Concrete is one of the latest materials to grab the imagination of home crafters, primarily because it's a cheap, durable medium with a lot of practical uses. If you're thinking of experimenting with a bag of quick-setting concrete in order to make a few concrete fire bowls, ornamental stepping stones, or heavy-duty planters that will spruce up your backyard, there are some tips and tricks that make working with concrete safer and easier. This is what you should know before attempting your first concrete DIY project.
1. You need more safety gear than you probably think.
You need to protect your eyes, skin, and lungs when working with concrete. Fresh concrete is a very abrasive, alkaline substance that can actually cause third-degree burns if you come into prolonged contact with it. Even a quick exposure to the lime in concrete can cause a rash. A few specks of concrete dust in your eye can lead to serious long-term damage due to burns and scrapes on the cornea. Airborne silica dust that comes off the concrete when you're pouring it, mixing it, or sanding it, can get into your lungs and cause scar tissue to form.
Make sure that you get all the protective gear together before you start even a small concrete DIY project:
- A disposable dust mask. Look for one that has an adjustable nose piece for a better fit and a foam face seal. An exhalation valve can make it easier to breathe and generally more comfortable.
- Long-sleeved clothing and pants. You want to make sure that you have as little skin exposed as possible.
- Waterproof gloves. Look for a pair that's alkaline-resistant because of the lime in the concrete.
- Safety goggles. The clear plastic kind that you probably used in shop class or chemistry class in high school is fine.
- A few bottles of white vinegar. Common household vinegar can neutralize the alkaline substances in concrete. If you get any concrete splashed on your skin, wash the area with water and then vinegar to halt the damage to your skin. (Do not use vinegar in your eyes, however.)
2.) You need a couple of tools nobody mentioned.
There are some tools that you can use that almost nobody mentions when discussing DIY concrete crafts, but they definitely make successful projects easier:
- Cooking oil spray. This is essential. If you're working with molds of any sort, like for a fire bowl or planter, cooking spray is what will let you get your inner molds out without a pry bar and your outer molds off without cutting them apart.
- Small hand weights. If you are creating anything with a concave appearance, like a bowl or a planter, your inner mold is going to be somewhat buoyant. That can leave you with a less-than-uniform result that looks sloppy. Small hand weights can be placed inside the inner mold to hold it down and keep it in place while the concrete dries.
- A rotary tool. The main use of a rotary tool, like a Dremel, in these kinds of projects, is to vibrate your mold after the concrete is poured, so if you don't have a rotary tool, something like a sander works just as well. Use the tool on the outer mold to vibrate the cement before it begins to dry. This helps pop any air bubbles that have gotten trapped in the cement, which will give you a cleaner finish.
For larger concrete projects, you may want to consider asking for some professional help (from those such as Hi-Grade Materials Co), but you can tackle small DIY concrete tasks on your own as long as you have the right materials on hand.