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Troweling produces a hard, smooth, dense surface and should be done immediately after floating. Troweling can be done by machine or by hand. If done by hand, the finisher will float and trowel and area before moving his knee-boards.
A fresno is a steel trowel attached to a bull-float handle. Putting a long handle on the trowel allows finishers to trowel the concrete without walking out onto the slab. Fresno trowels do not, however, produce the same density or wear resistance that is produced by multiple hand trowelings where the finisher can apply greater pressure to densify the concrete.
More than one troweling can be done: as the concrete sets each successive troweling should be made with a smaller trowel tipped at a greater angle than the last troweling. This increases pressure on the surface producing maximum floor smoothness and hardness. However, hard troweled surfaces are not suggested for outdoor surfaces since they become slippery when wet.
Purpose: Used after floating to produce a smooth, hard, dense slab surface.
What's available: Steel trowels look similar to hand floats, except the blades are thinner and the handles are open rather than closed. The key difference among tools is the type of steel used for the blade. The most common types are blue, stainless, and high-carbon steel. Blue steel is thin and lightweight, so it flexes slightly under hand pressure. Stainless steel blades will not rust or stain concrete surfaces. Trowel dimensions from range from 3 to 5 inches wide by 10 to 24 inches long.
Be sure to purchase an assortment of trowel sizes. Generally, a 14 x 4-inch or 16 x 4-inch trowel can tackle most decorative finishing jobs. But on large projects or when you need to cover more area faster, then a larger fresno (see description below) will be the most efficient. For small patching jobs or when working in tight areas (such as corners, steps, and around floor pipes and drains), you'll need a smaller tool, such as an 8x3-inch midget trowel.
Trowels are less likely to gouge the surface after they're broken in because the blades become slightly curved and the edges beveled. If you want to fast forward past the break-in process, you can purchase trowels that have been "broken in" (the edges are pre-ground) at the manufacturing plant.
Most trowels come with a choice of camel-back or straight wood handles or more resilient comfort-grip handles. Camel-back handles have a slight upward curve that provides more knuckle clearance. Choose the handle type you find most comfortable to grip and gives you the best control. Also look for handles with sturdy aluminum shanks that are securely riveted to the blade.
Average costs: For a 14x4-inch trowel, the cost ranges from about $24 to $40, depending on the type of steel used. Stainless steel trowels usually cost a few dollars more than trowels made of blue or high-carbon steel.
Purpose: Fresno trowels are designed to attach to long extension handles so finishers don't have to walk out on the slab. They permit rapid work over large areas, such as driveways, but do not achieve the same degree of compaction possible with hand trowels. However, that can be an advantage when you must trowel slabs early for decorative work because you can create a smooth finish without premature sealing of the surface.
What's available: Like hand trowels, fresnos are available in blue, stainless, or high-carbon steel and with rounded or square ends. But they come in longer lengths than hand trowels, ranging from 2 to 4 feet.
You can purchase fresnos with or without brackets for handle attachment. For easier maneuvering, some manufacturers offer swivel brackets that rotate 360 degrees so you can work at any angle, or easy-tilt brackets that eliminate bending and lifting.
If you want to cut shallow safety grooves in flatwork surfaces, some tool manufacturers offer fresnos with evenly spaced V-shaped blades that cut shallow grooves 1/4-inch deep.
Average costs: Expect to pay $35 to $50 for a 3-foot fresno (without bracket).