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Stamped Concrete DIYIs it a do-it-yourself project?
By Chris Sullivan, ConcreteNetwork.com Columnist
The short answer is NO! Before I go any further I have to confess that I am a weekend warrior, and I love doing projects around the house. There is not much I won't try to tackle myself, so making the statement that stamped concrete is NOT a DIY project does not come lightly from my lips. One of the main reasons I preach that stamped concrete needs to be left to the professionals is that you only get one chance to get it right. Concrete, especially stamped concrete, is unforgiving and expensive in terms of materials and time. Unlike carpentry, plumbing, or electrical work, concrete does not come apart, and you can't come back tomorrow to finish if you run out of time or patience.
Here are four reasons why stamping concrete is not a do-it-yourself project:
There are many factors that make stamping concrete better left to the professionals. The most obvious is the basics of placing concrete, which is an art unto itself. Proper concrete placement starts with proper sub base preparation, which often includes 2 to 4 inches of sub base material or stone that needs to be properly compacted. The next step is forming, which requires not only the proper form material, but an understanding of elevations and slope. If the proper slope is not maintained on concrete flatwork, you end up with puddling or standing water issues known as "bird baths". As with most everything concrete, these low spots are permanent, and very difficult to repair, especially if any aesthetic value is desired. Once you get through those pre- pour necessities you have to deal with the concrete itself. Standard concrete weighs about 150 lb per cubic foot. Unless you are lucky enough to have a job where a ready mix concrete truck can pull right up to the formed area, you will be moving concrete via wheel barrow or paying someone to pump it for you. Also consider that most ready ix companies charge penalties if the truck sits at a job site for longer than 30 to 60 minutes. We can't overlook the concrete itself. As a do it yourselfer, do you understand concrete mix designs, concrete admixtures, slump, air entrainment, and proper curing techniques? Modern concrete has become a high tech material that contains more than sand, stone, cement and water. You need to consider not only the environmental conditions the day of the pour, but the long term environmental conditions the concrete will face during its life when you chose the type of mix that will be used.
Enough about pre-pour factors, let's talk about concrete placement. Talk to any professional concrete installer, and they will tell you that placing and finishing concrete is as much art as it is technique. It takes years to even get a handle on the basics, let alone get good at it. Take it to the next level and add in stamping, and you just increased the learning curve by another 3 to 5 years. Placing concrete, while often overlooked as the easy or less important part of stamping, is actually very critical. If concrete is not placed properly it can cause failure within the first year of its life. Consider that water to cement ratio is the biggest issue with color development, as well as surface strength and durability. Place concrete with too much water and you not only end up with washed out color, but concrete that can spall or scale within the first year.
Concrete Color Issues
With the growth of integrally colored concrete, and the ability of most any ready mix companies to provide colored concrete, ordering and getting colored concrete has become the easiest of the steps involved in stamping concrete. It's all the factors involved in making sure the color turns out correctly that can play havoc with the job. Instead of listing all the potential issues, all you need to do is spend a few minutes in the technical troubleshooting section or look through these common coloring issues to see for yourself.
The Process of Stamping Concrete
A good stamped concrete job looks good, while a fair to poor stamp job looks horrible. The most unforgiving part of stamping concrete is the actual stamping. You can get away with poor placement or poor finishing, but if the imprinting process is not completed properly, it is permanent, and very difficult (and expensive) to repair. The stamps themselves can cost thousands of dollars if you buy them and hundreds if you decide to rent. Each stamp fits together a certain way, and once you start stamping concrete, you can't go back and start over if you mess up the pattern or get off line with the texture. Stamped concrete is also no different than most projects; you have to sweat the details. Having the right detail tools for the pattern and texture that is being placed is critical to ending up with a good stamp job.
For those DIY'ers brave enough to still want to try stamping concrete themselves after reading my attempts to talk you out of it...the job is not done. In fact, the curing, cleaning and sealing processes typically cause more issues then the previous steps outlined above. I am all about the bottom line, and the bottom line is that stamped concrete is not a DIY-friendly practice. Don't be fooled that by watching a 5-minute "how to" DVD or video, or checking out the many tutorials on YouTube.com, that you are prepared and ready to stamp, as these provide just enough information to really get you in trouble. My advice is plain and simple: stamped concrete is better left to the professionals.
Here's an overview of the steps involved when stamping concrete: How to Stamp Concrete