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The role of aggregate in concrete

countertop mix formulas

Posted on March 30, 2011
Aggregate in concrete is a structural filler, but its role is more important than what that
simple statement implies. Aggregate occupies most of the volume of the concrete. t is the
stuff that the cement paste coats and binds together. !he composition, shape, and si"e of
the aggregate all have significant impact on the wor#abilit$, durabilit$, strength, weight,
and shrin#age of the concrete. Aggregate can also influence the appearance of the cast
surface, which is an especiall$ important consideration in concrete countertop mi%es.
&hen selecting the most appropriate aggregate for a particular concrete mi%, here are the
#e$ factors to consider'
Most natural stones and crushed roc# are appropriate for use in concrete. Commonl$ used
stones are (uart", basalt, granite, marble, and limestone. f a concrete countertop is going
to be ground with diamond tooling, the aggregate will show, so aesthetics also affect the
choice of aggregates.
Problems arise with soft, reactive or wea# stone or roc#. )ightweight aggregates, a topic
for another discussion, are also used in concrete.
Aggregate si"e and gradation are the most important factors when selecting aggregate.
Aggregate can be large or small, from fist*si"ed roc#s to fine sand. Aggregates larger than
+ inch are classified as coarse aggregate, while an$thing smaller than + inch is termed
fine aggregate. As a general rule, the largest aggregate should be no greater in diameter
than one*third the depth of the slab, or one*fifth the smallest dimension of the form. ,or
e%ample, the largest piece of aggregate allowed for a 1 -*inch*thic# countertop slab is -
inch. .enerall$ coarse aggregate is blended with finer aggregates /such as sand0 to fill in
the spaces left between the large pieces and to 1loc#2 the larger pieces together. !his
reduces the amount of cement paste re(uired and decreases the amount of shrin#age that
could occur.
Aggregate shape influences strength, but has more of an immediate impact on the
wor#abilit$ of the plastic concrete. 3ough, angular particles pac# tighter, have more
surface area, and have greater interparticle friction than smooth, rounded particles, which
reduces wor#abilit$. Angular particles also re(uire a bit more cement paste to coat them
than rounded particles. !herefore, mi%es containing them will re(uire a slightl$ higher
cementitious content.
n general, coarse aggregates tend to be about 10 times larger than the fine aggregates in
concrete, but the range of si"es could be greater than that in certain circumstances. As
shown in the figure, there are three t$pical range categories'
&ell*graded aggregate has a gradation of particle si"es that fairl$ evenl$ spans the
si"e from the finest to the coarsest. A slice of a core of well*graded aggregate
concrete shows a pac#ed field of man$ different particle si"es.
Poorl$ graded aggregate is characteri"ed b$ small variations in si"e. !his means
that the particles pac# together, leaving relativel$ large voids in the concrete.
.ap*graded aggregate consists of coarse aggregate particles that are similar in
si"e but significantl$ different in si"e from the fine aggregate. A core slice of gap*
graded concrete shows a field of fine aggregate interspersed with slightl$ isolated,
large aggregate pieces embedded in the fine aggregate.
!$pical aggregate gradations are shown in the drawing below'
Poorl$ graded concretes generall$ re(uire e%cessive amounts of cement paste to fill the
voids, ma#ing them uneconomical. .ap*graded concretes fall in between well*graded and
poorl$ graded in terms of performance and econom$. .ap*graded concrete is a viable
gradation, but not optimal.
&ell*graded aggregates are tric#$ to proportion. !he goal of aggregate proportioning and
si"ing is to ma%imi"e the volume of aggregate in the concrete /and thus minimi"e the
volume of cement paste0 while preserving strength, wor#abilit$, and aesthetics. !his
balances the proportions of each so there are 4ust enough of each si"e to fill all the voids,
while preserving wor#abilit$ and cast*surface (ualit$.
5ote that aggregate gradation is particularl$ important in cast in place concrete
countertop mi%es. !his blog entr$ e%plains further about cast in place mi%es.
Mortar Concrete
Concrete made with 4ust fine aggregate /or sand0 is #nown as mortar concrete. )i#e the
mortar used for bric# and concrete bloc# construction, which is simpl$ made with mortar
cement and sand, mortar concrete has no coarse aggregate in it, so a ground finish will
have a fine*grained appearance. Mortar concrete is commonl$ used in concrete
countertop mi%es, since the surface finish is so important.
6ven with an all*sand mi%, aggregate gradation is still an important factor to consider and
affects strength, wor#abilit$, and aesthetics. t is alwa$s preferable to have some particle
si"e variation rather than absolute uniformit$ because the interparticle void volume will
be lower than with uniform particle si"es. &hile it is possible to blend different sands of
different si"es together in a fashion similar to graded aggregates, generall$ onl$ one t$pe
of sand is used. Most sand, especiall$ bul# or ban#*run sand, alread$ has a particle si"e
distribution that has some variation to it.
n order to achieve ade(uate wor#abilit$, the cement paste volume must be high enough
to encapsulate all of the aggregate particles and to provide some wor#abilit$ while the
concrete is fresh. !herefore, mortar concrete tends to have a high cement content.
Aggregate gradation, whether in a mortar concrete or a traditional concrete mi%, involves
tradeoffs between strength and wor#abilit$ and is alwa$s a delicate balance.
7nderstanding the implications of aggregate gradation is especiall$ important when
creating a from*scratch mi% and will ultimatel$ help $ou produce a better concrete
!he basic mi% ratios for cement, no matter what the use is
1 to 1.8 parts cement
3 parts sand
2 parts washed aggregate
b$ weight water should be .9 to .98 the weight of all other material in the mi%. thin#, :m
doing this from memor$.
Additives' use acr$lic fortifier for concrete it will increase strength. ;u$ acid resistant
cement fiber, $ou won:t be able to see it on a polished concrete surface, and it reduces
chances of crac#ing.
!echnicall$ $ou can use 4ust 1 part cement to 3 parts sand. 7suall$ that is used as a slurr$,
or scratch coat, for refinishing surfaces or a top coat on a concrete countertop. f $ou use
enough additives it will be a stable standalone countertop mi%. !here is a white cement
$ou can use. ,or an aggregate loo# at washed pea gravel or crushed marble or crushed
glass depending on what color $ou want in the countertop.
,or sand $ou could tr$ silica sand, but do be cautious going down this road. <therwise
there are colored sands of ever$ color.
Most =>ers and professionals prefer precasting upsidedown in a form. !hat creates a
smooth surface right out of the form when flipped bac# over. ;uild it out of wood, then
spra$ it down with adhesive, and let the adhesive dr$. Concrete won:t stic# to most dr$
adhesives, silicone, or pol$urethane. have a theor$, that haven:t tried, that self leveling
pol$urethane concrete crac# filler would ma#e a wonderful form coating because it is self
leveling and self smoothing. !here will be some pinholes in the resulting cement no
matter how smooth it comes out of the form. ,ill them in with the before mentioned
slurr$ before polishing. ?ome vibration ma$ be needed to produce a smooth surface.
3enting a wet polisher for stone is highl$ recommended for finishing $our concrete.
also strongl$ recommend $ou pour multiple test s(uares, 4ust 1 foot b$ 1 foot. >ou will
ma#e mista#es on $our first attempts or want to change things.
Also consider building a rough tan# around the form and putting $our countertop under a
couple inches of water once the cement has began to stiffen. t is the best wa$ to produce
a hard and strong concrete outcome.
Also ta#e note that normal gravel used in cement is one part sand, two parts large roc#.
@ust in case $ou find the recipe for foundation building cement.
Aave done concrete window sills.
?ome of the more popular brands are from Cheng, ;udd$ 3hodes, e5counter, and even
Bui#rete. >ou can bu$ these online or from a store that speciali"es in concrete supplies.
5on air*entrained Bui#rete 8000 psi mi% can be purchased at Aome =epot or )owes.
&hat:s important about pre*mi%ed bagsC !he$ are designed to use ver$ little water. !hat
translates into a concrete mi%ture that will have ver$ little shrin#age when it is dr$ing.
?hrin#age crac#s in a countertop are impossible to hide and ver$ unappealing to loo# at.
?ome pre*mi%ed concrete counter top mi%tures are also designed for ver$ high strengths,
as high as D000 psi. An D000 psi countertop mi% will polish ver$ nicel$ because it is so
hard and dense.
f $ou want to e%periment with $our own countertop mi%ture $ou can tr$ some gra$ or
white portland cement with some fine sand, add some 3ED inch stone for e%tra strength or
if $ou want to e%pose the aggregate when polishing the surface.
!he concrete mi%ing ratio would be 3 parts sand, 2 parts aggregate, and 2 parts cement.
Feep the mi%ture as dr$ as possible, #ind of li#e cla$, when $ou mi% the dr$ ingredients
with water.
!he ease of use, and proven (ualit$, of the pre*mi%ed countertop mi% ma#es the decision
of which to use an eas$ one for most.