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How to mix cement to make Mortar or Concrete

Darius Negahbani Darius Negahbani Thursday 25th October, 2018

In this blog we will concentrate on the two types of mixes that utilise cement to bind other components together, to make a robust building material.

Concrete is a complete building material. It can be used to build foundations for walls and other masonry structures. Ready-made concrete bags are useful for much smaller projects – all you need to do is add water.

Mortar is made of cement and sand – it’s not as strong as concrete, but is usually used as a glue-type material – sticking down paving flags for patio projects, for example.


How to mix cement to make a mortar or concrete mix

Cement mixing is a great DIY skill to master and can be applied to a huge range of outdoor building projects around your home.

With the correct tools, materials, safety equipment and a bit of elbow grease, you can make your own mortar or concrete mix – ready to use for your next job.

For most household jobs you can mix the cement yourself. If you’re looking at a bigger area or a more complicated project, it might be worth getting a concrete mixer.

But if you’re up for some DIY, mixing cement is easy and you can do it in a few quick steps:

  1. Prepare equipment and materials
  2. Combine sand, cement and water to make a mortar and to make concrete, add aggregates to the mix.
  3. Mix thoroughly until it reaches the right consistency
  4. Mix materials to make mortar or cement
  5. Get cleaning to prevent hardening

We’ll walk you through the things you need to do with our helpful guide and teach you how to make cement mortar mix or concrete in just five simple steps. Find out more about what you’ll need and how to get started with Marshalls.

What you’ll need

Before you get started, you need to purchase all the materials necessary to make your cement:

  • Cement
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Aggregates (if making a concrete mix)

Don’t get mortar mix confused with a concrete mix, they don’t contain the aggregates necessary to get the correct thickness and strength of concrete.

Amounts of each material depend on the size of the job and how much mortar or concrete you want to mix. If you’re unsure of the ratios to use for your mixture, check the instructions which came with your different materials to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Once you’ve got the basic materials to hand, it’s time to get safety equipment and supplies.


Equipment for mixing the cement mortar or concrete

During the process of mixing the cement, dust and debris can be harmful, so prior to starting any mixing, make sure you protect yourself with the following safety equipment:

  • Mask or mouth protector
  • Safety goggles or eye protector
  • Thick safety gloves

Personal protective equipment in place, gather all your tools within easy reach of your project. You’ll need:

  • Wheelbarrow/plastic tub or wooden mixing board
  • A sheet of tarpaulin
  • Plastic buckets x3 for a mortar mix or x4 for concrete
  • Builders shovel
  • Stiff bristle brush

Lay down your sheet of tarpaulin first, then place your mixing board or container on top – brush the board down with water to clear debris and remove any residue water.

Now your prep has been completed, let’s get going.


Mixing a cement mortar or concrete in 5 steps

Step 1: Start measuring your ingredients

Using the manufacturer’s recommendations, place the cement, sand, (aggregates if making concrete), and water into separate plastic buckets. For a standard mortar mix this normally on a ratio basis (usually around 3 or 4 parts building sand to 1 part cement) recommendations vary – but you don’t want the mixture to be too wet or too dry. In terms of the ratio for concrete, it depends on what strength you are trying to achieve, but as a general guide a standard concrete mix would be 1 part cement to 2 parts sand to 4 parts aggregates. For foundations, a mix of 1 part cement to 3 parts sand to 6 parts aggregates can be used.

Measure around half of the cement, sand and aggregates (for a concrete mix only) you’re going to mix. Using half now will prevent the mix from drying out before you get chance to use all of it – you can mix the other half later.

Tip the sand and aggregates (if making a concrete mix) onto your mixing board or into your container. If using a board, form a crater in the middle of the pile. Measure out half the cement you’re using and pour this into the middle of the crater, which should create a cone-like shape.

Warning. This will kick-up dust when you pour the cement out, so ensure your protective mask or mouth protector is in place.

Step 2: Begin mixing

It’s time to start mixing. Using your shovel, mix your ingredients together, working the shovel around the pile of cement, sand and aggregates (if making concrete mix).

There is no specific method here, simply turn the pile over around three to four times to evenly mix everything and get a consistent colour throughout your pile.

Bring your pile together again in a cone-like shape and create another crater in the middle. Size-wise, the crater should be around half the diameter of the mound itself.

To fill in this crater, you’re going to use your water. Again, there’s no precise amount to add, just pour in enough water to fill the crater slightly – enough to form a smooth paste once you start mixing it.

Move the sides of your crater into the mixture and turn it over to evenly distribute the water throughout your mixture.

As the water starts to absorb into your ingredients, you need to repeat this process, whether it’s on a wooden mixing board or in a container.

Keep on turning your mix until the mixture is wet. Don’t worry if it’s doesn’t seem perfect, you’ll be testing the consistency next.

Step 3: Check the mix and adjust

When the mix becomes wet enough, use the edges of the shovel to make imprints in the top of your mixture to test its consistency, creating ridges as you go.

A mixture that is just right should be smooth and consistent – not dry or crumbly.

If your mixture looks too runny and watery, or the ridges collapse very quickly, there’s too much water in there. Try adding more dry ingredients to solidify your mix.

Getting it right is all about trial and error, so don’t become too disheartened if you don’t get the perfect mix first time around.

Step 4: Get to work

Once you’re satisfied with your mixture and it has the right consistency and texture, it’s time to get it to work. Mortar is normally used for walling and laying paving flags so the mix is simply troweled or shoveled out of a container.

Concrete may be poured or shoveled into the desired area and then screeded if necessary, to get a smooth even finish.

Step 5: Get cleaning

As soon as you’ve finished, get cleaning. This step should be done as quickly possible, as you want to ensure the mortar or concrete mix doesn’t dry on the tools you’ve been using and damage them.

Use a power washer or hosepipe to clean excess mortar or concrete mix off your mixing board and tools, scrubbing them with your stiff bristle brush.

Always take care to responsibly dispose of the run-off from your cleaning.

Using a cement mixer?

Cement mixers can be hired for larger household jobs. A few top tips for effective cement mixing:

  1. Make sure the cement mixer is stable and well positioned.
  2. Continuously run the mixer once you’ve started loading
  3. Point the drum upwards at a 45-degree angle
  4. Start with half your required materials
  5. Gradually add water to ensure the mixture doesn’t get too sloppy

Don’t forget to clean the drum of the mixer by using a mixture of sand, aggregates and water, and running it for a few minutes.

If mixing your own cement mortar or concrete has whet your appetite for some DIY and got you hungry to revamp your outdoor areas at home, Marshalls have a wealth of guides to inspire you.

We have a selection of comprehensive guides to help you get creative with your outdoor building projects.

Ranging from budget patio ideas for your garden, to garden planning image galleries, we at Marshalls encourage you to get out there and transform your outdoor spaces.


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