Compare Concrete Mixes for Crafting

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:

When I started buying concrete many years ago, I’d be quite puzzled reading and checking the packages. Someone would often 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.

Cement and Concrete is not the same:

Do be aware that concrete is usually a mixture of portland cement & other things like sand and aggregates. The ingredients like the gravel give the concrete mixture strength, make it into a rock-like substance once cured.

I did know what I did not want; large aggregate in my mix, which is what the regular Concrete mixes usually have. They are quite cheap and can work for large pours in molds (planters), sidewalk slabs or fence posts. I am usually making smaller projects that are 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 made with 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 set & cure so quickly and also so much stronger. There are special additives in the concrete mix resulting in a dense  and less porous finish. The sand in these mixes is so much more fine than regular sand as well. Fast set mixes have special chemicals that make curing quite quick. Each manufacturer usually has some version of  fast-setting concrete mix. These mixes also come with quite a hike in price, but it’s worth it in my eyes!

All concrete mixes go through curing process that involves hydration. The water is needed in order for proper curing to happen, and ensure that strength is achieved. Traditional bricks are made by firing clay in a kiln, much different than concrete.

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 (up to 9000 psi compressive strength) than regular concrete. I am sure there are specific additives like polymers for strength and those also make it quite moldable at a thicker consistency. This mix does not contain large aggregates.

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 their choice of concrete mix.

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. A shiny finish can be achieved if the mold is also shiny material. It tends to not have many bubbles since the consistency can be fairly fine & does not need as much water as other mixes.

So Strong Concrete:

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! Check out all the projects that this mix is great for.

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 edge layer. Some mixes will state not to be used above a certain thickness.

The Rapidset Cementall mix 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 fairly quickly. Temperature will also accelerate the setting/curing.

Dampening the drier sections is good practice before adhering new mix so there is good adhesion..

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 Rapidset Cementall. 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, post foundations and foundation walls then it usually contains large aggregate.

When comparing different types of concrete mix read the fine print and specifications.

Quikrete Fastset AllCrete 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’; darker than Rapidset Cementall.

The DIY Gigantic concrete Leaf Orb used this mix. It performed well at less than 1/2″ thick and the quick-setting allowed great workflow.

Make sure to consider enough overlap as this will make the open-work structure strong.

Quikrete Vinyl Concrete Patcher:

This product will also work well if you can wait a bit longer. Quikrete Vinyl Concrete Patcher also has additives to make it really strong but does not set as fast as the first 2. 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 this 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 shape (ball of some type) or casting of thin leaves. It will set & cure in about 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. These are considered ornamental garden sculpture so if it was stepped on it would likely break.

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. Also notice the difference in colours…

As for sealers; you will notice I often do not seal my orbs since I like the look of old patinated concrete. I am also happy to report I have not had any issues with cracking with these mixes. If you have issues about cracking see this post.

If you are still a bit apprehensive about working with concrete visit my tips post. Believe me; it does not mean that you need to be ‘covered in concrete’ to make some easy concrete crafting treasures! Concrete crafting is like making a cake mix that does not need baking… And you can almost keep it forever! Concrete crafting – made simple…

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194 Comments

  1. Would you happen to have a post about how to mix in smaller amounts? I got Fast Set All Crete- Quickcrete. It only has instructions for how much water is needed for the whole container and I can’t seem to find anything actually helpful online. I’ve attempted 2 batches, one I added too much powder. I walked away for less than 5 minutes and came back to it already too hard to work. The second batch was watery on top but like wet sand on bottom. I had to keep mixing and pouring and didn’t get consistent “batter” for my small projects. I’ll keep looking for solutions. And thank you for this post- it was beyond helpful!

    1. Well, I am like one of those cooks who tends not to measure… I work by feel and the consistency for the particular project. You have to be ready, especially if it’s hot out. I mix small amounts (sour cream container) as I can’t use a lot quick enough. My recommendation is to do a few small tests, (like casting some on leaves) to see the consistency that works for you. Lately I start with water before the dry mix, and use less, as the fast-set mixes don’t need as much water. Using a very cold water makes it set a bit slower. You can do it!

  2. Great information thank you! I have a small bag of vinyl patch. Not sure why but the grandkids wanted to make table top fire bowl. I asked so many workers and nobody could tell me what I could use. Everything I grabbed has big stones etc…. wanted strong, smooth, quick setting. Nothing that will blow up or who knows. Not knowing what’s in them made me hesitant.

    1. There is concrete rated for heat. There is a chance of concrete bursting, especially if it isn’t properly cured; even rocks can burst. Happy making & be safe!

  3. Hello Barb!

    I came across your info when I was searching for a mortar like substance I want to use in making a mirror framed with seashells. The substance that I really like and want to use is a sand type substance although it doesn’t shed like it is sand dumped on some kind of adhesive. I don’t know what it is called to do a better search. I have asked local craft people and the staff at Michaels and other crafty people and I keep searching the internet. I know it when I see it but I cannot find it. it looks like sand in between the seashells but when touched it doesn’t shed off. Do you happen to know what I am talking about or what is used in this way? Once I retire I want to do many kinds of art and i think using concrete like you do is very interesting!

    Priscilla

    1. I have experimented with so many media and taught 3D model building at the college. If you want it to look like sand there are a few options. One thing to consider is weight, depending on the size of it. I made some plates that had a textured back ground since they were made on a mound of sand… That could be an option. Rapidset Cementall is a very hard mix that works thin or thick… Sand can be adhered quite well with resin as well. When I grout a piece of mosaic perhaps the sand can be applied to the wet grout material… Perhaps a picture would help me

  4. Hello Barb, thank you for sharing your knowledge anout these concrete peoducts! I am hoping you can answer a question I have.. would any of these products adhere to plastic planters? I am looking to create a cement/concrete look on some of my plastic pots.

    1. Well, plastic is one of the things I can almost always get concrete to release from, it even sticks to glass more… For that reason it is a bit of a challenge. Another thing to consider is the shape, if you used some fabric dipped in Portland cement you may be able to do some sort of ‘Cement-maché’. All things considered, maybe it’s better to just do a finish on them to resemble concrete since there are paints that will adhere. Depending on how long you expect them to last (and weight) it may be a good choice… Here’s a tutorial on some of my faux concrete finish ‘Hope that helps!

  5. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou Barb.

    You’ve answered so many of my questions in your one article in regard to what material to use to make cast copies of my large carved wooden wall plaques of turtles, pelicans, whales etc.

    I only have one more question I hope you can answer. Should I mix fibreglass fibres into your suggested material, to make it stronger for making large wall plaques, or is the material you recommend strong enough on it’s own so as not to break?

    My turtle and pelican carvings are around 80 cm x 60 cm x 3 cm. And my whale carvings are approx 2 metres x 70 cm.

    Your advice would much appreciated and big thanks once again.
    Regards,
    Ron from Australia

    1. Looking at those dimensions, I would definitely use some kind of reinforcement. That size is very large for the thickness! I know they get heavier as they are thicker but it gets much stress handling such a large thin piece compared to a small size. Perhaps attaching the large tile to a substrate like a wood panel (if indoors) would help. Otherwise I would reinforce with fibres or fiberglass mesh. Making a small (just a section) test piece will allow you to see how strong it is. Wishing you success!