Broom finish, flagstone, color, texture, swirling, and more. All finishes to newly poured concrete. And all finishes anyone can do themselves. Any one of those finishes will give your patio or sidewalk something besides the same old look. The questions are, what do you do and how do you do it? However before we get that far, I am assuming you know how to prepare, form, mix and pour the concrete. If not, go to link resource box for information that will assist you. And if you do, read on.
Let’s start with Broom Finishing. It’s not too difficult to do. When the concrete surface is sufficiently set drag a soft broom or brush lightly across the concrete. For even less texture wait until the surface has further hardened. With concrete the timing is important. If your initial brooming left too heavy a finish you will have to retrowel the surface to remove all traces of the first finish, wait a few (or more) minutes and rebroom. If you like the look of the broom finish, but think a little something extra in the brooming would look better. Try this. As you drag the broom across the surface of your concrete pad move it back and forth sideways just a little. No more than 2 – 3 inches in each direction. Doing that will put what is know as a wavy finish to your concrete sidewalk or patio.
Another way to give your sidewalk or patio a different appearance is with a shell or swirling finish. Each is done by using a wood hand float while the concrete is still fairly wet (again trial and error. The swirling look is done by randomly moving the wood float across the surface in no apparent pattern. It will rough up the surface and give it a somewhat coarse look. The shell finish is done in a similar fashion, but, instead of the swirling random strokes, a shell pattern is applied. For the shell finish you hold the wood float on the surface of the concrete and move the top of the float from side to side while keeping the bottom of the float in one place. Then move the float right next to your first shell and do another (again trial and error. Keep this up until the entire surface has been covered with your shell pattern. You probably will have to make several attempts at this before you are satisfied with how it looks. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t look ‘right’ at first. Just practice a few strokes and it will come to you.
Color is no doubt the quickest and easiest thing you can do to give your concrete a different look. There are three ways to color your concrete. The first is to put color in the concrete mix before it is poured into the forms. The second way is to apply it to the surface of the concrete while it is still wet. And the third is staining.
You can purchase color and stains for concrete at just about any lumberyard and home improvement store. None of the three color methods are difficult to do. With the first you put the color in the concrete mix before it is poured in your forms. In this case just follow the directions given with the color. In the second method you spread the color uniformly across the surface of your concrete while it is still wet and then use the float to spread it around and into the concrete. Then finish the concrete as usual. Staining is the last color method. There are two types of stain. Regular and semi-transparent and both are applied to new concrete after it has cured. Regular stain is like paint. It goes on and covers completely. Semi-transparent stain goes on the same way (use a paintbrush, a spray can, a roller, I saw one done with a mop and it looked pretty good), but there is a difference. It can be applied in layers. Since the stain is semi-transparent the existing surface of your concrete sidewalk or patio will show through the first few layers of stain. The more times you apply the stain to the surface the less the original concrete coloration below will show up. In this situation it’s all a matter of preference.
A flagstone pattern finish is a little trickier than the others. Here you float as usual and then make the flagstone while the concrete is still workable. Get a piece of 1/2 or 3/4″ inch diameter copper pipe and bend it into an S shape. Hold on to one end of the pipe and press the other into the concrete. Then just pull it across the surface. What you are wanting to do is make a falgstone pattern with random geometric shapes on the surface of the concrete. After you have finished with making the flagstone you will need to refloat the concrete. The final step here is whether you want a boom finish on top of the flagstone or a smooth one. For a broom finish you follow the previous listed instructions.
Finally there are several other effects you can give concrete. A leaf finish is certainly distinctive. After floating and troweling just press some leaves into the surface immediately after troweling. They should be embedded completely, but not covered. Leave them in place until the concrete is set and then remove them. Other items can be pressed into concrete for patterns too. You can make round impressions in the surface by using cans. Anything you think that might will leave an attractive mark on the concrete is worth considering. Give it a try.
One finish I didn’t discuss is exposed aggregate. I believe it would be too difficult for anyone with limited or no previous experience working with concrete.
That’s it. Good luck with your project.