Tools You Need to Work with Concrete

Tools You Need to Work with Concrete

So, you’ve decided to pour a concrete pathway, patio or slab — that’s the first step toward improving your home. But do you have the right tools to work with concrete? 

I don’t mean the materials to make a form and fill it. For instance, you’d need lumber, gravel base, a level, concrete mix and a tamp, along with other stuff to make a slab. But rather, the basic gear and tools to complete just about any concrete job. 

Before you start a concrete project, check this list. Chances are, you’ll need these tools.


Chelsea Lipford Wolf wears safety glasses before starting a concrete project

Protective Gear 

Remember, safety first! Exposure to concrete mix can irritate your skin, so always wear rubber boots, pants, a long-sleeve shirt and rubber gloves. 

You’ll also need splash-proof, chemical-safe glasses to protect your eyes, and an N95 respirator to prevent inhaling concrete dust.

Finally, it’s a good idea to wear earplugs if you’re using a portable mixer. They can be noisy! 


Man pours a bucket of water into the Quikrete countertop concrete mix in a wheelbarrow

Wheelbarrow

If you need to haul bags of cement or concrete mix around your yard, load them up in a wheelbarrow. Your back will thank you! Wheelbarrows are also perfect for mixing small amounts of concrete mix and water.

Just empty the concrete mix into a wheelbarrow and form a depression at the center of the mix. Then pour two-thirds of the recommended water amount into the depression. (An 80-pound bag of Quikrete concrete mix requires about 3 quarts of water.)  

Finally, work the mix with a hoe and gradually add water until it has a uniform consistency and looks like thick oatmeal. 


Man loads portable concrete mixer from concrete in a wheelbarrow
(©kuchina – stock.adobe.com)

Portable Concrete Mixer

When it comes to mixing concrete, a wheelbarrow and hoe get the job done. But if you want to really speed up the process and save your energy, get a portable concrete mixer. 

Ready-to-assemble mixers come with a stand, mixer barrel, mixing tines, wheels and hardware. A decent concrete mixer with a 5-cubic-foot barrel could cost $300 to buy, or you could rent one for a few hours for about $35. 

Either way, this machine takes the guesswork — and elbow grease — out of mixing concrete. So you can focus on pouring a patio in record time! 


“Today’s Homeowner” co-host Chelsea Lipford Wolf mixes concrete in a bucket

Bucket, Drill and Mixing Paddle

Looking for a low-budget portable concrete mixer? Look no farther than a 5-gallon plastic bucket, a drill and a mixing paddle.

Just attach the mixing paddle to the drill, pour the concrete mix and water into the plastic bucket and start drilling! Or, really, mixing. 

If you’ve got a drill and a bucket on hand, you can buy a mixing paddle — compatible with a corded or cordless drill — for just $15. It’s the perfect DIY setup for small concrete projects!   


Danny Lipford looks at a wet concrete patio in production at the job site

Screed

A screed is a long straight edge that you run back and forth over concrete to level it. Reinforced aluminum screeds, ranging from $30 to $100, are available at the home center in different sizes for most needs. 

Or you can do what I do — save money and make your own! 

You’ll need two pieces of wood: one strip should be long enough to extend over the form’s edges while a 1-by-4 nailed underneath it should be short enough to fit inside the form. 

Just run the screed along the formwork edges to smooth the concrete surface, and remove any excess concrete mix.


Man mixes concrete mix in a wheelbarrow with a shovel

Shovel 

No matter how many concrete projects you’ve worked on, there’s no such thing as a clean pour. You’ll always have voids to fill, and a shovel comes in handy to move small amounts of concrete.

In addition, remember that excess concrete mix from screeding the surface? You’ll need a shovel to remove and relocate it to needed areas. 

Pro tip: A square shovel, as opposed to a rounded gardening shovel, is the best tool for this job. But in a pinch, any shovel will do. 


Using a concrete float on a freshly poured concrete steps

Float

Screeding poured concrete levels the surface, but you still have to deal with imperfections. That’s why you’ll need a float to help finish the job. 

Just after the surface has lost its sheen, and the concrete starts to harden but is still workable, run the float over it with an arching motion. 

Running a float over screeded concrete compacts the concrete — so it’s denser and stronger — and smooths the surface. It may cost $12 at the home center but the impact is priceless. 


Concrete edger tool
(Photo: The Home Depot)

Edger

A concrete slab with rounded edges has a finished look that’s attractive and functional. Use a concrete edger (just  $10 at the home center) to prevent chipping and spalling. 

Wait until the concrete is firm and has lost its sheen, but is still workable, and then start edging. 

This step isn’t necessary for a concrete subfloor that won’t be seen or directly walked on, but it’s a must for garbage can pads, patios and sidewalks. 


Giving concrete resurfacer a broom finish

Stiff-Bristle Broom

Whether you’re pouring a new concrete slab or resurfacing an old one, you need to texture the surface with a stiff-bristle broom. This gives the concrete a non-slip surface that’s uniform in appearance. 

Applying the texture follows leveling the surface with a screed and smoothing it with a float. Wait until the concrete starts to turn solid, but while it’s still soft. 

Stiff-bristle brooms range from $20 to $50 at the home center. Whichever option you choose, it’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from making the slab safer to walk on. 


Closeup of a stained concrete patio with a new control joint scored into the structure

Groover or Saw

Concrete, like most building materials, expands and contracts as seasons change. It’s important to minimize the cracks in a slab to preserve its look and function. 

One way to do that is to make straight-line control joints just after the concrete starts to harden and the surface has lost its sheen. 

You can cut control joints using a groover and any straight board. Just hold the groover parallel to the board at predetermined locations and run it vertically down the slab. 

Control joints should be cut to at least 1/4 the slab’s depth and at equal intervals. For instance, add grooves every 10 feet for a long driveaway and every 4 feet for a sidewalk. 

Use a bronze or heavy-gauge stainless steel groover (approximately $25) to score freshly poured concrete. Or you can just saw cured concrete.

These are the basic tools needed to create and finish most concrete projects. What project are you working on? Let us know in the comments below! 

How to Build Planter Posts for String Lights

How to Build Planter Posts for String Lights

Cafe lights in Chelsea's backyard for her concrete planter project
Cafe lights add atmosphere to any outdoor living space! Pairing them with floral arrangements makes this patio look inviting and luxurious.

How to Build Planter Posts for String Lights

Our family loves to relax on the patio, and now it has some serious ambiance thanks to my latest DIY project: planter posts for string lights!

They’re super-easy to make. You just need Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix, in the red bag, a couple of planters and string lights, and small tools.

Ready to create something special? Let’s go!


Supplies for creating concrete planters

What You’ll Need:

  • Bags of Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix (per post) 
  • 2-4 Planters (enough to support the café lights)
  • 4-by-4 Posts (enough to support the lights)
  • Steel Screw Hooks
  • Café lights
  • Drill
  • How to Build Planter Posts for String Lights
sealing planters

Seal the insides. You won’t want potting soil or concrete mix to spill from your planters (I used wood), so apply Advanced Polymer Non-Sag Sealant or Advanced Polymer Construction Adhesiveto close any gaps or cracks inside them.

Find a location. Place the planter where it will be used. Make sure it’s where you’ll spend a lot of time and could use a little light. (I just want to stress: This is a permanent placement. You won’t want to move the planter after it has concrete in it!)

Chelsea placing post

Place the post. Add a 4-by-4 post at the center of the planter. (I kept mine the full length of 8 feet.) You can eyeball it or check that each side-to-side measurement is the same.

Chelsea pouring concrete

Pour the concrete. Slowly pour two bags of Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix around your post so that it’s evenly distributed.

wetting the concrete

Slowly add water. You’ll need approximately one gallon of water per 50-pound bag of concrete. The great thing about Fast-Setting Concrete is you don’t need to mix it around. Just pour in the concrete and add the water — easy peasy!

chelsea leveling

Level it. While the concrete is setting but still loose, use a level to check that each planter post for string lights is perfectly plumb. It shouldn’t be leaning in either direction.

Repeat steps 1-6. If you need a second planter to support your string lights, repeat these steps while the first one dries. By the time the second one is drying, the first one will be ready for the next step: hooks!

inserting hook to post

Add hooks. So far, we’ve got planters with posts secured in concrete. Now we need to create the support system for our string lights. Use a tiny drill bit to start a pilot hole on the corner of your post. Then attach a steel screw hook.

inserting hook into side of house

You can create four planter posts (arranged in a square or rectangle) to support the string lights, or drill two pilot holes into your home’s facia to connect the lights from the planters.

drilling holes into planter

Create drainage. While you have your drill bit in your drill, add a small drainage hole on the backside of your planter, above the concrete.

adding mulch to planter

Insert plants. Add potting soil and plant some pretty plants. You can keep it simple with one plant per planter or, for eye-catching results, go ‘extra’ and create a ‘thriller, filler, spiller’ arrangement. (Google it!)

hanging string lights

Add lights. Finally, drape your string lights over the hooks and plug them in.

That’s all it takes to make planter posts for string lights! Now, family gatherings on the patio have just a bit more atmosphere so you can make more memories together.

How to Build an Outdoor Countertop

How to Build an Outdoor Countertop

If your outdoor space needs a countertop, look no further than concrete mix to make one that’s stylish and will stand the test of time.

Concrete is durable and easy to clean, which makes it the perfect building material for a countertop, especially one that you will use outdoors.

So, whether you need a prep station for grilling or an outdoor table for eating, concrete is a great material.

Steps to Make the Countertop

Shape the forms. A sheet of melamine is perfect for the base because of its smooth surface. Screw strips of vinyl molding to the melamine for the edges, and then seal the seams with caulk. Also, coat the entire piece with lubricant so the concrete will release easily.

Add color. Stir in Quikrete Liquid Cement Color to a bucket of water before mixing in some Quikrete Countertop Mix, as directed. Next, mix all of this thoroughly and add steel reinforcement to the melamine mold before pouring.

Pour the concrete. Now for the fun part. Pour the concrete mix into the mold — the steel reinforcement will need to be lifted up from the bottom of the mold before smoothing the top off-level with the top of the mold. Tap around the edges with a rubber mallet or hammer to release air bubbles.

Let this dry for a few days and then you have a ready-to-install concrete countertop!


Further Reading

SOLVED: What is the Best Concrete Crack Filler?

SOLVED: What is the Best Concrete Crack Filler?

A common question that homeowners have is, “What’s the best concrete crack filler?” The answer depends on how wide the crack is and if it is moving.  

For cracks up to a half-inch wide on horizontal surfaces, Quikrete Crack Seal is the easiest solution.

You simply pour the latex repair liquid into the groove, where it dries to the natural color of concrete. Because it’s liquid, it’s self-leveling.   

For horizontal and vertical applications, Quikrete Advanced Polymer Concrete Crack Sealant is a good fit. 

It is applied from a caulk tube and it seals and waterproofs with a textured finish that blends right into concrete surfaces. It is tack-free in just 60 minutes while remaining flexible.  

For deep cracks that aren’t moving, or hairline cracks, Quikrete FastSet Concrete Crack Repair is a good choice.

The fast-drying, two-part repair comes in a single cartridge with a low viscosity, so it penetrates deep into cracks, self-levels and is suitable for cracks from hairline to 1 inch wide.

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Backed by his 40-year remodeling career, Danny served as the home improvement expert for CBS’s The Early Show and The Weather Channel for more than a decade. His extensive hands-on experience and understanding of the industry make him the go-to source for all things having to do with the home – from advice on simple repairs, to complete remodels, to helping homeowners prepare their homes for extreme weather and seasons.

Setting Posts in Concrete the Easy Way

Setting Posts in Concrete the Easy Way

No deck, fence or mailbox would last very long without a strong foundation, and that starts with setting the posts in concrete. 

Posts, which support the rest of a structure, must be perfectly plumb (that is, vertical), sturdy and securely anchored. 

Unfortunately, since posts go in before everything else, they can hold up progress. So, for some jobs, it’s good to consider an alternative to traditional concrete mix. 


“Today’s Homeowner” host Danny Lipford pours Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix into a post hole.
Major construction work is unnecessary for minor projects. Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix is the efficient choice for small jobs. 

About Fast-Setting Concrete

Using Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete, in the red bag, simplifies and speeds up the process of setting posts in concrete. 

Application is easy — just dig a hole, pour in the concrete and add water. Then mix the concrete and water by agitating them with a stick until the components are thoroughly combined.

Fast-setting concrete mix sets hard in 20 to 40 minutes, so you can quickly level things and move on with the project. You can even use the post after four hours. 

Best of all, this concrete mix is versatile and can be used for a variety of general-purpose applications, whether you’re installing a mailbox post, basketball goal or a small slab. 


Closeup of Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix poured into a post hole
No mixing is necessary when you use Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix. But you can agitate the water and concrete mix with a stick. 

How to Set a Post in Concrete

Ready to set a post in concrete? Follow these directions: 

1. Dig the hole. Make it three times the width of the post and one-third to a half the length of the post. Then pour 6 inches of Quikrete All-Purpose Gravel into the bottom of the hole. 

2. Put the post in the hole. Level the post and fill the hole with Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix within 3 to 4 inches from the top of the hole.

3. Pour water in the hole. Add up to 1 gallon of water in the hole until it soaks into the concrete mix. Then agitate with a stick.

4. Wait. Allow 20 to 40 minutes for the concrete to set. You can place any heavy objects on the concrete, or allow traffic to pass over it, after four hours.

Setting a wooden post in concrete is the best way to keep it stable and secure for many years, but seasonal changes can cause the wood to shrink and loosen the post. 

To prevent this, drive several large, rust-resistant nails into all four sides of the post at different angles. 

Why nails? Think of the steel bars or wires that reinforce concrete slabs. For this project, we also need something to keep the post and the concrete together.

The nails will further tie the post to the concrete, and hold it firmly in place even if the wood shrinks. 

For more information, watch: How to Reinforce a Wooden Post Set in Concrete


“Today’s Homeowner” host Danny Lipford pours concrete mix into a fence post hole

A sagging post isn’t a death sentence for the structure — fix it with Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix. 

Fixing a Leaning Post

Fast-setting concrete mix doesn’t just come in handy for new projects — it also saves the day for fast fixes — like fences that lean or sag. 

When you look at a leaning post, the problem often appears much worse than it really is; the cause could be incorrect anchoring or insufficient structural support.

Either way, you just need some Fast-Setting Concrete, construction screws and basic tools to straighten it out.

For more information, read: How to Fix a Leaning Fence

Whether you’re setting a post or fixing one, the next time you face a concrete project that needs to be done quickly, but without compromising strength or quality, call on Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete Mix to do the job right.