D.I.Y. Projects

Making an Affordable Concrete Patio – Part 2

December 11, 2017

Making an Affordable Concrete Patio – Part 2

Welcome to Making an Affordable Concrete Patio – Part 2.  If you would like to catch up on part one of the series go here (Making an Affordable Concrete Patio – Part 1)!  In this part of the series we will be talking about materials, equipment and pouring the concrete.

Concrete Materials and Equipment

The most basic part of a concrete patio is obviously the concrete.  We used concrete from a local box store, but you can find it in almost any hardware store.  At first we made a mistake, yes we can’t always be perfect haha.  We thought we could just bring home a few bags of concrete at a time as we prepared for the concrete, sadly that was wrong.  From experimenting with the form, we found that 1 – 60lb bag of quikrete concrete would fill 1.25 forms.  We chose the 60lb bag instead of the larger 80lb bag since we knew we would have to lift and mix each one which is much more difficult to move at 80lbs each, plus we caught a good deal where the bags were on sale for $2 each.  Considering each form was 2′ x 2′ or 4 sf, and we had a 18′ x 30′ patio which is 540 sf, we figured we needed somewhere between 100-120 bags of concrete.  So after getting roughly 35 bags home via car we decided this would take forever considering we could only carry about 6 or 7 bags a trip. We decided to go the easier route and buy in bulk and have them shipped to use.  We used our local big box store and had a pallet and a half shipped to use (I believe they come ~50 or 60 to a pallet if I remember correctly).   There is was, the marvelous day they arrived, pallets of concrete to add to our growing collection.  With 120 bags now taking up the garage, we knew there was no turning back now.

With so many bags of concrete there were two options for mixing.  One, we could mix each bag by hand in a wheel barrel and and have the biggest lumberjack biceps you have ever seen or we could buy a mixer and save our poor backs and arms for the actual working of the concrete…..we chose to have the energy to actually place the concrete once it was mixed and opted for the mixer.  At first we thought we were crazy, aren’t concrete mixers for actual construction sights with buildings and all that fancy stuff?  Then we looked into it and found two options.  We could rent a mixer or we could buy a smaller mixer and have it forever!  When researching renting we found that you could rent a mixer for a day for $40-$60 a day.  If you were doing a small sidewalk or just a couple bricks this would be great, but we knew with our job it was going to take weeks so we bypassed that option.  The second option was buying the mixer.  After looking through some reviews we found this Kobalt 4 cu yd mixer to be the best choice for us between reviews and price.  It had a nice plastic tub and was relatively portable.  We also figured that while the $300 price tag was a bit steep, we could sell it on craigslist after we were done (we did sell it for $225!) and get most of our money back.  Believe me, if you are entering into a large scale project your back will thank you for getting a mixer.

Now the actual patio molds come in a couple different patterns from a couple different manufacturers.  After doing a little research we chose to go with the Quikrete Walkmaker since the reviews were good and it tended to hold its shape well when placing the concrete which was a concern for some people.  Quikrete makes several patterns.  We chose to go with the European block pattern, but they also make Country Stone, and a Brick Pattern.  So whichever style fits your particular house and design is what you should pick.

Quikrete European Block

Quikrete also makes a variety of different pigments to put into the concrete while mixing if you choose to color the concrete, but we chose not to as we enjoyed the natural concrete grey and it would add to the cost of the project.

One last tool required for the project that we used was a masonry tool set.  While you can get these at larger stores, we ended up getting a cheaper set at Harbor Freight as they seemed to have the best price for something we considered a throw away tool since we didn’t think we would be doing that much more masonry work after this was complete.

Lets Pour Some Concrete!

  So by now your ground is graded, compacted and covered with weed block so lets make a patio/sidewalk or whatever your doing!

Safety Notes:

  • Concrete mix straight from the bag is very dusty and there is some bad stuff in it if you breath it in.  For this reason, we used dust masks and filters while mixing the concrete.
  • Once the concrete is mixed with the water it is very heavy, team lift any concrete while moving it from the mixer to the form.  Happy backs = Happy workers
  • Concrete in contact with your skin can actually cause burns if left there.  Since you will be working in it for long periods of time always wear rubber gloves.  We chose to wear the long kitchen cleaning type gloves so that our arms were also partially protected.  The kitchen type gloves were also easily cleaned and reusable.

Mixing the concrete:

When mixing the concrete we generally tried to stick to mixing 2 bags at most in the mixer at a time.  We found that anymore and the water would not mix very well and we would get really wet spots and really dry parts….not good, so stick with 1 or two bags at a time.  Speaking of the concrete mix, we found all sorts of advice all over the internet about how to tell if you had the right mixture of water and concrete “It should be like peanut butter”, “It should be like toothpaste consistency”.  Please tell me the last time you had a handful of peanut butter or toothpaste in your hands……how the heck should I know how that feels, should I grab a can of Skippy peanut butter and shove my hand in to compare? So, how to tell about the consistency mixture then you ask? Well we had a real scientific technique.  We stopped the mixer after 4-5 minutes and took a handful of the mixture in our hands and spread our fingers apart slightly.  If the mixture runs right through your fingers, it is too wet and you should add more dry concrete mixture.  If the mixture sits in your hand like a ball of clay and doesn’t move at all, it is too dry and you should add more water.  If you get the mix just right then it should slowly deform and slowly start to drip through your fingers slightly.  After the first few batches you should be able to tell how much water to add just by looking at the mixture as you are making it.

Placing the Concrete:

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So now comes the nervous first part, placing the first block.  If you have any objects that you need to go around, now is the time to plan where to start your patio bricks.  We started by figuring out how to put the forms over our pergola supports, but you could start in any corner if you have no obstructions.  Place the first form down, making sure that you are lined up for the entire row and column that this brick will go in.  It may help to use a chalk line or a string line to make sure the first row is aligned properly. Now you wont want to be dragging the concrete mixer everywhere so you will need something to dump the concrete into and transport it to the form.  We used a mixing tub since it was flat bottomed and open, but regular 5 or 10 gallon bucket would probably work too.  Get help when transporting the concrete, it is heavy! Sore backs are not good. At first we tried the advice we saw in several places, use a coffee can to scoop concrete into the form……yeah that lasted all of 2 forms before we kissed the coffee can goodbye and just started using our hands.  With the rubber gloves we were able to just grab handfuls of concrete and push the concrete into all the corners making sure we had no voids.  Making sure that there are no voids is important since voids can lead to the blocks breaking down and causing cracks. Once the first few blocks are placed make sure that you are consistently placing each form directly next to the last one.  Make sure to clean up any loose pieces of concrete from the edges of the block so that the edges are uniform so the next brick form can line up properly.

Finishing The Concrete:

  Once the concrete is in the form you can use some of masonry tools to take some roughly level the concrete in the form, putting any excess back into the bucket.  Now comes the fun part, screeding! Yippee! (that might not be exact word that Mrs. ABL used 🙂 )  For this part you need the most technical and advanced tool you will ever use.  It is the foundation of almost all building, can you guess it, that’s right, the 2 x 4.  Using the 2 x 4 slowly move the board back and forth across the form while inching it across the form from one end to the other.  Continue this process multiple times until you get a uniform surface.  The surface should have a slight texture to it and be level with the top of the form.  Congratulations you have now started your patio.

A couple tips:

  • We ended up using two separate forms so that we could increase our production.  Each time you place a form you hvae to wait 5-10 minutes depending on temperature for the concrete to start to set up.  If you remove the form too soon the concrete will not hold shape and will just end up being a big lump.  Wait too long and the concrete will dry and stick to the form.  We found that we could place concrete in one form and screed it every 6-7 minutes. That meant while we waited for one form to set up, we could fill in another form doubling our production.
  • We used cooking spray on the forms to help prevent the concrete from sticking to the forms.  We cleaned the forms and reapplied every 3 or 4 times we used them.
  • Once the forms are removed, make sure that the edges of the bricks are clean of any extra small pieces.  Once these pieces dry, they make placing the form next to it very difficult.  If you return to a form that has dried with extra pieces on the side, use a screwdriver and a hammer to carefully chip off the extra pieces.
  • Stagger the rows for uniform gaps.  We found that if you place the forms next to each other, the plastic edges cause a bigger gap than if you place the form against an already completed block.  To achieve an even gap, place three single block in a row, then start your second row on top of the first row.
  • When screeding next to a fresh block, have one person hold a masonry tool at the the edge of the form in the gap between the the blocks.  The screeding person can then use the tool as a backstop to prevent them from hitting the concrete in the adjacent fresh block.
  • For hoses or electric lines or any other objects that need to project through a block, use a coffee can or plastic container to form a hole in the form and then fill around it.  This will leave you with a uniform hole.
  • Make sure to leave a couple inches between the first row of blocks and the house for expansion and contraction.  You do not want cracks forming in either you new blocks or the your houses foundation.  We filled in the gap with some small landscape stone that will allow for this movement.

Congratulations, you are now on your way to a beautiful new patio or walkway. Continue onto part three of this series to learn about sealing the blocks, polymeric sand for the gaps and a few more lessons learned in the process.

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