Getting Started Making Cement & Concrete Crafts. Learn The Basics!
Welcome! To make it easier for you, I have merged this Getting Started Making Cement Crafts post with my Advanced Techniques post. If you would like to just skip ahead to Advanced Techniques, then click to go directly to Part 2 | Advanced Concrete Crafts Techniques.
If you haven’t read it yet, there is another super detailed article you may want to review after. It’s my Concrete and Cement Crafts Tests where I did all kinds of experiments with different types of concrete – comparing mixes, as well as testing sanding and sealing methods.
How do I make concrete crafts?
Have you been wanting to make cement crafts and are struggling with the first step? Or maybe you’ve done a few projects, but still feel like there’s so much more to learn? This article will give you in-depth explanations and information for things that I use and things that I do in the concrete/cement tutorials. If you’ve made some of the projects in the tutorials already, you’ll appreciate the additional insight as well as cement crafting tips.
First-timers in concrete and cement making, that first step is a small, low hump, but once you step over it, then you’re off to the races. You’ll look back and wonder why that first concrete project took you so long to get started. The information here is meant to give you all the basic information to begin your first concrete/cement crafts project.
I promise you, making things with concrete is much easier than you think. Let’s do this!
If you haven’t read my article yet on the Cement Tests I performed, you might want to hop over there afterward and check it out. I ran all kinds of fun experiments to learn more about working with concrete and cement and the results were very interesting.
Quick Links In Post
Concrete vs Cement
What’s The Difference Between Cement And Concrete?
In short, cement is an ingredient of concrete. You can’t have concrete without cement. Cement can have different properties, but typically it is made of limestone, clay, and shale. Cement is basically a clay-like paste and it used alone will not create a bond strong enough for anything structural, nor cement crafts. It will crack. See my Cement Tests for proof.
Cement will become binding when mixed with sand. That’s all it needs for you to be able to make crafts with.
Concrete is made up of cement and aggregates like sand and gravel.
The cheat sheet: Non-binding cement = clay and other minerals. Binding cement = clay, other minerals and sand. Concrete is cement + aggregate like gravel or stones.
You should know that when speaking about concrete/cement, I typically do use those terms interchangeably. Cement and concrete can often be used for the same types of craft projects, it just depends on what type of look you are going for and how much time you have to complete the project.
Just know that though I do refer to both concrete and cement in general terms, in my tutorial materials and steps, I will always specify which one I used, as well as the brand.
Some of the links on this page have been provided as a convenience for finding materials. These links may also be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you. For each project, I do lots of tests and if a material or tool doesn’t work, I won’t list it. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
What Is The Best Concrete For Crafts?
I discuss this in the Making Concrete and Cement Crafts Tests article comparing the cement and concrete mix differences. I also did tests on color, texture, sheen and curing time for the various concrete mixes. Also, be sure to grab your free Pocket Guide to Concrete & Cement Mixes. It’s got a handy comparison chart for reference.
Concrete and Cement Crafts Making Glossary
These are the definitions for terms I commonly use in my cement and concrete tutorials.
Is different types of materials that are added to a cement/concrete mix, typically for strengthening. These can be things like gravel, sand, stone or slag.
Pouring the cement or concrete into a mold or form. A cement piece that is made from a mold is a casted object.
The cement or concrete material has gone through the full process of hardening and has lost all of its moisture.
The process of removing the cement or concrete craft piece from its form/mold.
Adding a pigment or colorant (term varies depending on the brand) to the dry mix or wet mix- (before the cement has set or cured). Here are a couple of tutorials that use pigments-
Cement Cone Vase
Magnetic Cement Planters
Mini Cement Balloon Planters
A concrete mixture that has a consistency that it is workable and readily pliable- not too stiff or too runny.
A mixture consistency that is what I refer to as a milkshake consistency.
A spreadable cement mixture consistency, not runny.
When you can no longer insert an inner mold into an outer mold, or manipulate the cement in any way. This is not the same as cure.
A dye or stain that is applied after the concrete has cured.
A divot or set-in place in your mold that when the cement is removed, it will get stuck. Undercuts will prevent you from being able to de-mold a cast piece. If you pour concrete into a for and there is a ledge, or has indentations or angles to it, then the concrete will be wrapped around, or stuck inside and not release. This is usually not a problem if the mold itself is flexible, like a silicone or rubber mold.
Whether or not the concrete is moldable- easily formed.
Working Time (Set time)
The amount of time you have to work with the cement before it has hardened past workability. Temperature and humidity will affect the timing of this.
Materials And Tools To Get Started
What Materials Do I Need To Make Concrete/Cement Crafts?
These Are My Trusty Go To Tools and Materials for Concrete/Cement Making
Disposable mixing bowl: These cheap dollar store bowls are the perfect size for most of my projects. They are quite durable as I am able to use them many multiples of times before having to dispose of them. There are two different tricks you can use to make these reusable. I have this detailed in the cleaning information below.
Very durable latex/nitrile gloves: I love these gloves. It took me a while to find them, but they are pretty fantastic. I mix most of my projects by hand and these are the only latex/nitrile gloves that haven’t torn on me. They are a little bit higher in price than most latex gloves, BUT they last me longer because they never tear when mixing cement, so they end up being a better cost/value since I’m not changing the gloves out as often.
Plastic cups: I find these easier to scoop the cement with than an actual scoop. These cups are thick and don’t crack on me.
Disposable plastic liquid measuring cup: I don’t actually measure the water very often, but occasionally I have a project that requires it. I like using these because they pour nicely. I was using just regular disposable drinking cups but they eventually crack and are more difficult to handle. The fact that these have a handle, makes them efficient to use when you have gloves on and are all gobbed up with cement.
Plastic Bag: Silly as it sounds, these are incredibly useful in concrete projects. Cement is messy and pieces slub off everywhere. You also end up with excess cement that if you don’t have a place to use it, then the plastic bag is perfect. I always have one set up in my immediate concrete working space. You also tend to go through a fair amount of paper towels, and again, the plastic bag – at your service.
Safety glasses- see the safety info below
Breathing mask- safety info below
220 grit sanding sponge- see sanding techniques
Cement All, Rapid Set:
Get yourself a box of this. You can find it at most big box stores in the US and Canada. It’s manageable to lug around at 25lbs, and though pricier than many cement and concrete types, you’ll get 27 ½ cups worth from it. That’s about 12-14 of 1lb sour cream container-sized planters.
Here’s their concrete calculator.
Cement All is an off-white color. If you prefer gray, then grab a box of charcoal colorant while at the store, it’s pretty cheap.
If you live outside of North America, then there should be comparable mixes to the Cement All in your area. Be on the look-out for anything product stating it is cement and that it is either quick setting, fast setting or rapid setting. If you are looking for a similar mix to the Cement All, just make sure it is cement and not concrete.
Concrete and Cement Safety
A serious note about safety. Cement and concrete are dangerous to inhale and get in your eyes because they contain silica which is known to cause cancer. When I am working with cement/concrete outside, I have to be honest and say I rarely reach for my safety glasses or mask, but I keep aware of what direction the wind is blowing. However, I would be derelict in not advising you to use safety glasses and a dust mask regardless.
When the weather isn’t agreeable, I work in my garage. Working in a closed space is new to me, not that I have a garage and don’t yet have a dust collection system (working on it though). So in the garage, I always use my nice soft spongy safety glasses and a silica-rated dust mask– make sure you do use a mask that is rated for silica dust.
To get good clear photos for my tutorials, I have a set up of lighting that provides lots of daylight lighting. With these lights, I can clearly see the cement dust rising directly into my face. This happens when scooping the dry mix, pouring the dry mix into the mixing bowl, and again when I begin mixing. The dust isn’t an issue, once the water is mixed in.
The other time when making cement crafts, that it is critical to don the glasses and a mask, is during clean up. There will likely be dry mix and pieces of cement that when swept up, will rise into the air even more so than when mixing. Please also wear safety glasses, as well as the silica-rated mask when demolding and especially when sanding.
And last, but not least, gloves. I mentioned above, in the materials, about using durable nitrile gloves. I’ll say it again, concrete is very alkaline and when wet, will burn your skin. Make sure you protect yourself.
Concrete Crafts Cleaning Tips
- A nylon brush or toothbrush
- Chore boy steel pad (doesn’t rust)
- Paper towels
- Extra bucket with water
Set up a bucket with water and keep it next to you. As soon as you are done with your tools, you can drop them in there. I have even used this bucket for a quick hand or finger dip when I have accidentally gotten concrete or cement on them. This will make clean-up much easier. You can’t let concrete go down your sink drain, and other than building a concrete sink trap, this is the next best thing.
It is also helpful to have steel cleaning pads. I like Chore Boy because they don’t rust. Those do a nice job on most tools. The next best clean up items to have on hand are a nylon brush or toothbrush. These are good for getting into crevasses.
How to deal with the leftover concrete mix? There are two ways I know of. You can flex and your mixing bowl once the cement has dried. This way it will just break off. This isn’t my favorite method since I end up cracking my bowls after a couple of uses.
For cement bowl clean-up, I prefer using paper towels. The best thing to do is to wipe down the bowl with a rag or paper towel immediately after using the bowl. I start with a dry paper towel and then usually take a wet one to go over it one last time. Using paper towels isn’t necessarily environmentally friendly, but you better bet, I use every square inch of those babies. However, it’s also not very environmentally friendly to throw away plastic- as I don’t believe these bowls are recyclable. It’s a conundrum for me.
I’m Ready! Where Do I Get Started Making My First Concrete or Cement Craft Project?
Here are the five best cement crafts projects for getting started. They are super fun even if this isn’t your first concrete craftsmaking experience.
Easy Beginner Projects
Good luck! Feel free to ask me any questions below in the comments.
Ready to move on to the Advanced Cement & Concrete Crafts Techniques? Keep reading!
If you have been making cement crafts, but missed my Cement Tests article, you may want to also check that out. It goes over all the concrete/cement mixes I tested, as well as some sanding and sealing tests I performed. Hopefully these articles will help make cement-making easier.
Mixing Technique For Concrete and Cement Crafts
How do you mix concrete for crafts?
I suppose one of the first questions I get on techniques for concrete crafts is on mixing concrete. How do I mix concrete? I typically use my hands and not a mixing stick. I’m a really tactile person and like feeling things.
I’m one of those people who prefer cleaning around the house without gloves (except toilets). I like feeling the grit, so that’s part of it. The other part is that I find it is so much more efficient.
You can get through the lumps much more easily because you can feel your way through them. It’s better than seeing them and trying to break them up with a paint stick or craft sticks. I’m not very patient and this gets it done quickly.
And by the way, when I talk about mixing cement/concrete with my hands, I always mean with gloves on. Occasionally I’m at an urgent point in the making process and have mixed cement using my bare hands.
If the cement sits on my skin for too long, then it will make my hands raw and my skin will peel. This can also happen when doing a lot of sanding without gloves.
The skin on my hands is especially sensitive, as even dish detergent will make my fingertips peel, thus giving me the perfect excuse to not do the dishes often (my poor husband ;0]).
Now, I have seen people handle concrete with their bare hands, and I don’t get how they aren’t burning their skin. No way could I do that and I don’t recommend it.
But I gotta ask, don’t you just feel a little bit more like an artist when you squeeze the cement with your hands?
Techniques For Making Cement/Concrete Craft Mixtures
What Should The Cement Mixture Consistency Be?
The mixture consistency will depend on what you are making and what type of cement or concrete you are working with. Many concrete mixes that contain larger aggregate need less water than cement and will require a peanut butter-like texture- like the above photo where I used Quikrete High Strength mix.
In my tutorials, I specify the concrete mixture consistency and below is the terminology that I typically refer to when talking about the cement crafts mixture consistency needed for the tutorials.
This list of terms applies to mixtures for cement crafts where smooth types of cement are being used like Portland Cement (with a 1:1 sand/cement ratio), mortar mixes, Quikrete Quick Setting Cement, and CTS Cement All.
Milkshake- (slurry) typically used for a skim coat like the Cement Jack O’ Lantern.
Formed, moldable- can be held in your hand, glob-like- see the Cement Christmas Ball Candles.
Cookie dough- for rolling out flat to make thinner, flat pieces like the Magnetic Cement Key Holder.
Types of Concrete Craft Molds
What can I use as a cement mold?
You can either use existing forms as concrete/cement molds or make your own. With pre-made molds, you won’t have flexibility in design. The shape is what it is. When you make your own concrete mold, the sky’s the limit, you just need to use the proper material for your design.
Here’s a list of items in both categories you can use.
Utilizing Existing Items- Repurposing
- Cooking molds that are plastic or silicone- think baking here
- Candle molds
- Pre-made silicone molds, made specifically for cement/concrete
- Plastic containers-bowls, Tupperware, sour cream containers, yogurt, leftover containers from the restaurants
*The more flexible the plastic is, the easier it will be to demold, so watch out for plastic containers that are rigid.
- Melamine– great for larger forms, will require using tools.
- Marker Board– easy to cut if you don’t have a power tool.
- Acetate Sheets– very flexible, inexpensive and will give you a super smooth sheen- great for inner molds.
- Corrugated Plastic Sheets- they sell these at Michaels and Home Depot. This is a fantastic material because you can just use hot glue to hold the pieces together and it’s easy to cut.
- Cardboard- doable, but needs to be coated with something to not stick- use this as a last resort, unless it has a waxed coating.
- Silicone Mold– about as good of a mold as you can get. Requires mixing 2 parts at a 1:1 ratio. Typically easy to demold.
Tips On How To Save Money On Concrete Crafts Molds & Tools
Dollar stores are your friend. They are a cement crafter’s friend. Things you can find there are:
- plastic stirring tools
- bowls that are plastic for mixing
- plastic containers for molds- round, oval, square, large and small -these are all for a dollar or even less because many of these items are packaged in sets of 2, 4 or even 6
- dumpster diving- there’s plenty of restaurants and catering companies getting rid of great plastic molds. Warning! This may not be legal in your area, so check your local laws first.
For more detailed information on molds for concrete crafts and to learn about which type of mold to use for specific projects, check out my post- The Best Molds For Concrete Crafts.
Demolding Tools and Techniques For Concrete Crafts
What tools can I use for demolding cement trouble?
I kind of feel like a heat gun is a must. Sure, you can get away without having one, but you’re going to lose a lot of time with some projects trying to get them out of the mold. I’ve certainly strained a few muscles working without a heat gun.
Now a heat gun isn’t going to be the perfect solution all the time and there are some projects it won’t even help with. But, many, many, tutorials I have on the site, will do well with a heat gun. I actually didn’t even get a heat gun until halfway through the year last year, and I couldn’t believe what I was missing.
A heat tool has its pros and cons. It is great for burning through plastic, like when you are using a mold that has plastic that isn’t very flexible and is thick. A heat tool will burn right through the plastic, but it can also leave a burn mark if you aren’t careful.
Heat tools usually come with different heads, some are like X-acto blades, some are rounded. The blades will get the job done more quickly, but you also risk cutting into the concrete.
Craft Knife Set
You’ve really got to have some sort of craft knife, whether it’s an X-acto or a more robust craft knife. There’s rarely a project that I don’t use this on. In my tutorials, I have been listing an X-acto because I have one with a nice soft grip that I enjoy. However, a craft knife set, like this one, with multiple blade types, is probably better.
The nice long blades that come with a set like this are great for mold making- like cutting through foam, for instance. My set was a hand-me-down, I don’t have this particular set, but if I were purchasing new, this is what I would get. Keep in mind, you do risk cutting into your cement project while demolding with a blade.
Needle nose pliers are another must-have. My fingers just aren’t strong enough, or thin enough to get down inside those molds and give them a solid pull. These babies are worth every penny. I don’t own this particular pair, but I wanted to give you the link so you can see what I’m referencing.
Sanding/Finishing Techniques For Concrete Crafts
How do I seal concrete crafts?
You can use a brush-on sealer or a spray-on sealer. They come in high gloss and matte. I have this spray-on stone sealer and this brush-on sealer. Although the brush-on sealer says it’s high gloss, the sheen is barely visible. I consider it closer to a matte/satin.
I rarely seal any of my concrete/cement pieces, unless there is a specific reason to. You can read about my experiments with sealer in the Cement & Concrete Tests article, and why I typically refrain from using them.
How do I sand concrete crafts?
There are many ways to sand concrete and cement pieces, but here are two methods I’ve used, and two other good methods for sanding concrete.
Diamond Sanding Pads
It may be worth purchasing a couple of these diamond sanding pads. I have the #400, #200, #100 and #60 grit pads. I use the #60 grit and #200 grit the most. You can probably skip the #100 and #400. I only use them for the tops and the edges of planters, bowls, etc.
Why I rarely sand my cement pieces... read about my sanding tests.
220 Grit Sanding Sponge- regular
In most cases, a 220 grit sanding sponge does the trick. However, if you are using Cement All, be sure to sand right after removing the piece from the mold or it will be too hard (literally) to do by hand.
There are two power tools which I haven’t used, but are used by some concrete craftspeople I know. The first is a variable speed angle grinder, and a wet/dry one is preferred. The other is a table belt sander. Again, I don’t have experience with these, but I wanted to let you know there are power options out there.
What’s Next? Have Fun With Concrete And Experiment!
PigmentS For Concrete Crafts
There are two types of methods for coloring concrete. Coloring can be accomplished topically. This is done by applying it to the cured concrete surface. The other method is called integral color, which is when you add color directly to the mix.
Adding integral color can be done in two ways. One is to take a powdered pigment and mix it with water before adding it to the cement/concrete mix. The other way is to add the powdered pigment to the dry mix. I did a bunch of experiments with using different kinds of concrete colorants and different methods for coloring concrete/cement. Everything you need to know on concrete pigments is there, so head on over to the Concrete Pigments Tests post for more information!
You can also get creative by adding textures to concrete. Textures are a wonderful way to bring visual interest to a cement craft piece.
Objects you can use are:
- string wrapped around an object
- plastic wrapped around an object
- beaded necklace wrapped around an object
- fabric or silicone designs to create an inset effect, as I did in this Succulent Design Planter tutorial
- adding aggregate like beads or colored glass
- carving lines, dots or brush marks onto the surface
The list goes on and on for all the different things you can do to jazz up concrete!