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Four decorative ways to finish concrete

Concrete is a strong, durable and highly versatile composite material. As well as playing an important functional role in construction, concrete can also be finished in a variety of ways to enhance the aesthetic of indoor and outdoor spaces.

Here we look at the tools and techniques you will need to achieve some of the more popular concrete flatwork finishes and textures.

1. Polished concrete

Polished concrete is popular as an interior finish for commercial, industrial and residential buildings. It can also be used to create bench tops and other decorative surfaces. Appealing features of this ultra smooth finish include its durability, seamless design and ease of cleaning.

Achieving polished concrete requires a multi-step process that involves first pouring the concrete – using a cement mixer for smaller quantities, or pumping it for larger areas. Once the concrete has hardened it must be repeatedly mechanically ground and honed, and polished with bonded abrasives to achieve the desired texture and appearance.

Some of the tools and equipment you might need to polish concrete include:

  • Floor grinder and polisher
  • Industrial standard floor vacuum to extract hazardous dust and silica particles
  • Hardening agent for polishing
  • Compacting agents to improve the water and stain resistance and enhance shine.

2. Stencilled or stamped concrete

Stamped and stencilled concrete finishes allow concrete flatwork to feature decorative patterns that resemble slate, tiles, pavers, stone and brickwork. Often used for driveways, walkways, stairs and other outdoor areas these concrete finishes offer a quick, relatively cost effective and low maintenance alternative to paved surfaces. Whilst stamping techniques can only be applied to freshly poured concrete, stencilling can be used to rejuvenate existing concrete surfaces.

Depending on your preferred technique some of the tools and equipment you may need include:

  • A stencil or stamp in your chosen design, suitable for your method of application.
  • A pigmented powdered or liquid release agent to be applied to concrete prior to stamping.
  • A sandblasting tank and air compressor for sandblasting over stencils.
  • Additional concrete is required to apply a stencilled finish using a concrete overlay.
  • For acid etching you will need a free-rinsing alkaline detergent to prepare the surface; hydrochloric acid for etching; and a broom to work the acid into the concrete.

​3. Salt finish

To achieve a salt finish, coarse rock salt is pressed into the surface of freshly poured concrete. Once the concrete has set the salt granules are washed away using a high-pressure hose, leaving small, irregular indentations in the surface. This clever outdoor concrete finish is an easy and cost effective way to achieve a textured and slightly weathered looking concrete surface.

Some of the tools and equipment that you might need for salt finished concrete include:

  • Salt rocks
  • Roller to distribute salt rocks relatively evenly over the concrete surface
  • Float or roller to press the salt into the surface
  • High-pressure hose or electric water blaster to dissolve and wash away salt rocks.

4. Exposed aggregate

Exposed aggregate is another common, highly textured concrete finish often used in driveways, patios and poolside areas to create a durable, non-slip surface. Random patterns and varying colours can be achieved when the small pebbles (or aggregates) that form part of the concrete are left protruding from the surface.

Once the concrete is poured and levelled, a chemical retarder is applied across the entire surface to keep the surface layers soft while the lower layers harden. The top layer of concrete is then gently scrubbed away, leaving the aggregate exposed.

To create this finish some of the specialist tools and materials you will need include:

  • Additional aggregates for the concrete mix
  • Chemical retarder
  • High-pressure hose or electric water blaster to wash away the top concrete layer.

Final tips…

If you are applying any of these finishes to fresh concrete you will need some additional equipment to lay and prepare your concrete – including: screeds; scrabblers; trowels (hand held or mechanical); bull floats; brooms; groovers; and edging tools. Concrete kibble crane and forklift attachments can help transfer concrete mixes across less accessible work sites. And if you’re mixing your own concrete check out these tips on getting the most out of your mixer.

To find out more or for all your concrete equipment needs, contact Coates Hire today.

Or find your local branch.

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