This is the first in a series of posts that will provide you with detailed information on choosing and making cement & concrete crafts.
After a couple of years of making the occasional cement and concrete crafts like planters, and or other concrete decor, I wanted to teach myself the nitty gritty of the cement/concrete making world. The way to learn was to start experimenting.
What’s a better way to learn about cement and concrete crafts than to conduct experiments? My goal for this was to usurp as much concrete-making knowledge as possible, so I can make concrete crafts more easily, and better help you.
If you are looking for in-depth information on cement/concrete crafts like materials, terminology, safety and clean-up tips, then also take a look at the post Getting Started Making Cement Crafts.
Quick Links In Post
Cement Vs. Concrete For Crafts
First, let’s have a discussion about the terms cement vs concrete. Are the terms interchangeable? Yes and No. In reality, the materials are not 100% of the same ingredients.
Let me first explain, the “No” (sort of). Cement typically is composed of sand and minerals such as clay, limestone, and shale. Concrete will have these same properties but contains an aggregate such as gravel. The short answer is- Cement is the main component of concrete, just without the aggregate.
Now for the “Yes”. When you want to make something like a concrete planter and want to find a tutorial on how to make something, what do you do? You go into the Google machine and search for ‘DIY concrete planter’. Google will favor showing you results from websites that use the term concrete more so than show you sites that use the term cement. This is because, in the U.S., concrete is the term more commonly used.
But in actuality, do us cement/concrete makers really care if the official tutorial uses cement instead of concrete? Nope. Why? Because it’s likely the look of a concrete planter that led us to use that term in our search. Visually, you really wouldn’t know if someone used concrete instead of cement, as long as the concrete isn’t full of aggregate.
You may notice that I sometimes use the term concrete scattered in the introductions of my posts and sometimes even the title, yet I will have chosen cement as the material (or vice versa). See my Google quandary? I do this to combat the problem of people not finding my tutorials because of this semi-interchangeable term. Just rest assured that in my tutorials, both in the materials list and in the tutorial steps, I will always use the exact term for the material I used. Make sense?
Differences In Concrete and Cement Craft Mixes
At the bottom of this post, I have given my personal review on the different types of cement and concrete mixes for making crafts. My review is based on these test results. For a deeper understanding please read through the tests here first.
To gain a better feel for the various mixes, I have tested and compared six different concrete and cement mixes. I chose these particular mixes because I suspected they were viable for being good contenders for making cement/concrete crafts. I also made my selections based on availability in my area.
My tests included making a couple of bowls, small and large for each type of craft mix. First I’ll give you the official description from the manufacturer, then tell you my experiences working with these mixes.
Cement All® is a high-performance, fast-setting concrete repair material that is durable in wet environments. Apply Cement All from featheredge to 4” thick. Use for general and structural concrete repair, doweling and anchoring, industrial grouting, formed work, vertical and horizontal trowel applications.
Pocket Guide to Concrete & Cement Mixes For Crafts
Working time is about 10-15 minutes and it can be demolded in an hour. It reaches its final color within a couple of hours after demolding. It is very smooth and clay-like in texture and the color is more of an off-white to sometimes beige. The shade of the color can vary slightly from box to box or bag to bag.
For making cement & concrete crafts, it is easy to work with and isn’t too finicky with the amount of water needed. This is in comparison to most of the other types of cement and concrete I have tried here.
Complies with current ASTM C150 and Federal Specifications for portland cement. It can be mixed with aggregate and other ingredients to make concrete mix, mortar mix, and base coat stucco. Available in Type I, Type I/II and Type III.
Sand must be added to Portland cement or it will crack (trust me, I did try) ;0}. You can demold this after 24 hours and it will take another 2 days for the cement to reach its final color which is light-medium grey. The directions call for at least a 3:1 ratio of sand to cement, but this seems unnecessary when making cement & concrete crafts. When I used a 3:1 ratio, I ended up with a great deal of pitting.
I made a bowl using a 1:1 ratio and at that ratio, I found this to be as smooth and moldable as Cement All to work with, as well as has the same finish in the final product. My initial tests show that a 1:1 ratio is durable enough for smaller crafts like small to mid-sized planters. Perhaps a 2:1 ratio is required for durability beyond that size, but I have not yet tested this in full.
(Not the same as Quikrete’s Fast Setting Concrete)
Specially formulated to set in approximately 10–15 minutes. This can be molded or sculpted into place.
- Making concrete repairs where rapid setting is required
- Ideal for repairing broken edges of concrete steps and curbs
This sets about as fast as the Rapid Set Cement All and is similar in texture, as well as very smooth and clay-like. It can be demolded after 2 hours but needs 24 hours for curing. The final color will be a medium-grey and take about 2 days to reach. And like the official descriptions claims, it is quite moldable.
Sakrete Top ‘n Bond Concrete Patcher is a polymer modified sand cement repair mortar requiring only the addition of clean potable water. For applications from 1/2” (13 mm) to feather edge. For refinishing, patching and general repairs to concrete/masonry.
The Top n’ Bond demolds in 24 hours, and takes 2 days after demolding to fully cure and reach its true color, which is a light grey. It’s a little easier to form into shape than many of the others tried here. It is supposed to be suitable for making cement & concrete crafts requiring layering.
This is the original 4000 psi average compressive strength blend of portland cement, sand, and gravel or stone. Just add water. Use for any general concrete work.
This concrete will require sifting out some of the aggregates to be used for crafts. The gravel is quite large and there’s a lot of it. For this test, I only sifted out the larger rocks, and the concrete bowl still resulted in a fair amount of pitting. I believe with more sifting, you could reduce most of the pitting.
The color is a light to medium grey but does have a bit of brown in it, and almost looked as though it contained some dirty sand. The high strength mix demolds in 24 hours and takes 2 days after demolding to fully cure and reach its true color.
Consists of a uniformly blended mixture of portland cement, commercial grade sands and other approved ingredients.
The Sand Topping Mix has a very sandy texture when working with it. Demolding time is 24 hours. It takes 2-3 days after demolding to reach its final color which was a light grey. The demolded bowl looks similar to the Quikrete High Strength mix, but it doesn’t contain stone aggregate. I repeated this test twice and both times the cement bowls came out with large pinholes.
The following tests were done with one type of cement, which is the Rapid Set Cement All. I wanted to conduct the tests on the cement I currently use for most of the tutorials. And I also wanted to keep subjects of the experiments consistent.
Pocket Guide to Concrete & Cement Mixes For Crafts
Demold and Cure Time Effect On Cement Crafts Sheen
For many of these tests, I performed the same test on both a matte cement piece and a shiny cement piece. In my experience, this was important to do since sheen has a big effect on things such as water evaporation, color, and texture. To get a matte texture, I needed to demold the Cement All early. And by waiting another hour or two past demolding time, I was able to ensure that cement piece would be shiny. I made sure to test both sheens of cement where I thought it could come in to play.
Please note, the cement demold times that I mention in these tests are based on a temperature of about 68-73 degrees. In colder temperatures, the demold time will be extended and warmer temperatures, demold may be shorter.
Another large factor in the demold and cure time is going to be the thickness of the cement craft. Something with a ¼” thickness can often be demolded in under an hour. Whereas when something is ½” or 1” thick, you may want to wait several hours. These cure times and sheen tests are based on crafts that are closer to ¼” thick.
In my experience, Cement All has the most pronounced effect on sheen which comes from the duration of cure time before demolding. In the photo, I’m showing two examples of cement planters. I made these in a tutorial and put magnets in them so they can hang on your refrigerator. Here’s the post if you haven’t seen it.
The 1st cement planter ball (on the left) was demolded in less than 45 minutes and you can see that it is nearly completely matte. Cement ball #2, on the right, was demolded after a couple of hours and is glossy.
Here’s an example of sheen differences using the Top n’ Bond Concrete Patcher. I made these concrete bowls twice using this mix. The first concrete bowl, I demolded after 24 hours and the surface was matte. The second bowl I demolded after two days and the surface was shiny, though it did lose some sheen over time, but has settled in with a satin finish.
When I tested a few of the non-Cement All products, the results showed somewhat of an effect with sheen, though not nearly as pronounced as the Cement All. What was interesting was that the sheen on the concrete and cement pieces (other than the Cement All), became muted as the days and weeks went by. The pieces that were demolded later, did retain some sheen, but were closer to a satin appearance.
The lesson here is, demold early (though not too early) for a matte appearance. Demold late for a shiny appearance. The longer you wait, the more sheen you will have.
Effects Of Using Lubricant On Cement Crafts Molds
For this cement test, I wanted to prove what I had noticed on the few occasions when using a lubricant to help in the demolding process. The first part of this experiment was to determine if discoloration was caused by lubricants, and if so, to what extent?
Effect Of Lubricant On Color
There were two types of lubricants that I used on the molds of these cement spheres. I made one sphere without using any lubricant so we’d have a good comparison.
The sphere on the left is the subject without lubricant. The middle cement sphere has baby oil applied to the mold. And the third lubricant has vegetable oil sprayed inside. To start with, the baby oil is clear in color and the vegetable oil, of course, has a yellow tint. Did this color difference transfer to the cement?
You can see in the photo, the non-lubricated sphere has no discoloration. The middle sphere does have a slight yellow tint and the cement sphere to the right has a pretty distinguishable yellow tint.
Effect Of Lubricant On Texture
Now, the second part of the cement lubricant test was to check to see what the lubricant did to the texture of the cement.
Referencing the same photo above, again, the sphere on the left didn’t have any lubricant in the mold. I applied baby oil, using a cotton ball, to the middle sphere. This gave me something to compare to the bubbles that are created by a vegetable oil spray.
The results were that the non-lubricated cement piece is the smoothest and has the least amount of pinholes. You’ll see a moderate amount of pinholes on the sphere with the rubbed-on baby oil. And the vegetable oil sprayed sphere has the most amount of pinholes and even has some pitting.
This one should be pretty obvious on how it turns out, but I wanted to compare just how different the effect would be, based on the level of vibration and how much is really necessary when making cement & concrete crafts.
These cement pieces were cast inside a plastic cup. Other than a couple of quick taps on the work surface, which allowed a bit of cement to settle, the piece on the left was left alone. For the middle piece, I tapped on the work surface and tapped and shook the sides for about 30 seconds. The third piece, to the right, was tapped a few times and then I used a power sander (without the sanding pad) and vibrated it against the cup for about 20 seconds.
As we all probably expected, the piece on the left that was basically left alone has lots of pitting and pinholes. The piece in the middle that was manually vibrated and tapped, has a few pinholes and just a little bit of pitting. And finally, the right-side piece with the power vibration, shows the smoothest texture, no pitting and has only a few pinholes.
Concrete Sealant Effect
The Effect Sealant Has On Cement Sheen
** Updated 3/6/20– see the colored planters below*
The concrete sealant I used is a matte sealer, which is what I had on hand, and at some point in the future, I will perform these tests with a high gloss sealer.
I applied a matte sealer to three different cement planter balls, but to only one side of each cement planter ball. I chose three planters that had different sheens before the cement sealer application. Being a matte sealer, instead of shiny, there isn’t a strong visual difference, but the results were still interesting.
In real life, I can actually see the sealer on each of these. Unfortunately, no matter what I did with the contrast and lighting, I couldn’t get the camera to pick up what I could see with my naked eye, so bear with me. I have the arrows pointing toward the side where the sealer was applied.
Here’s what I did to test the effect of a concrete/cement sealer on cement. To get three different sheens as starting points, each of these cement planters was demolded at different times during the curing process.
The cement ball on the left started out matte and has a rougher appearance. If you look at the photo, you can see the sealer on the left half of the ball. On this matte planter, there is a visible sheen from the unsealed half. You may also notice, the sealed side is a bit darker.
The middle ball started out with a natural satin sheen. Again, the sealer was applied to the left side. On this satin cement planter, the sealer is barely visible and doesn’t add any shininess, but is slightly darker.
The ball on the far right shows the sealer applied on the right side. The results were nearly the same as with the satin sheened cement ball. It also has a slightly darker look where the sealer was applied, but it is also very difficult to discern any difference in shininess.
Now, when I tested these sealers with matte cement planters that I colored after curing, using alcohol ink- look what happened. The one I sealed (on the left) does have a very noticeable sheen despite the sealer being “matte” according to the manufacturer. This sealer was the Easy Seal.
The cement planter in the middle had the Stone Care spray sealer and it is truly matte. The one on the right doesn’t have any sealer and is equally as matte as the planter in the middle.
The Effect Sealant Has On Discoloration From Soil
This was probably the test that I most looked forward to as I was especially curious about this. I had noticed with my own cement planters that some of them become discolored after being planted. I assumed this was due to the soil mixing with water and then coming through the pores of the cement.
This discoloring effect doesn’t happen with every cement planter I make, so I decided to test the effect of whether a sealer would avoid or at least reduce the amount of discoloration. The other question was whether or not the shinier cement planters were naturally protecting the cement from discoloration.
Each planter had its drainage hole plugged (for quicker results) and was filled with soil and water. The first 2 test planters were unsealed. For the unsealed, I had one that was matte in sheen and one that was shiny. The planter that I sealed, was very matte to start with and I applied sealer on the inside and out with one coat.
In order from left to right in the photo, these were the results.
Cement Planter Ball 1
Unsealed | Matte= Brown discoloration, as well as what I assume is salts in the soil staining the outside.
Cement Planter Ball 2
Unsealed | Shiny= No discoloration
Cement Planter Ball 3
Sealed | Matte= No discoloration on one side, but the backside has a greyish color as if it was wet. I suspect the sealer wasn’t evenly applied on the backside, but without sealer, it would have looked like #1.
The Effect Sealant Has On Water Evaporation In Cement Planters
These next two tests will show us how much water is absorbed in a cement planter. We all care about plants and want to care for our plants properly. I wanted to know if by sealing a cement planter, would the planter retain more water? Surely a plant in a plastic pot will need less watering than a cement pot. But how much of a difference in evaporation between a sealed cement pot and unsealed?
Water Evaporation In Finished Unsealed Cement vs Plastic
To get a good comparison, I started the test by comparing water evaporation in a plastic container, vs an unsealed cement pot.
I added 4oz of water to a plastic cup and 4oz to a cement planter. It took a little more than a week for the water to disappear and of course, it was from the cement planter. The plastic cup still contained 3 of the 4 ounces of water. Quite a difference.
Water Evaporation in Sealed vs Not
The second stage of this test was to compare the absorption of water in an unsealed planter versus a sealed cement planter.
I made two cement vessels (no drainage holes) and I sealed one, both inside and out. The other remained unsealed.
I added 2 oz of water to each cement vessel. In less than a week, the water had completely evaporated from the unsealed vessel. In the sealed vessel, a little more than a tablespoon of water remained in the sealed container.
There you have it. Something to consider when making your planters. Depending on the type of plant, is it more helpful to seal it, or leave it unsealed?
And for the final test, sanding effects on cement crafts. For those of you who have followed some of my tutorials, you probably notice that, with few exceptions, I don’t sand my cement crafts. I usually only do this when there are sharp edges or a rough, top edge of something like a planter, bowl or vessel.
Here’s why, with most of the crafts I make, I usually choose a smooth cement-like Cement All. There are other concrete and cement mixes here that also are very smooth and I wouldn’t sand those either. In this test, all I did demold the planters early to have a matte sheen when cured. I used a 220 grit sanding sponge for the one on the right and did not sand the planter on the left. Do you see the yellow tinge?
I don’t know what causes this effect, but sanding creates an unwanted effect on the cement’s sheen and color. I have tried all levels of sand-paper grits, as well as various diamond grit sanding sponges and they all create the same effect. Other than the very uneven rough spots, I do not typically sand the majority of my pieces.
My Personal Review Of The Six Different Types Of Concrete And Cement Crafts Mixes
This review is based on what I’ve learned so far about the six different types of cement and concrete mixes through these tests.
I had high hopes for the Quick Setting Cement. Though this can be demolded in a couple of hours, it still takes a day or so to reach its final color and be cured enough to use. It’s more practical for me to just use Cement All and add a little black to it if I’m going for a grey color. I don’t have much experience with this product outside of the tests, but I have a whole bucket-full of it so I will continue playing.
There are two products that piqued my interest the most. One is the Portland Cement because it’s moldable and very smooth and can have a sheen. It’s very much like the Cement All, but has a longer working time (which can be incredibly helpful at times), and takes a day before you can demold and days more to be fully cured.
If I need a long working time, this could be a good choice. I do like the control of how much sand to add. The negative to this Portland Cement is that in my area, it’s only available in a 90lb bag. Okay, really? 90lbs is pretty impractical.
The Sand Topping Mix is just over the top sandy for and very rustic. If you prefer a really rustic, the Topping Mix may be a good option as the sand is already added, so it’s one step (unlike Portland Cement)
The other product with high potential is the Top n’ Bond. It’s not too sandy and therefore I find it easy to work with and also easier than the others (for me) to determine how much water it needs. I like the grey color it has, and I find the frosted/satin finish interesting. The bonus is that it is available in 40lb bags in my area, so is easy to handle.
The High Strength Concrete mix is the least expensive mix out of the six concrete types listed here. However, by the time you sift out all the aggregate, if you are making smaller crafts, you may not be left with a whole lot of workable concrete.
What’s the best concrete mix for crafts?
There’s no perfect concrete or cement, it’s what works best for you, your project and what’s available in your location. What’s my favorite?
Well, concrete and cement have about a 6 month shelf-life, after being opened. As a concrete craftsperson, I have to be practical and it is easier to stick to one type of cement or concrete, even though sometimes there may be a slightly better choice.
Cement All is still my favorite for its quick setting workable and cure time. I love its moldability, and its extremely smooth and shiny final texture. I’m incredibly impatient and for a matter of practicality, it’s a really good thing to know in a few hours whether or not my cement crafts have failed, rather than waiting for 24 or more hours to have that answer.
If I need a cement that has a longer working time, at the time of writing, Top n’ Bond will be my cement mix of choice.
If you want to check out another concrete that I didn’t discuss in this post, take a look at the cement planter project I made, using Buddy Rhodes Artisan Concrete.