A simple 2x4 and a fresno may work fine when it comes to leveling and finishing a small residential slab, like a sidewalk or patio, but to place large driveways and sprawling commercial or industrial slabs, you’ll need equipment with a lot more speed and efficiency. For projects of this scale, contractors typically rely on power screeds and power trowels, not only to improve productivity but also to ensure a smooth, level surface. Here’s an overview of your equipment options.

A contractor using a vibrating screed from Trade Tool Innovations LLC.

Vibrating ScreedsVibrating screeds feature a metal screed blade attached to a handle that allows finishers to smooth and level fresh concrete from a standing position. A motor produces the vibrating action, reducing the effort required by the operator, who only needs to pull the screed across the surface. Screed blade lengths range from 4 to 16 feet, and the blades can be removed and replaced. Most vibrating screeds are gasoline powered, but some models, such as Magic Screed from Allen Engineering, are available in a battery-powered version. Applications include residential driveways, large patios and other slabs that don’t require extreme flatness. Features to look for include quick-change screed blades, variable speed control, ergonomic design and adjustable handles. Keep in mind that although a longer screed blade length will cover more surface area in one pass, it will be more cumbersome to maneuver, especially in tight spots. Top manufacturers of vibrating screeds include Trade Tool Innovations, Marshalltown, and Northern Industrial Tools.

A laser screed being used to flatten a concrete slab in preparation for polishing.

Laser ScreedsThese high-tech screeds are ideal for striking off commercial and industrial concrete floors that must meet stringent F-number tolerances (see Understanding F-Number Requirements for Commercial and Industrial Floors). The screed head comes in various widths, ranging from 12 to 20 feet, and is mounted on a self-propelled four-wheel drive machine with a telescoping boom that extends up to 20 feet across the slab. The screed head is equipped with a plow, auger and vibrator to disperse the fresh concrete, remove excess material to finished grade, and smooth the surface. Laser receivers mounted at each end of the screed head receive a signal from a transmitter to automatically strike off the floor to specified flatness levels. Top manufacturers of laser screeds include Somero Enterprises, Ligchine International and Allen Engineering.

HoverTrowel- Concrete Power Trowel
Time: 00:23
Drew Fagley demonstrates the HoverTrowel and explains its functions and benefits.

Walk-Behind Power TrowelsWalk-behind trowels are ideal for finishing driveways and small to mid-sized commercial or warehouse floors. In addition to being nearly effortless to operate, they give concrete surfaces a smooth, hard, durable finish. When buying a walk-behind trowel, the model you choose will primarily depend on how much surface area you need to cover. Walk-behind trowels come with blade diameters ranging from 24 to 48 inches. Smaller units are well-suited for finishing surface areas less than 1,000 square feet. They will also fit more easily through doorways and work around obstacles. Larger models are better suited for medium to large floors requiring greater speed and efficiency. With most units you can choose separate blades for floating and finishing or a combination blade that can perform both functions.

Most walk-behind trowels come in gas or electric-powered versions, allowing you to choose a machine that will work with the available power supply. Other features to look for include easy access to trowel blades, quick blade pitch adjustment, height-adjustable handles, ergonomic throttle control and optimal balance for smoother finishing. Top manufacturers include HoverTrowel, MQ Whiteman, Allen Engineering and EDCO.

An operator using a ride-on trowel to finish a slab.

Ride-On TrowelsFor large concrete pours measuring over 6,000 square feet, a riding power trowel is practically a necessity for finishing the concrete before it sets. In addition to boosting productivity, ride-on trowels will also produce flatter finishes due to their weight. These machines come with twin blades ranging in diameter from 36 to 60 inches. You can also choose from overlapping and non-overlapping machines. Overlapping models have intersecting blades that are well-suited for trowel finishing, but you can’t use them for floating. Non-overlapping machines have a space between the rotors so you can mount float pans on them for initial finishing and switch over to trowel blades for final finishing. Smaller twin 36-inch-diameter ride-on trowels are easier to maneuver and provide adequate coverage for medium-sized floor slabs. For large floors requiring super-flat finishes, twin 60-inch-diameter ride-on machines are the best choice. In addition to size, look at the machine’s weight-to-power ratio, drive system (hydrostatic or mechanical), ease of pitch control, and blade accessibility.

Buying TipsPower trowels and screeds can be big investments, with the cost of the most fully-equipped models often exceeding the price tag of a new car. Unless you do a lot of commercial work, consider saving money by purchasing a used model in good condition, either directly from the manufacturer or from a reputable dealer. Another option is to rent or lease the equipment.

Related Information Constructing Commercial/Industrial Floors

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