Essential Tools for Concrete Work
In any field, it’s important to have all the right tools and supplies to do the job right. No matter what your skill level or how knowledgeable you are, you’re going to have a hard time doing the work without the proper equipment. It might even be impossible. That’s as true for a concrete mason as it is in any other career.
In this article, we’re not talking specifically about stamped concrete. This is an introductory guide for anyone working in masonry. Still, general masonry skills are essential when getting started in stamped concrete as well. Let’s have a look at some of the essential tools you’ll need to do concrete work effectively.
Why the Right Tools Are So Important
First, let’s look at why having your tools in order is such a key.
Some jobs might not even be doable without the right tools. Sure, we could mix cement without a shovel and hoe, I guess. And lay it without a trowel. But it’s just so impractical and messy, it’s almost not worth it.
Having the right tools – and knowing how to use them, of course – at least makes your work more efficient. Tools are a form of technology. They might not be the latest smartphones, but it’s something we’ve developed, as humans, to make work easier. And in our daily tasks, there are tons of tools that can make life easier. Imagine trying to trim large sections of concrete with a hammer and a chisel instead of a masonry power saw. Or trying to level a surface – without a level!
Efficiency means you get the work done more quickly and with less waste. That means you make more money on the project. It also means that you have more time to take on more projects, which means even more income.
Using the right tools also helps make sure the product is done to the highest standards. Especially when it comes to finishing work, a lack of proper tools will mean the finish doesn’t look right. Not having the right size or type of instrument means you won’t get the effect you were going for.
When we talk about the “right” tools, we also mean quality tools. Yes, good tools can be expensive. And that can be hard to shoulder especially when first starting out. However, going the cheap route short-term turns out being more expensive long-term. Buying an off-brand shovel now at half the price of a good one looks good today. But you’ll end up replacing it four times in the lifespan of the better one. That means you end up paying double because you wanted to pay half. So it’s important to try to get good tools. If you can’t afford them all right away, prioritize and get the best you can.
Caring for Your Tools
We’re not going to go into detail on how to properly care for your tools. There’s just too many different ones, each with their care instructions. I just want to remind you how important it is to care for them.
Use your tools right. That is, don’t use a trowel as a hammer. Don’t use a hammer handle as a lever to pry something open.
Clean your tools properly, too. This isn’t about looking good; it’s about preserving their useful lifetime. Tools that aren’t cleaned rust and break more quickly.
And just like mom always said – put your toys ..errr tools … where they belong when you’re done with them. Storing them properly helps prevent damage. It can also help you to have a safe shop and truck.
The Tools of the Trade
There’s a wide variety of tools used by a mason. Let’s look at some of the most important.
The tools for actually mixing the cement are going to be among the biggest in your set. If you’re on a big job, you’ll hopefully have everything mixed in a mixer truck. But even then, you’ll need a shovel, hoe and mixing tub or pan. A large plastic water bucket is essential too.
Many masons prefer a rounded shovel. Of course, you want the shovel and hoe to have long handles so you can easily mix the concrete.
Tools for Marking the Work Area
These tools are going to help you set up the workspace where you’re going to lay the concrete. You’re going to need them throughout the process to make sure everything is lined up correctly.
First, a tape measure. You’re going to need to measure off the dimensions of the area you’re going to be covered. A quality 25- or 30-foot metal tape will work well.
Mark off your area with soapstone. This is just one option for marking, but it’s handy because it’s white and not permanent. It’s great for marking on wood or existing cement so you can easily find key points.
Once you’ve measured, a good nylon mason’s line is going to help you keep your lines straight. Run it between corner posts or rods to show where your edge is supposed to go. Nylon is resistant to mildew. A tight, braided twine is the best to work with.
Finally, make sure to check everything with a level. From the underlying surface where you’re going to pour concrete to the finished project – and every step of the way – you’ll want to be sure that your lines are even. Your mason’s line helps in this process, but you should still double-check its accuracy.
Levels come in all sizes. We’ve seen them as long as six foot in big box hardware stores. But there’s also laser levels that can work over 20 yards. And for small jobs, there are even apps that will work with your cell phone and give accurate readings.
Other tools you’ll need really depend on the type of job.
If you’re building a brick wall or applying grout in any way, you’re definitely going to need a set of trowels. They come in various sizes. The largest ones are best for applying the grout initially. Smaller ones are good for cleaning up excess or repair work on existing mortar.
A jointer is used once the grout is laid and starts to harden a bit. It’s then run along the lines of grout to smooth them and remove further excess. It cleans up the joints and gives a more finished look to the work.
A masonry hammer and chisel are used to help cut or shape cinder block, stone or bricks into the size and shape needed. These tools are designed specifically for working with stone and to protect your hands at the same time. The narrower side of the hammer, or the hammer and chisel together, can also be used to remove hardened excess concrete.
When you’ve got a lot of cutting to do or want a more precise cut, a masonry power saw is going to come in handy. It will give a cleaner cut than the hammer and chisel. It’s also much faster. There’s a huge range of sizes and types available, from small handhelds to chainsaws to riding models. Wet and dry versions and combo models are available. Your needs depend on the type of stone you’re cutting.
Need to cut exact corners? You’re going to want to have steel squares. These will help make sure you’ve got a 90-degree angle when and where you need it.
And when you’re down to the final clean-up, a selection of brushes will help clean up any dust. Masonry brushes have tough bristle that will hold up well on brick and stone. Also, they can be used for broadcasting release.
Maybe even more important than your tools is your safety equipment. Keeping yourself and your workers safe is key to your livelihood. Also, it’s a legal obligation! Failures can lead to hefty fines. Yes, it’s true that most likely nothing is going to happen. But there’s still enough risk that you’ll want to protect yourself.
Laws about safety equipment can vary by state or province, so it’s important to do your research. Sometimes the law calls for common-sense precautions. For instance, do you always need a hard hat if you’re only pouring a driveway? You may not; there’s not much risk to your head. But again, it’s important to know your local laws.
Here are some of the main pieces of gear you should consider, though.
Your eyes are one of the most vulnerable parts of your body, and there’s actually a lot of risk to them in working with concrete. Splatter from fresh cement or dust and chunks of dry concrete pose a significant risk.
Goggles should be sturdy and wrap around your face to protect your eyes not only from damage coming from straight ahead but also from the sides.
Good work gloves are also important. They not only keep fresh cement off your hands, but they protect you when working with hammers, chisels and other tools as well. Plus, they’ll keep your hands clean for shaking hands with a satisfied client at the end of the day!
Quality work boots protect your feet from injury as well as from stress. On the job site, it’s far too easy to drop a cinder block on your foot or step on a stray nail. Also, you’ll be on your feet for long periods. Boots should provide support to your feet. This goes a long way to relieving leg and back pain, too. Invest in a good pair that offers both protection and comfort.
Yes, you’ll be on your feet a lot. But you’ll also be doing a lot of kneeling as you smooth, level and grout. A good pair of knee pads helps prevent pain and damage. There are even pants with built-in pouches where pads can be inserted.
Keeping your legs covered can help protect from cuts and scratches. You obviously want something comfortable that you can move in. But you also want something that’s going to help if you bump into a sharp edge or have to work your way through a garden while pouring a patio.
Again, the need for a hard hat is going to vary widely from job to job. Use your head about it (pun intended). If you’re working on a construction site or dealing with anything you might bump into overhead, use the hat. It’s worth it.
If you’re going to be using a masonry saw or doing a lot of chiseling, a respiratory mask can serve you well. There are a wide variety of masks available, from the simple painters’ mask to more sophisticated ones with removable filters. The need for these will depend on what materials you’re dealing with and the chemicals they contain.
Having the right tools – even when they cost a lot – is going to help you be a more successful mason. You’ll be able to produce higher-quality work more quickly. That means it’s also more profitable. Safety equipment is equally important, because without it, you might end up not able to work at all. The investment in tools and equipment pays off, even if the initial outlay seems high. Take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you!