How to Mix Concrete

Concrete is a versatile and strong building material composed of cement, aggregates like sand and gravel, and water. Learning how to properly mix concrete allows you to create a durable product for many different projects. With the right technique and ingredients, mixing concrete is an approachable DIY task.

Gather the Necessary Materials

Mixing good concrete starts with gathering the right materials. You’ll need:

  • Cement – Portland cement is the most common type used for mixing concrete. It acts as the binding agent when mixed with water.
  • Sand – Sand comprises the fine aggregate in concrete. It should be washed and free of impurities.
  • Gravel – Gravel, crushed stone, or other rock-like materials serve as the coarse aggregate in concrete.
  • Water – Water reacts with the cement and causes it to harden in a process called hydration. Use potable water that is free of impurities.
  • Shovel – A sturdy shovel helps mix the concrete thoroughly.
  • Wheelbarrow or mixing tub – You need something to mix the concrete in. Plastic or metal wheelbarrows and tubs work well.
  • Hoe – A hoe helps blend the concrete as you mix it.
  • Safety gear – Wear gloves, eye protection, boots, and clothes that can get dirty.

Calculate the Concrete Mix

Concrete mixes are calculated by volume. A standard mix for general concrete work is 1 part cement, 2 parts sand, and 3 parts gravel or crushed stone.

For example, if you need 1 cubic foot of concrete:

  • 1/6 cubic foot cement
  • 1/3 cubic foot sand
  • 1/2 cubic foot gravel

If you want stronger concrete with a smoother finish, you can increase the cement to 1 part cement, 1.5 parts sand, and 3 parts gravel.

For large projects, it’s helpful to calculate the amount of materials needed using the concrete calculator. Just input the dimensions of the project to determine how much concrete to mix.

Mix the Dry Ingredients

Start by pouring the measured amounts of cement, sand, and gravel into the wheelbarrow or concrete mixing tub. If it’s windy, mix the dry ingredients together first before adding water.

Use the shovel or hoe to blend the materials together thoroughly. Mix it up until the mixture has a uniform color and appearance.

Add Water Gradually

Once the dry concrete ingredients are well blended, you can start adding water. Pour it in gradually instead of all at once. As you add water, turn the concrete mix with the shovel or hoe.

The ideal concrete mixing water amount is just enough for the concrete to bind together. You want a stiff, workable, and moldable consistency. The mixture should clump together when squeezed in your hand. If it’s too dry and crumbly, add more water little by little.

Mix Concrete Thoroughly

Mixing is crucial for combining the concrete ingredients into a cohesive material. Continue to turn over and blend the concrete for 2-3 minutes after adding the water.

Make sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the wheelbarrow or tub while mixing. This ensures all the dry clumps get wet. Thorough, even mixing results in smooth, strong concrete.

Transport Quickly

Once fully mixed, concrete starts setting and hardening right away. Pour and transport it to the forms or project area immediately. Spread, shape, and consolidate the concrete within 1 hour of mixing.

If the concrete will be left to harden in the wheelbarrow or mixer, clean them out quickly before the concrete hardens.

Tips for Mixing Concrete

Follow these tips for optimal concrete results:

  • Only mix as much concrete as you can use in 1 hour. It will start to harden and be unworkable.
  • If the project requires multiple batches, use the same proportions for consistency.
  • Never add more water after the initial mixing. This weakens the concrete.
  • Only use shovels and tools made from plastic or magnesium. Metal can react with concrete chemicals.
  • Wear eye protection, gloves, and a dust mask when handling dry concrete ingredients.
  • Lift properly while shoveling concrete to avoid back strain. Keep your legs bent and back straight.

With the right materials and technique, you can easily mix quality concrete at home for DIY projects. Pay attention to precise measurements, thorough mixing, and working quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mixing Concrete

How long does concrete take to set?

Concrete setting time depends on the cement type, temperature, and mix proportions. In general, concrete sets in 1-2 hours after mixing and hardens completely in about 28 days. High temperatures speed up setting time.

Does the order matter when mixing concrete?

Yes, proper order is important when mixing concrete. First blend the dry ingredients together – cement, sand, gravel. Then, add the water gradually. This allows even hydration and strength development.

Can concrete be mixed by hand?

While laborious, it is possible to hand mix small amounts of concrete. Use a shovel on a clean, solid surface. Expect to put in vigorous effort to properly blend it by hand. Wear protective gear.

What is the water to cement ratio for concrete?

The ideal water cement ratio is about 0.45 to 0.6, with more water needed for higher slump mixes. Too much water weakens concrete, while too little prevents adequate curing. Test different ratios to find the right consistency.

Can you over mix concrete?

Yes, over mixing is possible. Once the ingredients are fully blended, further mixing can cause the cement to break down, compromising strength. Mix for the minimum time needed to properly incorporate and distribute the materials.

How do you keep concrete from setting up too fast?

Using cool water and chilling concrete ingredients before mixing can slow setting. Avoid mixing in hot weather. Adding retarder admixtures also slows hydration and setting. Moving quickly while placing concrete helps too.


Mixing concrete is a useful skill for constructing and repairing driveways, patios, foundations, and other solid structures. Pay close attention to measurements, water content, and mixing technique. Test samples before pouring concrete for actual projects to ensure you achieve the right workable consistency. With some practice and patience, DIYers can learn how to mix quality concrete.