Whether you’re planning on patching a concrete patio or filling in a fence post hole, mixing concrete can help you accomplish a wide variety of homeowner projects. If you’re only mixing a bag or two of concrete mix, you can complete this project yourself in under 20 minutes. Discover how mixing concrete by hand is an achievable DIY job that can take your homeowner skill set to the next level.
How to Mix Concrete in 5 Steps
Use this step-by-step guide to learn how to mix concrete by hand using one or two bags of concrete mix in a wheelbarrow or container.
Empty the Mix Into the Wheelbarrow
Clean the wheelbarrow of any dirt or debris that could potentially mix with the concrete by wiping it down with a wet rag and mild dish soap. You can also use a container for mixing concrete, but keep in mind that it’s easier to dump the concrete directly from the wheelbarrow once it’s already mixed.
Place the concrete bag in the middle of the wheelbarrow or container, and slice it down the middle with a utility knife.
Wearing the appropriate safety gear—glasses, a dust mask, and rubber gloves—empty the bag of concrete mix into the wheelbarrow or container and discard the bag.
Be sure to place the wheelbarrow on a level surface for best results when mixing.
Form a Well in the Mix and Add Water
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With the garden hoe, push the concrete mix toward the sides so there’s a depression in the middle of the mix.
Refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations to determine the amount of water to add.
Use a measuring cup or bucket of water rather than a hose—this way you have more control over the amount of water that’s added.
Adding water is a crucial step when mixing small batches of concrete to guarantee the best results. Start by adding less water than is recommended, as you can always add more water but you can’t take it away.
Slowly pour the water into the well of the concrete mix.
Fold the Dry Mix Into the Water
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Using a garden hoe or trowel, gently pull the dry concrete into the water to thoroughly mix it.
Continue mixing and pulling until all the concrete has been wetted and the air bubbles have been eliminated.
You may need to stab at dry lumps of concrete a few times to integrate them into the rest of the mix.
Remember to scrape the bottom of the wheelbarrow to ensure all of the dry concrete has been incorporated into a uniform mixture.
Assess the Concrete Mixture
Check the consistency—the concrete should feel like peanut butter or thick oatmeal, and it should maintain its shape if you were to pick up a lump of it and hold it in your gloved hand.
If the mixture is too dry, slowly add more water until it reaches the proper consistency.
If the mixture is too wet, it will have more of a soup-like consistency. You can make it thicker by adding more of the dry concrete to thicken the mix. This is an important step, as too much water in the batch of concrete can weaken the strength of the concrete, which can lead to cracking over time.
After all adjustments have been made, press the back of the garden hoe into the mixture—if the mixed concrete doesn’t lose its shape and remains flat, it’s ready for use.
Clean Any Tools Used
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Because concrete dries quickly, it’s important to immediately clean any tools and equipment once you’re done mixing the concrete.
Scrape away large pieces of concrete or break them up into smaller sizes before rinsing them away.
Use a wire brush and a hose to scrape and rinse away residue from the tools and the wheelbarrow.
Remember, concrete can kill grass, so it’s best to dump the water in a corner or unnoticeable location in the yard.
Use an old rag to wipe down the wheelbarrow so it’s free from any wet concrete remnants.
Mixing Concrete FAQs
What about mixing the concrete in a bucket with a drill?
Another method that can be used to mix concrete is by using a drill and a specialized attachment that resembles a whisk. This method has a similar process to hand-mixing concrete with a garden hoe or trowel, but can be more efficient, as the drill attachment takes some of the manual work out of the project.
Just as you would with hand-mixing concrete, clean out the inside of a bucket, then slice and dump the bag of concrete mix into the bucket. Refer to the manufacturer’s directions and slowly add the water into the mix. Affix the mixing attachment to the drill, and continue mixing until you’ve reached the proper consistency. Immediately clean off all the tools from the wet concrete mixture.
What about mixing large batches of concrete?
If your project requires larger quantities of concrete, such as installing a patio or installing concrete countertops, you have a few options. Note that mixing more than one to two bags of dry mix concrete by hand isn’t practical, as it doesn’t guarantee proper consistency in larger amounts. However, you can rent a concrete mixer from the home improvement store, or purchase tubs of ready mix concrete instead to take on bigger jobs.
If you have a large area to cover, such as a driveway or patio, you can also consider having a new concrete slab poured to guarantee a proper mix that will hold up for years to come.
What’s the best type of concrete mix to use?
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing concrete for your particular project, such as curing time and durability. The three main types of concrete include fast-setting, high-strength, and all-purpose.
If you’re doing a quick job, like installing a fence post, fast-setting concrete works best, whereas high-strength concrete is better suited for a heavy-duty job, such as installing a foundation. All-purpose concrete can be used for a variety of DIY projects, ranging from patching a patio to setting fence posts to laying a walkway.
What if I want to incorporate any additives?
Admixtures, also referred to as additives, can be used to customize the look and function of the concrete, such as by enhancing the natural color of the cement, reducing shrinkage, or preventing corrosion. Before incorporating an additive into your mixture, refer to both the concrete manufacturer's directions and the additive manufacturer's directions to determine the amount to add and when to mix them together.
Keep in mind that additives can add more liquid to the concrete, may impact curing time, and will increase the total cost of the project.
Should I use concrete or cement for my project?
While concrete and cement are often used interchangeably, it’s important to note that there are some key differences between the two. You can refer to our Cement vs. Concrete guide for a more detailed explanation, but here are a few basic points:
Cement is the dry-powdered ingredient in concrete, acting as a binder for various building materials.
Cement is rarely used on its own, and when you think of a paved surface, such as a driveway or patio, you’re likely picturing concrete.
As an ingredient, cement is what gives concrete its durable and hard surface.
Concrete is the hard surface that is created using cement as one of the ingredients.