When it comes to construction materials, the type of sand aggregates you use for different jobs matters a great deal. Some sands are only suitable for particular applications, so choosing the right ones is crucial.
In this guide, we'll provide you with all the information you need to know before deciding which sand to buy or specify. Our landscaping and construction experts will cover the differences and recommended uses of sharp and building sand so you're ready and prepared with the know-how to make your next garden design project as easy as possible.
Sharp sand: Everything you need to know
What is sharp sand?
Sharp sand, also known as grit or screeding sand, is a type of aggregate used widely in construction projects where strength and durability are of prime importance.
There are two different types of sharp sand - washed and dry-screened. Washed sand is, as the name suggests, sand that has been rinsed with water to remove any dust, clay and impurities that could affect the quality of the end product. Dry-screened sand has been passed through a vibrating screen to separate the larger particles from smaller ones to ensure consistency across the product.
Where does sharp sand come from?
Sharp sand is made from quartz rock that is mined from natural deposits formed over millennia. Quartz is one of the most abundant materials on earth, which is why sand is used so widely in a range of different construction materials. Some sand aggregates are also formed from feldspar minerals - the naturally-occurring group of rock-forming materials that make up over 50% of the earth's crust.
By not processing and washing the sand as thoroughly as other types of sand, sharp sand grains retain their angular shape and rougher surfaces to create coarser aggregates for construction applications.
What is sharp sand used for?
Due to the larger, more coarse grains of sharp sand, it's ideal for use in applications requiring concrete. These include laying patio slabs or flags in gardens or driveways and setting block paving stones firmly in place. As the name suggests, sharp sand has sharper, more angular grains, which means it is able to bond together far more effectively than finer grades of sand.
Besides providing an excellent foundation for hard landscaping projects, gardeners also use it as a bulking material in clay-heavy soils. By adding sharp sand, soils become less dense, retain more water and have better drainage.
The main uses of sharp sand are:
● Making concrete
● As a component of bedding mortar for the installation of paving/ patio units.
● Making a flexible laying course where required
● Screeding and external rendering
● To improve drainage and provide bulk in clay-heavy soils
● As a top dressing for soil
Building sand: Everything you need to know
What is building sand?
Building sand, sometimes called builder's or bricklayer's sand, is another type of aggregate used in construction and hard landscaping projects.
Due to the smaller, more refined nature of building sand aggregates, they produce compact mortars that aren't at risk of shrinkage when dry. This is hugely important in construction projects such as walling, where the overall structural integrity and stability of the wall could be jeopardised if the individual bricks shift after being laid.
Where does building sand come from?
Building sand starts out as grit sand aggregates but is cleaned to get rid of contaminants, impurities or any other materials that could compromise the quality of the end product. By washing and filtering the sand more thoroughly, building sand aggregates are finer than sharp types of sand.
What is building sand used for?
Building sand can be used for any applications requiring a finer grade of sand that is free from contaminants such as dust. It's primarily used by builders when making mortar for brick-laying, with its small grains forming an excellent bonding material that isn't at risk of shrinking or cracking after it has dried.
The main uses of building sand are:
● Making mortars for laying bricks
● Bedding pond liners
What are the differences between sharp sand and building sand?
The main difference between building and sharp sand is the size and heaviness of the individual particles. Sharp sand is grittier and has slightly larger grains which, when mixed with water, form ultra-durable concrete for a range of different construction applications such as laying paving flags, block paving, patios and driveways.
By contrast, building sand has a fine texture that, when mixed with water, forms smooth mortars and screeds that are ideal for bricklaying and delicate pointing applications. The smaller grains found in building sand mean that it is also less susceptible to shrinkage and cracking during the drying process, thus preventing buildings and brick walls from becoming unstable over time.
Make your DIY projects a success with building materials from Marshalls
Here at Marshalls, we're the UK's premier provider of sands and paving slabs for hard landscaping applications of all types. Our teams have been delivering high-quality building materials for well over 100 years and are experienced in providing you with hands-on design advice and installation support to ensure your next project is a success.
Whether you need sharp sand for your back garden or building sand for knocking up that brick retaining wall beside your driveway, you're sure to find the right product in our extensive range industry-leading products.
If you're looking for more garden design ideas or inspiration, why not check out our other blog posts on topics like paved driveways, patios, garden walling and more?
What different types of sand are used in construction?
The two main types of sand used in building and hard landscaping are sharp sand and building sand. Sharp sand has a coarser texture which gives it added strength mixed with cement, whilst builder's sand has finer, more rounded grains, which make it ideal for mixing smooth mortars.
Other, more specialist types of sand include plasterer's sand and mason's sand. The grains that make up these are more fine and smooth than standard building sand, which makes them perfect for pointing applications and any more detailed construction work.
Is sharp sand okay to use in bricklaying?
No, sharp sand isn't suitable for use in bricklaying. Building sand or mason's sand (both of which have smaller, less angular grains) should be used when laying bricks in any construction project.
Can you use sharp sand instead of building sand?
No, using sharp sand in place of building sand (or vice versa) is not recommended and could compromise the structural integrity of any construction materials used in building projects.
What is sharp sand best for?
Sharp sand is best for making concrete and screed due to its larger, more angular particles that bond together better and provide more strength when dry. It's also best for use in garden and landscaping projects, adding bulk to clay-heavy types of soil to improve drainage and aid moisture retention.
What is builder's sand best for?
Builder's sand is best for making bricklaying mortar when mixed with cement. By removing any small rocks, rough grains, grit and large particles of sand, builder's sand produces mortar with a smoother consistency that won't shrink when dry or create uneven surfaces that could ruin the detail of brickwork.
What shouldn't you use sharp sand for?
The coarse, angular grains in sharp sand mean that it isn't suitable for the following applications:
● Pointing - dependent on the required finish, if you need anymore information get in touch with our Technical Team
● Any application requiring mortar with a smooth, consistent texture
What shouldn't you use building sand for?
The texture and composition of building sand mean it isn't suitable for the following construction applications:
● Golf bunkers
● Play areas and sand pits
● Mixing concrete (unless it's combined with a grittier sand aggregate)
● Laying paving flags, patios and driveway setts
What is play sand?
Play sand is the sand you find in sandpits in parks, school playgrounds or private gardens. To make it safe for children to play with, this type of sand undergoes special purification treatments to remove any bacteria and debris that could be harmful if ingested. Play sand grains are also smaller and smoother than those found in building sand to create a soft product that won't cut or graze skin upon impact.
Why is building sand sometimes orange?
Sometimes, building sand will have a slight orange hue because of higher concentrations of iron minerals being present in the soil from where the sand was quarried. When it dries, orange sand will form a dark beige mortar. The colour of mortar will vary depending on the sand used to mix it, so it's essential to research the exact composition of the building sand aggregates you source to ensure the ones you purchase will deliver the colour you expect once dry.
Is sharp sand the same as ballast sand?
Even though sharp sand is one of the ingredients in ballast sand, they aren't the same thing. Ballast sand is a mixture of sharp sand, small stones and gravel and is used to form concrete for construction applications that require ultra-strong hard landscaping materials.