If you’re putting a concrete path, countertop, patio or some other landscaping feature around your home then at some point you’ll need to work on the surface of the concrete with a hand trowel. Despite the increase in the use of various stones, bricks and slabs in drives and pathways; concrete is still a popular option and beyond doubt the most durable material to use.
Concreting trowels are similar to plaster working trowels, but they have blades of heavier gauge steel to give more rigidity for working with aggregates.
A concrete hand trowel, also know as a flooring trowel, is basically a rectangle, usually 14 to 18 inches long and 4 inches wide, this is the ‘blade’ of the tool – and is traditionally made of steel or wood. On top of the blade, and parallel to it, a wooden handle will have been riveted.
Concrete trowels come in several gauges, or thicknesses, of the ‘blade’. The thicker the blade the heavier the trowel will be and obviously the weight of the trowel will have an impact on the feel and look you’re able to apply to the finish of the concrete.
Another tool used in hand troweling concrete is the Edging Trowel, which is basically a flooring trowel but with one of the long edges of the blade curved under, to enable rounding off corners in concrete.
Lastly, there is the wooden float, used for finishing off, or “floating” the concrete surface with a finely textured matte. To use one, keep the wooden blade face flat while sweeping it lightly across a concrete surface.
Wet concrete is caustic, so before doing anything else, make sure you are wearing waterproof gloves, long-sleeve shirt and long trousers. Rinse off any splatters on your skin quickly.
- After your concrete has been poured in the form, it should be leveled with a trike-off screed board. Place a length of 2 x 4 on edge across the form and push it from one end to the other, thus ‘striking off’ the excess concrete and leveling it.
- Next, smooth out the concrete to remove any ridges or gaps, using a Bull Float or for smaller jobs, a Darby. Run a hand trowel between the wood form and the concrete at a depth of about one inch, than allow the blled water to evaporate before the next step
- Round off your slab edges with and Edge Trowel, running it back and forth with the curved edge fit in between concrete and form.
- Finish the surface with Floor Trowel, holding it flat and moving it back and forth in large arcs. Depending on how smooth you want your surface, repeat the entire surface once or twice, waiting a few moments between sweeps.
Hand Trowels and Concrete Finishes
The finish you get to the surface of the concrete will depend on both the type of trowel you use as well as the technique you use. Using a steel trowel with the blade flat will produce a smooth glass like surface finish whilst a wooden trowel with the blade flat to the surface of the concrete, will produce a softer more ‘dragged’ effect. When using the trowel flat against the surface of the concrete it’s best to sweep the blade of the trowel lightly with wide arc strokes.
Having created a level surface by hand troweling the concrete, you can create various effects on the top of it by using brushes or blocks of wood. Dependant on the stiffness, size and spacing between the bristles a brush can produce grooves across the surface of the concrete; these can improve the grip on a sloping path or drive. If the slope is severe then ‘tamping’ – gently pressing and raising, a wooden block across the surface of the concrete will create stronger ridges.
If you want to create a‘stippled’ effect; after leveling the surface with a hand trowel either lightly run a roller over the surface or, over a larger area, spread a tarpaulin then lift it up and away from the concrete. Finally, leaving some of the aggregate exposed can make a concrete path or drive look more natural and interesting. To get the effect of exposed stones on the surface; with the concrete almost set either wash or brush away the surface cement.
Consistency and Coloring
For all of the above techniques making sure that the concrete is well mixed and has reached the right consistency is important; basically to get a good smooth surface you need to work the concrete with your trowel whilst it is quite moist; whereas the other techniques require a more viscous consistency.
Also, when mixing the concrete don’t forget it doesn’t have to be grey. Whilst there is nothing particularly new about concrete dyes you can now get them in yellows, blues, pinks and even beiges. All of which means that if you are installing a concrete feature in your garden or yard; you can get it to blend in or contrast against the rest of the area as well as creating various textures and appearances by applying different hand troweling techniques to it.