Mix concrete by the bag
A reliable and back-friendly approach to a common chore
Some people might assume that mixing concrete is an obvious task: Buy a bag of premix, dump it in a wheelbarrow with some water, and mix it up. Sounds simple, right? As a fence and deck contractor, I have learned otherwise. I often have to mix five to ten bags in an afternoon, then have to push around wheelbarrow loads of wet concrete. This chore was a strong motivator for me to come up with an efficient, reliable mixing system.
The first step to smarter concrete-mixing is to use my truck’s tailgate as a platform for emptying the concrete premix into the wheelbarrow. This setup limits the number of times I have to move the bags of concrete and keeps them at a comfortable working height. Second, I put the water in the wheelbarrow before the concrete. This step helps to keep down the dust and prevents dry pockets in the mix. Third, I use a stiff rake to mix the concrete. A rake mixes more efficiently and is easier to work with than a hoe or a shovel. Finally, to keep from straining the operator (me), I mix only one 90-lb. bag at a time. I don’t think mixing two bags at once is any faster, and I know it tires me out sooner.
After I’ve finished, I pour any excess concrete into a compact lump to be removed once it hardens. Then I wash out the wheelbarrow so that it’s ready to work another day.
Sturdy, stable, and sized right
When it comes to wheelbarrows, bigger is not always better. A medium-size 6-cu.-ft. tray is large enough to hold as much wet concrete or rock as I can move comfortably but is not so big that it’s unwieldy. I prefer a tray made of heavy-gauge steel that, unlike plastic, is not affected by UV-rays and won’t crack if the temperature dips into single digits. Nice extras on any wheelbarrow are solid hardwood handles for easy gripping and anti-tilt-back supports on the feet to reduce the chance that I’ll end up with a load of concrete exactly where I don’t want it. All this adds up to a wheelbarrow that can take the abuse of a full-time professional. For more information, visit www.jacksonprofessional.com.
Step by Step: Combine water and concrete at the truck
Magazine Extra: Watch a video demo of Scott Grice’s stress-reducing technique for mixing concrete in a wheelbarrow.
Scott Grice is a fence and deck specialist in Portland, Ore. Photos by John Ross, except where noted.