will you recommend? Thanks so much!

    1. If you are using some plastic containers as molds and keep the walls thick enough then you can use a cheaper ‘Sand-topping mix’. It’s pretty normal concrete without large aggregate in it. Some people sift out the large stones to use it as it’s pretty cheap. It will be a somewhat sandy texture when done, tamp well so no bubbles… Good luck

  13. Hi Barb,

    I’m making an indirect mosaic for the first time and the depth of the finished project will be an inch deep and a foot long square. What kind of concrete mix would you recommend? I don’t want to be rushed as this is my first time, so maybe rapidset wouldn’t be the best idea. Would the quikrete vinyl patcher work–if so what was the proportion of cement to water that you used?

    Many thanks,
    Sam

    1. I had a follow up question, too. I was thinking about using the quickrete sand/topping mix to cast a one inch thick indirect mosaic (it is a foot long and foot wide). I recall that you made stepping stones with the sand/topping mix–one question I have is that for applications between 1-2 inches where the sand-topping mix is being bonded to another substance (in my case the mosaic tiles), Quikcrete recommends using a bonding adhesive. Would this be necessary for my project? My gut tells me no–I think the bonding adhesive is only suggested for concrete to concrete, not for rough mosaic tiles, but I thought I’d ask.

      Thanks again!

      1. That’s a tough one. Many moons ago I had made mosaics on premade concrete patio stones using the proper tile adhesive and then a sanded grout (figured if it worked in the shower it would work outside) however the tiles/grout lifted in the canadian winters. It’s probably going to be horizontal so more chance of taking in any moisture. I’m afraid water may get between the tiles and concrete and then freeze/lift. I know the rapidset is super quick but maybe working small sections could work. It is so dense that I don’t see any water penetrate as other concrete.

        If the tiles are porous you don’t want them stealing the moisture from the concrete either so they should be damp/wet. Bottles of the bonding agent are pretty cheap so I’d suggest considering the amount of work you’d be doing. Another option is once finished you give it a super good waterproofing/sealer and be diligent with freezing and water conditions. That’s the best advice I can give considering I’ve not done it. I have combined stone with the rapidset with bonding agent.

    2. I don’t use measurements when mixing, I go by how much flow/slump I want. The vinyl patch may be a good choice but it does not really seem that ‘vinyl’ when done. My orbs have held up over winters well but they don’t have added inclusions…

  14. As you know I think you are the bees knees. I want to know if you have ever used bonding liquid in your cement to make it more pliable for sculpting? If so what is the ratio to water/cement? Thanks

    1. Bonding liquid seems like some version of acrylic medium. I had thought it’s mostly just for helping new concrete adhere to old. I wonder if it would really make a difference. I like the Rapidset Cementall since it thickens enough that I can sculpt it nicely. It does not however become like a clay. There is also the option of Papercrete like this fellow So many options….

  15. Your site has been great for my inspiration and confidence to try new projects. My hypertufa mix now is 3 parts portland cement 1 part type s mortar mix, 4 parts spagham peat moss, 3 parts vermiculite and one part perlite. Its great for bird bathes and troughs. Thank you from California

  16. Thanks for all of the information and anecdotal comments. I tried to make some stepping stones this weekend. What a disaster. I too was one of those newbies standing in front of the bags of concrete at Home Depot, hoping someone would see my despair and confusion. Alas, the product I ultimately chose had stones in it bigger than big! I knew it wouldn’t work when I opened the bag at home, but I mixed it up and pored then into my cake tins, already line with mosaics on contact paper. And of course when it was dry, and I flipped them over, most of the mosaic just crumbled off. LOL – I told my myself ‘I told you so’! I want to make some more – still a bit confused after reading all these posts. What would you recommend as the best (not quick set) product to use – I’m in Canada as well!! Thanks so much!

    1. If you are doing the standard easy rhubarb leaf stepping stones then the Quikrete Sand topping mix is great. NO rocks! It’s also important to not just let it dry but let it cure while being damp. If you were a bit early to umold then it would crumble as it needs to cure for at least a day. Concrete driveways need to be wetted down especially if it’s a hot day. Water actually makes concrete cure to a harder state.

  17. Thank you so much for this wonderful insight on the different concrete mixes. You have helped me tremendously.

    1. It’s funny how many people think they are all the same; but it’s like cooking, you can’t substitute ingredients and expect it to work. It’s the number one mistake…

  18. I found your revue on the 3 different kinds of cement very interesting. I want to make a leaf basin for my master bathroom. What product will you recommend that will work best?

    1. There are a lot of things to consider with that type of use. So far the hardest mix I use is the Rapidset Cementall and it is really dense too. I know there are some special counter-top mixes that have not tried. You will also need an appropriate sealer since it will get much use. I am stubborn in making things work, and there may well be a way… Good luck!

  19. I am new at this. I have gone to several different places looking for some of the cement mixes you prefer but they look at me like in crazy. I try to explain what I’m looking for and they still don’t know what I want. The closest I’ve got is mortar mix. Any suggestions on where I should go

    1. Are you in the US? Sometimes the fellows at the stores are not that knowledgable and like to think women don’t have a clue. I hate having to tell them info. Most places would carry the Quikrete Brand, so they should carry Sand Topping Mix. Maybe do the leg work before going to the store (Search online for suppliers) so that you have specific product names and even web pages.

  20. Your website has been extremely informative. What do you use for a release agent when working with a plastic or aluminum mold?

    Thank you!

    1. If I use a smooth plastic mold concrete does not stick. I have used a mix of wax and oil, but don’t like the greasiness that it leaves so often I don’t use any. I don’t use aluminum molds. ‘Pam’ spray or WD40 can also work. I the mold is flexible it’s the easiest to get out. Hope that helps!

  21. Color me stupid but concrete and cement are two different things and the verbiage is not interchangeable. Thank you for picture of cement. “The basic difference is that cement is a fine binding powder (which is never used alone), mortar is composed of cement and sand, and concrete is composed of cement, sand, and gravel. Cement is the binding element in both concrete and mortar.”

    1. Yes, you are right. I get a lot of people who are confused. The sandtopping mix has no gravel and when it is cured it is also concrete, but would not be the same as mortar. Then there are the mixes that have more complicated elements that increase setting time and strength but still have no gravel like Rapidset Cementall. I use the Portland cement for the draping

      1. Thank you for replying. I’ve watched and read so many articles on methods and designs it is so confusing. What would you recommend I use to make small to medium planters if I want a smooth finish? I am thinking cement and play sand which I have on hand. Do you soak your finished products in order to leech them?

        1. I tend to keep things simple for myself and use pre-made mixes. The sand-topping mix (similar to sand and cement) works well as I used for my planters/bowls If you want thinner and stronger and very smooth then the Rapidset Cementall is great and pretty well cured in one hour! Even the coasters are great! I always like to make a small test piece to see strength etc. The more you tap to rid bubbles the smoother it will be. The shinier the mold – the Rapidset cementall will even be shiny. So much fun!

  22. I am in Canada also 🙂 I cannot seem to find RapidSet CementAll anywhere! It seems that Home Depot is the only distributor but it is never in stock (in multiple stores). Have they changed their label/brand?

  23. Funny story. I was using some rapid set Quikcrete this summer and it was warm and windy outside. That set in like 5-10 minutes. I had to throw my mixing container with the spoon it it out. Is it possible to mix the rapid set with some that doesn’t set as fast to give me more time? New to your site.

    1. There is an available retardent and I have read that a citric acid solution will slow it down. Using ice water to mix will also help. I have had times where it was just a tad too fast! Good luck!

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