How to Pour Concrete
mixing tub or mixer
A long, flat piece of wood (longer than the area you are cementing)
Last fall I bought a new garage door hoping that it would seal some cracks in my garage and keep out the cold air in the winter. However, the garage door installers noticed that the concrete beneath the door was so cracked and uneven that a new door would never sit completely level on the ground when it was closed, and there would still be gaps. The area that needed to be repaired was too small a job for most professionals to take on. So, I decided that I would try to repair it myself.
Having never worked with concrete before, I decided to do some research before tackling this project. Online articles helped, but I found that amateur YouTube videos from other first time cement workers were the greatest help. I was able to see how an inexperienced person handled the cement, and I used their tips and mistakes to help me with my job. It worked, and I was able to lay a small, even piece of concrete that sealed the gaps in my garage door. Below is how I did it.
Prepping the Area
My space was not very large, about 10 feet long by one foot wide and about two inches deep. I used the online calculator on Lowes.com to determine how many bags of concrete I would need for my job. It came up with about six 40-pound bags. They do stress that their estimation is approximate. So, I ended up buying six 50-pound bags. I ultimately used 3 1/2 bags of concrete for this job and used the additional bags to fill in some other gaps in the driveway.
I don't recommend ordering concrete online because the shipping can turn a $4.00 bag into a $20.00 bag. So, if your job requires 10 bags or less, even if it takes two trips, pick it up yourself. Be careful handling the concrete, though. The bags are very fragile and can break easily.
First, I removed all of the old, cracked concrete and weeds from the area, using a shovel to lift the broken pieces out of the space and move them aside. Then, I shoveled the dirt in the hole until it was level and used a hand tamper to flatten the space. Next, I poured pea gravel into the space. I needed only one 40-pound bag of gravel to cover the bottom of the hole I had made. Then, I hand tamped it flat again. Next, I wet the gravel with a few sprays from my garden hose. Then, it was time to pour.
Mixing Concrete By Hand
My job was too small to justify renting a cement mixer, like most of the YouTube videos recommended, but they were pouring large concrete slabs for sheds and patios. This required digging out a large area and building a border made of wooden boards. So, a cement mixer made sense for them. For me, it would have been overkill.
So, I researched ahead of time how to mix a small amount of concrete by hand. The cashier who rang me up at the store was leery of me buying quick-drying cement, but I needed it to dry in a few hours so that I could close my garage door at the end of the day. So, I proceeded to buy the quick-set concrete. However, based on what he said, I knew that I had to work fast. Even the videos said not to mix more concrete than you can pour in 10 minutes.
I placed my materials near the work area and kept my garden hose on and nearby for easy access. I threw my first bag of concrete into the tub, sliced it down the center with the box cutter, and poured it out into my mixing tub. It was very dusty. I suggest wearing goggles, gloves, and even a face mask.
My cement instructions called for mixing each bag with 2.5 quarts of water. The video instructions recommended starting with just pouring in 2/3 of the water at first. Before adding the water, take a shovel and make a crater in the center of the concrete mix. Then, pour the first batch of water into that crater and mix it around in small scoops with the shovel.
The powdery substance got heavy real fast once the water was added. Like mixing a cake batter, it's important to reach the dry mixture stuck to the bottom of the tub. So, I had to start shoveling deep scoops to get the entire tub mixed, adding the rest of the water once I had exposed the powdery concrete hiding in the corners and at the bottom of the tub.
After a few minutes, the concrete was well mixed. The videos said you could tell it was ready when it looked like thick oatmeal and that if you hold it in your hand, it will hold its shape. I tested this in a gloved hand before I shoveled the mixture over the layer of gravel. Then, I proceeded to (quickly) mix the next bag.
It’s important to overfill your space with concrete. After three bags, the concrete had filled in the hole I had made, but it wasn’t enough. So, I mixed one more bag and scooped almost all of it into the hole. Then, it was time to screed.
Taking a flat board, I moved the board across the space in a sawing motion, flattening down the concrete, smoothing it out, and filling in the cracks. The excess concrete spilled over the edges of my slab which is what you want to happen. I scooped this excess aside and used it to fill in some cracks in the corners of my driveway. Then, I went over the area with the board three more times until it was smooth. The concrete was surprisingly easy to work with, giving me time to complete this step without hardening too quickly.
The videos were vague about how to handle the next two steps. Most said to wait for the sheen to disappear from the concrete before smoothing it out with a wood float. My concrete never was shiny or very wet, just a very dark gray. So, after about 20-30 minutes, I took my wood float and began to smooth out the surface, going around the edges and trying to cover any gaps or rough areas. My work area was not completely flat like a slab for a shed would be, and with my driveway being old, the concrete that borders the area is uneven, making the left side of the outside edge of the hole higher than the other. So, my goal was just to make sure that the cement covered the entire border and didn’t leave any gaps once the garage door was closed.
The videos all say to put a broom finish on your concrete in order to texture the area and make it less slippery and help water to run off of it. Again, it doesn’t say when in the drying process you should do this. So, I waited another few minutes after smoothing out the surface before taking out an old push broom (though any type of broom will work) to complete this step. The easiest technique is to start with the broom away from you, pull it toward you across the surface of the concrete, lift, and then keep going all the way down. You can make different patterns in the concrete with the broom, but this straight line technique is recommended for beginners.
Have you ever poured concrete? Leave your tips and stories in the comments below!