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Getting Started with Concrete Work: Tools and Techniques for DIY Concrete Projects

14 min read

Concrete Work Tools and Techniques

Tools Techniques
Trowels Transfers
Chisels Rough Finishes
Drills Troweling
Power Saws Bullfloating
Finishing Tools Screeding

homeowner working with concrete mixer

The value of concrete in DIY projects

Concrete is an invaluable material for DIY projects.

It’s versatile and strong, making it ideal for projects like patios, walkways, and driveways.

Working with concrete does require certain tools and techniques, though.

You’ll need a groover or some form of screed to level the concrete, and a number of trowels, scoops and brushes for smoothing and finishing it.

Rebar and mesh can be used to support the concrete.

And having a good source of wet concrete mix is key for completing any project.

If you have these tools and techniques mastered, you can create beautiful concrete structures that will last for years.

Essential Tools for DIY Concrete Projects

Concrete mixer or mixing tools

When it comes to DIY concrete projects, you’re going to need a concrete mixer or special mixing tools.

You don’t have to rent a huge concrete mixer—you can use a small cement mixer for smaller jobs.

For larger projects, an electric bosch concrete mixer can mix up to 450 pounds of concrete at once.

You can also use hand tools.

A shovel is great for mixing smaller batches, and a hoe is ideal for stirring up a larger batch.

Be sure to wear safety glasses, gloves and a dust mask when mixing concrete.

Concrete forms and molds

Concrete forms and molds are essential for any DIY concrete project.

They provide the shape and structure for the finished product.

Forms can be made of plastic, metal, or wood.

They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and thicknesses.

Molds can also be used to give concrete shapes and textures.

Molds come in silicone rubber or plaster and can be used to make a variety of shapes, such as squares, pyramids, steps, and spheres.

Using concrete forms and molds will help ensure your project looks great and holds its shape.

Trowels and floats

Trowels and floats are essential tools for successful concrete projects.

Float a fresh layer of concrete to create a smooth finish.

Use a steel trowel to flatten and level the surface.

Add texture and shape with a wood float or spade.

For more intricate work, use a smaller trowel - a pointing trowel or groover.

Choose the right tool for the job to get superb results, start to finish.

Vary the texture with a magnesium trowel, rake, or a brush to achieve a unique look.

For a polished surface, use a darby and a polishing trowel.

To get the best results, change up the tools as the concrete sets to ensure a well balanced and beautiful finish.

Screed and leveling tools

Screed and leveling tools are essential for a successful DIY concrete project.

First, a screed is a long, straight board used to level wet concrete.

It floats across the surface of the concrete to create a smooth, even finish.

Leveling tools, such as a bull float, are used after the concrete has taken shape and are used to level, smooth, and finish the surface.

Scrapers or edgers can then be used to shape the edges of the concrete.

Chisels can be used to form decorative patterns.

Using these tools correctly will ensure you create a great looking concrete foundation or surface.

Understanding Concrete Basics

Types of concrete and their applications

Concrete comes in many different types, each designed for specific applications.

Portland cement concrete, for example, is commonly used for paving roads and sidewalks, while asphalt concrete is generally used for driveways.

Cement mortar is a great choice for smaller projects, like brick or stone walls.

For waterproofing, slopeminding, and soil stabilization, soil-cement is often used.

And for large scale projects, like dams and skyscrapers, pre-cast concrete is often the best choice.

Finally, shotcrete is ideal for curved surfaces and other hard-to-reach places.

Each type of concrete offers its own set of benefits.

Mixing ratios

Mixing concrete correctly is essential for successful concrete projects.

The most important element of mixing concrete is understanding the ratio of the three main ingredients: water, cement, and aggregate.

The ratio between these three components is vital for creating a durable mix.

Generally, one part cement is mixed with two parts aggregate, and then the right amount of water is added to create a workable consistency.

If too much water is added, the mix won’t be strong enough.

However, if not enough water is used, the mix will be too thick to use.

Find a ratio that works for the size and scope of your project, and stick to it for the most successful results.

Curing and Drying

Curing and drying are important steps for concrete projects.

Curing is when you keep the concrete wet and cool for 3-4 days to help it become strong.

Drying is when you let the concrete dry out slowly over 14-28 days.

This helps make sure the concrete won’t crack or shrink.

To get the best concrete, make sure you follow the curing and drying times for your project.

If you do, you’ll have tough and long-lasting concrete for your project.

Concrete Mixing and Pouring

Mixing concrete

Mixing concrete is an important part of any concrete project.

You can mix it by hand, using a hoe and a mixing tub, or use a concrete mixer.

Hand mixing is slower but can be done in smaller batches.

If you’re mixing a larger amount, it’s best to use a mixer.

Start by pouring the dry ingredients and mixing them together.

Once they’re blended, add water and mix until it forms a smooth, homogenous mix.

Be sure to use the right amount of water for your mix, as too much or too little can ruin the mix.

You should also continue mixing for at least three minutes to ensure the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Pouring and spreading

Once you have mixed the concrete in the wheelbarrow, you can start to pour and spread it as needed for your project.

You’ll want to ensure that the concrete is evenly distributed throughout the space.

One method is to pour the concrete in sections, and use a trowel to spread it thinly over the area.

Don’t be afraid to use both a pushing and dragging motion when spreading the concrete for an even layer.

You’ll know when it’s finished when the concrete has been spread to the desired depth and thickness.

With a level of patience and a good eye, you can complete your DIY concrete project.

Using forms and molds

Forms and molds can be used to create desired shapes and sizes when working with concrete.

Molds are perfect for making regularly-shaped items like patio pavers.

Melamine forms come in pre-cut sizes and can be used for artistic or custom shapes.

For walls, you’ll need plywood or metal forms and sheathing material to maintain the shape and size.

When building steps, stairs come with forms which are fitted around the wood stringers to finish off each step.

For curved concrete walls, plastic forms can be used.

Reusable rubber forms are a good investment and will last many concrete pouring projects.

Leveling and Smoothing


Leveling and smoothing concrete is key to a successful project.

You’ll need a few tools and techniques to do this properly.

To level concrete, use a long straight edge to check for dips and bulges in the surface.

If you find any, you can use a hand edger.

This is a tool which looks like an edger that’s used for lawns and gardens.

It’s designed to follow the contours of the concrete while scraping off the excess.

After leveling, you’ll have to smooth the surface.

This can be done with a hand trowel.

This tool is similar to ones used for plastering walls, but it has a slightly heavier blade.

The purpose is to press the concrete down and make it as level and smooth as possible.

Finally, you’ll need to use a magnesium float.

This smoothes out the concrete and brings out its shine.

Use it in a circular motion, applying even pressure and making sure that you cover the entire surface.

These techniques will help you make sure the concrete is level and smooth for your project.


Troweling is an essential step for achieving a smooth finish after concrete is poured.

Start out with the right trowel - use a trowel with a rounded, curved blade for corners and edges; for larger areas use a flat, wide blade.

Put pressure from your dominant hand on the handle and let the weight of the trowel handle do the work as you draw it over the surface.

Trowel from different directions to make sure the surface is properly leveled and smoothed.

As you trowel, minimize digging into the concrete, which causes ridges - or humps - on the surface.

Keep the strokes long and even, rotating the trowel slightly as you pass it over the surface to achieve a uniform finish.

Decorative Finish

Creating decorative textures or patterns on your concrete project is a great way to give it a unique, finished look.

From handprints to symmetrical shapes, you have many options for decorative finishes.

You can use trowels to create lines, circles, and other shapes.

Stamping tools make it easy to imprint an image into wet concrete.

Stencils can also be used to create intricate designs and add color.

Whatever effect you’re looking for, be sure to work quickly as the concrete will set and harden in a matter of minutes.

Reinforcement and Structural Integrity

Adding Reinforcement

Reinforcement is an important part of any DIY concrete project.

It keeps your concrete strong and durable.

Rebar and wire mesh are both great options for reinforcing concrete.

When adding reinforcement, carefully check the measurements of the concrete area you are working on and get the right size rebar or wire mesh for the area.

Make sure your rebar or wire mesh is securely tied into place.

To ensure the maximum amount of reinforcement, space out the rebar or wire mesh evenly in the concrete and check it often for any signs of wear or breakage.

Structural Integrity

Structural integrity is essential for any project involving heavy loads.

To maintain your build’s stability, you’ll want to make sure the concrete is cured and mixed properly and inspected for quality.

Seal any open areas for the best results.

Use rebar and form ties to keep the foundation strong and reinforce your build.

Don’t forget to use wet curing for maximum strength.

When in doubt, remember that it’s best to use more reinforcement and support than you think you might need.

It’s far better to be safe than sorry! The bottom line is, the more structurally sound your project is, the longer it will last.

Curing and Drying

Drying times

Drying times vary for concrete depending on the environment.

For example, heat and humidity can make the concrete dry slower or faster.

Sun exposure or shade can also be a factor.

Wind can help move moisture away from the surface of the concrete.

The best way to tell when the concrete will be dry is to touch it lightly with your hand - it should be dry and not sticky.

If the concrete begins to form a crust but some moisture remains, then the curing process is incomplete and additional drying time is needed.

Protecting the concrete

Curing is an important step in concrete work.

To protect the concrete during this process, make sure to cover it with some sort of material.

This can be plastic, cardboard, and other materials.

Make sure that whatever you use, it’s thick enough to protect the concrete from any dirt and debris that may fall down on it.

Also make sure to remove any excess water immediately to prevent the concrete from cracking.

After the curing process is complete, don’t forget to sweep and mop the cured concrete to ensure that it fully dries.

Follow these steps to make sure your concrete project is finished correctly.

Finishing Touches

Removing residue and stains

Wipe down your concrete surfaces to get rid of residue.

Use a damp cloth to get rid of any dust or debris.

You can also try using a bit of soapy water if anything is stuck.

For tough stains, try a slightly abrasive cleanser like steel wool.

If your stain is stubborn, you can use chemical strippers, but make sure to wear protective gear when handling and applying these.

You can also try using a power washer to blast off really stubborn stains, but make sure to use the lowest setting possible as higher settings can damage your concrete.

Sealing and protecting

Sealing and protecting your concrete projects is essential for protecting them and keeping them looking their best.

When your project is finished, you can seal it with a cement sealant to help keep it strong against temperature changes, water, and moisture.

You can also add a concrete protector, which helps prevent damage from molds and mildews.

Both sealants and protectors will make your project last longer.

Give your project a few weeks to fully cure before protecting or sealing it to ensure it has set properly.

Troubleshooting Common Issues


Cracks are one of the most common issues with concrete work.

To fix these, start by filling the cracks with a concrete repair material.

Make sure you use a product that cures quickly and is designed to withstand outdoor exposure.

A wire brush or power scrubber can help with larger cracks.

To prevent cracking, be sure to properly cure your concrete.

This should be done by misting the surface over several days and not allowing it to dry out too quickly.

You may also want to consider a sealer to help protect from future cracking.


Adding color to concrete is easy.

Start by selecting a stain or pigment.

When mixed with concrete, stains create a coating that allows you to change the color of the concrete.

Pigments work by coloring the concrete directly, blending in with it for an even look.

Pour the stain or pigment onto the concrete, and spread it with a broom or mop.

Let it soak in for about 15 minutes, then brush any excess off the surface.

To increase the color intensity, reapply the repellent or pigment, and let it sit longer.

If you need to lighten the color, wash it off with a pressure washer.

But make sure to let the concrete dry before proceeding.

Damaged Patches

If you notice damaged patches of concrete, it’s important to repair them quickly.

Start by clearing away any loose or damaged pieces of concrete.

Smooth and shape the patch area using a concrete patching material.

Make sure the patch is slightly higher than the original surface.

Allow the material to dry.

Once it’s fully dry, sand it down until it’s flush with the original surface.

When the patch is smooth and dry, seal it with an acrylic sealer.

This will keep moisture from seeping in and causing further damage.


DIY Concrete Work Summary

DIY concrete work can seem intimidating at first but with the right tools and techniques, it’s a great way to revive outdoor spaces.

Essential tools include a rubber mallet and a razor knife, plus protective gear like gloves and a dust mask.

The right mix of cement and gravel, as well as proper measurements for your project, will help create the perfect concrete slab.

Techniques for achieving the right finish also come into play.

Applying a trowel to spread and smooth the concrete, as well as adding a sealer at the end, will help create a polished look for great results.

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