Art Concrete How-to
8: Sources for Materials
THIS PAGE is one of several explaining techniques about how to use concrete in small-scale art projects.
Book: Concrete Handbook for Artists: Technical Notes for Small-scale Objects. More information?
This is general, generic information about where to find materials for concrete, with a few specifics for hard-to-find materials. It's mainly Canada and U.S. based as these are the countries I can easily obtain materials from. See also the materials page for an explanation of why some of the additives are used. Thanks go to a lot of people for emailing me with leads to sources of supply. See the links page for further sources.
Widely available at local lumber companies, hardware stores and construction supply outlets. White portland cement may be more difficult to find. Try masonry supply outlets.
---Crushed stone or gravel can be found at local Ready Mix concrete suppliers, or masonry supliers.
---Sand can be found at these places too, and hardware stores sell it in bags. Sharp sand (also called brick sand, or mortar sand) is best.
---Stone dust (limestone or marble): try local quarries. Marble dust is sometimes sold as "swimming pool aggregate." Pet stores sells sands and gravels for fishtanks.
---Lightweight aggregates like vermiculite and perlite: try garden suppliers or hardware stores. ---Try farm supply stores for 'poultry grit'. We have heard it is clean, crushed granite, and variable in colour.
LATEX OR ACRYLIC ADDITIVE:
Usually available in four litre or one gallon containers, from masonry suppliers or construction supply outlets (such as contractor equipment rentals). It looks like milk and has a consistency like cream. Most large retail lumber outlets now carry acrylic admixture.
Polypropylene fibers (brand names Fibermesh or Fiber Ad) can be difficult to find locally. Try your local Ready Mix concrete supplier and ask if they will sell you a bag. It's usually supplied in 1 lb. bags -- about $10 -- enough for a cubic yard of concrete. The fibres are about 1 cm (.5") long. Sometimes its called "micromesh." Fibermesh has a web site with their address, where you can write or phone. The new PVA fibres are available through Nycon.com. Small quantities through concretedepot.net (as of March 2007).
A reinforcing additive (see links page for Cem-FIL), they must be alkali resistant, usually written as "AR". The chopped strands are probably the most useful. In North America they are available from Ball Consulting or Composite Materials (see links page).
Hardware cloth, expanded galvanized mesh, or chicken wire, can usually be found at lumber stores, masonry suppliers or hardware stores. The expanded galvanized mesh is used as a base for exterior stucco on houses. For the wire to hold it together ask for binding wire, stove-pipe wire or galvanized wire, usually available at hardware stores.
AIR ENTRAINERS and PLASTICIZERS:
These are difficult to source. Master Builders is one manufacturer, but won't sell small quantities. Try your local ready mix supplier. Air entrainers are only essential for outdoor work in frost zones. Plasticizers are not essential, they just increase strength. If you can't find a plasticizer like Pozzolith or Polyhede, you can use the latex or acrylic additives in water, although they are more expensive in large quantities. See our links page for suppliers.
An extremely fine dark powder, silica fume is a waste product from the smelting of metals. As a concrete additive it increase strength and reduces permeability. Available through Master Builders and other suppliers it is difficult to find in small quantities. Lafarge Cement adds silica fume to their SF cements.
One brand made by Engelhard is called MetaMax(see links page) and is a fine white powder with similar qualities to silica fume. It increase strength, decreases permeability, lessens drying shrinkage. It is used as 5-15% by weight of the portland cement. It may be difficult to find in less than 25-50 pound bags. Also try distributors of plastering materials for the pool industry. See our links page for suppliers.
Sealers for waterproofing concrete can be found in your local hardware or lumber store. Most of the readily available ones are acrylic-based. Silane or siloxane sealers combine chemically inside the concrete leaving a natural surface, but may be difficult to source. Try Lighthouse Products for their siloxane sealers, PO Box 1253, New Smyrna Beach, Florida 32170 (904-428-8888 or 1-800-228-5537). In Canada, Gem-Gard SX, a siloxane sealer is available in large 20L pails from the distributor Form and Build. Smaller quantities may be available from CPD (see latex above), through a local distributor. V-Seal, clear, colourless and water-based is available from V-Seal's web site in North America.
As powders or liquids that are mixed into concrete, they can be found in local hardware or lumber stores, or try a local company that manufactures concrete block. Surface dyes: I've had good luck with acrylic-based opaque stains available at your local paint store that are used for outdoor wood, but I don't know about long-term breakdown. Special dyes or stains are also made for rubbing into the surface of cured concrete and can be obtained through craft supply stores or hardware stores. One brand is DecoArt's "Patio Paint." Acid stains etch into the surface of the concrete and are commonly used to colour concrete floors. See the links page for several sources.
There are many dry ready mixes on the market, most for specialized uses such as repair patching, sealing cracks and so on. You can also buy general purpose mixes. "Concrete mix" would usually contain 1/4" crushed stone for casting. "Sand mix" is a prepared sand and Portland cement mix used for parging or stuccoing. "Mortar mix" has masonry cement (which means it has lime added to make it more sticky) and sand. You can try these and add fibers and pozzolans to them to make them closer to high performance concretes. In 2016 Sacrete introduced Shapecrete, a high performance dry mix in pails, designed for craft projects. I have done some initial testing here.
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Last update: 2016