Whether you’re planning a small patio or putting down a foundation for a small shed like I did, you’re going to need to start slinging concrete and put down a slab soon. With that comes the decision of whether this is a “Do It Yourself” Project or something you contract out. Cost and time are always factors, but so is how approachable a project like this is. Luckily, I’m here to play guinea pig to see if this is a one man (or woman) job and if it’s within budget!
You might remember that last year I teamed up with The Home Depot Rental to work on my “curb appeal” and replaced a tired, old sidewalk with a new paver walkway. I’m back with Team Orange again and this time I’m adding on to my workshop with exterior storage in the form of a lean-to shed. Before I can build out the expansion, I need a sturdy foundation, so we’re bringing out a few more toys from The Home Depot Rental Department to aid in this project.
Tools & Equipment
- Electric Cement Mixer – Holds up to (2) 80 lbs. bags of concrete
- Vibratory Plate Compactor – Packs down fill dirt prior to pour
- Concrete Vibrator – Removes voids that cause structural issues
- Bull Float – Smooths large areas of wet concrete
Additional Tools & Materials
- Digging Shovel – Because you have to dig a hole before you fill it
- Finishing Trowel – For that smooth finish
- Respirator and gloves – Cement dust can be hazardous so PPE up
- Quick Cure Cement – I used Quikrete 5000 – 50 lbs. bags
- All Purpose Gravel – Sand and gravel base
- 2×6 or 2×4’s – For the concrete slab form
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Where To Start
If pop music has taught me anything the last few years, it’s that we’re all about that bass. Err… in this case base. Concrete will do it’s concrete thing, but the foundation of your pour is extremely important. For that to work though, you unfortunately, have to dig a hole and then fill it back up. My slab is going to be a 4 foot by 6 foot pour that butts up against my shop. So I needed to first, clear off several years worth of ground cover to find the edge of the concrete slab and then dig down 8-10 inches.
I ended up digging just a little bit deeper because I have a bunch of busted up concrete pieces from a previous project. Instead of sending that waste to a landfill, I had planned on using it for rubblization. Which means instead of adding a bags and bags of base filler, I could strengthen and fill my foundation with waste material.
With my eyesore of a busted concrete pile finally depleted I started adding bags and bags of All Purpose Gravel. Which is more of a combination of gravel and sand. Once I established a few inches of filler over top of the concrete filler it was time to pull out the compactor. I’ve used the Wacker Neuson Plate Compactor before, and it basically runs like a self-propelled push mower. With the throttle set it will propel itself across your worksurface with ease compacting whatever you put in front (or under) it.
Before we talk concrete, what about rebar? In this project, I personally won’t need it. Given the size of the slab, our average temperatures and the fact that this will be a low traffic, low weight bearing foundation it’s not necessary. Just in case, I did use a commercial grade cement (at basically the same price) for added early strength.
The Concrete Pour
Let’s talk about the hard part first. And I don’t mean the concrete. Let’s talk about the math. There are a ton of great concrete calculators on the web out there for free. So figure out the area you need to fill and make sure you have the option to select the weight of your bags. I… did not do that and the calculator I used was for 80 lbs. bags when I purchased 50 lbs. bags. Needless to say… I was 10 bags short, which is not somewhere you want to be once you start mixing. Also, consider this… 50 lbs. and 80 lbs. bags add up quickly. If you need 30+ bags of concrete, can your vehicle handle an extra ton of weight? Did I mention The Home Depot Rental has a bunch of great trucks you can rent by the hour too?
After determining just how out of shape I had gotten by moving 1500+ lbs. of concrete from the shelves to a cart, to cart to my vehicle, to my vehicle to my worksite… (oh my back!) it was time to get down to business! For the mixing I rented the ¾ HP Electric Cement Mixer. It’s the perfect size for a project of this scale. Some people would just use a wheel barrel, but not me. Considering this was a one person project there was no way I could keep ahead of the drying concrete while mixing and pouring new batches. The Electric Cement Mixer was a life and time saver. I kept it running right at the edge of the 2×6 form I built and poured directly into it.
Speaking of the form, you want to use screws when assembling, that way you can remove them and pop it apart when the project is finished. I used scrap wood for the stakes, set my form and added screws to the stakes into the form to keep everything in one spot. I took a level and checked my form from left to right. Then from the back of the slab to the front, I wanted a slight decline to allow for any water runoff.
With the Cement Mixer giving me a thick, peanut butter like texture, it was time to pour. It was a tedious process that can be done with one person, but by all means bring a friend. I got into a groove where I would mix a 50 lbs. bag, pour it into my form, start a new batch and then work the previous pour into my form. It was a slow groove (like a slow jam?) but I eventually got there. Hitting the right consistency of mix was one of my biggest challenges when trying to mix two bags at once. I would always end up with a dry patch in the bottom if I went too big, so I ended up backing off to a one bag pace.
We’re Not Done Yet
Although not necessary for a project my size, I ended up renting a Wacker Neuson Concrete Vibrator as well. This is one of those tools that I didn’t realize I really needed until I actually needed it. This is typically used on bigger projects when pouring concrete in odd spaces and getting into all the nooks and crannies. Well because my mixture was wildly inconsistent, the concrete vibrator dips in and then shakes that added moisture to the surface. If I hadn’t of used the Concrete Vibrator I would have definitely had some major curing issues.
Using a bull float and then a trowel, I was able to push off a good portion of the excess moisture and then smooth out the surface. I was a little worried about how wet my mixture had gotten on the surface, but in the end, it cured beautifully.
One last trick, after about two hours of curing, I took a push broom and lightly brushed the surface. What this does is creates a slight texture that’s good for traction. If I wanted a smooth finish, I could have left it to its own devices, but the brush coat is good for my shop extension and also hides a lot of my errors.
Just to be extra careful, I let my slab cure for 48 hours before popping my form. This is where those screws come in from earlier. I backed them out of the stakes and the corners and popped the forms right off. No wax or release formula needed.
To finish the project off, I went back and added the fill dirt I had saved back around the edges. Now it’s on to phase two of this project which will consist of construction of the lean-to shed. So stay tuned for updates and progress!
With my very first concrete slab now under my belt, was it worth it? Financially yes. If I had hired a crew or a cement truck to come and pour this slab I would have been hundreds of dollars over my spend on materials and estimated rental cost. I came out way ahead here!
What about the actual project though? Was it a weekend project or a one person job? That’s a yes as well… with caveats. This was no joke manual labor to its fullest. Between digging holes, moving dirt and lugging around bags of concrete I was exhausted and sore each day. If you can spread the load and have a legitimate helper then it’s absolutely approachable. If you’re running solo, you might want to check your ego at the door and realize you have limits. Especially if you’re doing this in the heat. The equipment from The Home Depot Rental made this little feat all the more attainable in just a weekend’s worth of work. So if you’re on the fence because of not having the right tools, they’ve got you covered.
Up next is the lean-to build. Be sure to check back for links to the full project!
*This post and project was sponsored by The Home Depot Rental. I was provided with rental equipment and compensated for my time in exchange for this project and review. My opinion is my own.