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How Concrete is made?

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Pouring Concrete

Contrary to popular belief, concrete and cement are not the same thing; cement is actually just a component of concrete. Concrete is made up of three basic components: water, aggregate (rock, sand, or gravel) and Portland cement. Cement, usually in powder form, acts as a binding agent when mixed with water and aggregates. This combination, or concrete mix, will be poured and harden into the durable material with which we are all familiar.

Components of a Basic Concrete Mix

There are three basic ingredients in the concrete mix:

  • Portland Cement
  • Water
  • Aggregates (rock and sand)

Portland Cement – The cement and water form a paste that coats the aggregate and sand in the mix. The paste hardens and binds the aggregates and sand together.

Water– Water is needed to chemically react with the cement (hydration) and too provide workability with the concrete. The amount of water in the mix in pounds compared with the amount of cement is called the water/cement ratio. The lower the w/c ratio, the stronger the concrete. (higher strength, less permeability)

Aggregates– Sand is the fine aggregate. Gravel or crushed stone is the coarse aggregate in most mixes.

Desired Properties of Concrete


1. The concrete mix is workable. It can be placed and consolidated properly by yourself or your workmen.

2. Desired qualities of the hardened concrete are met: for example, resistance to freezing and thawing and deicing chemicals, watertightness (low permeability) , wear resistance, and strength. Know what you are trying to achieve with the concrete.

3. Economy. Since the quality depends mainly on the water to cement ratio, the water requirement should be minimized to reduce the cement requirement (and thus reduce the cost).

Take these steps to reduce the water and cement requirements:

  • use the stiffest mix possible
  • use the largest size aggregate practical for the job.
  • Use the optimum ratio of fine to coarse aggregate.

Discuss how to achieve your goals for the concrete with your ready mix supplier.

Fly Ash– Is a by product of coal burning plants. Fly Ash can replace 15%-30% of the cement in the mix.

Ground Granulated Blastfurnace Slag (GGBS) is a by-product from the blast-furnaces used to make iron. GGBS can replace 50-70% of the cement in the mix.

Cement and Fly Ash / GGBS together in the same mix make up the total cementious material.

  • improves workability
  • is easier to finish
  • reduces the heat generated by the concrete
  • costs to the amount of the cement it replaces
Concrete Admixtures: Most Common Types and What They Do

Admixtures are additions to the mix used to achieve certain goals.

Here are the main admixtures and what they aim to achieve.

Accelerating admixture-accelerators are added to concrete to reduce setting time of the concrete and to accelerate early strength. The amount of reduction in setting time varies depending on the amount of accelerator used (see your ready mix supplier and describe your application). Calcium chloride is a low cost accelerator, but specifications often call for a nonchloride accelerator to prevent corrosion of reinforcing steel.

Retarding admixtures-Are often used in hot weather conditions to delay setting time. They are also used to delay set of more difficult jobs or for special finishing operations like exposing aggregate. Many retarders also act as a water reducer.

Air Entraining Admixtures– must be used whenever concrete is exposed to freezing and thawing, and to deicing salts. Air entraining agents entrains microscopic air bubbles in the concrete: when the hardened concrete freezes, the frozen water inside the concrete expands into these air bubbles instead of damaging the concrete.

  • Air entrainment improves concrete workability
  • Air entrainment improves durability
  • Air entrainment produces a more workable mix

Water reducing admixtures-reduces the amount of water needed in the concrete mix. The water cement ratio will be lower and the strength will be greater. Most low range water reducers reduce the water needed in the mix by 5%-10%. High range water reducers reduce the mix water needed by 12% to 30% but are very expensive and rarely used in residential work.

Related Topic: How Cement is made?




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