Carved Concrete Becomes Popular Among Contractors

Stonecrete Artisans has grown in popularity with homeowners as well as professional concretists. Workshops are available to learn this skill, and many concrete contractors report that they are adding the work to their offerings.

Emil Gera of says that most of his carved concrete jobs involve outdoor features like seating walls. But he also has done themed projects, including zoo and aquarium displays, and a decorative wall for a resort.

Stonecrete Artisans

Concrete isn’t just for smooth, horizontal applications anymore. It is gaining popularity for vertical surfaces that look like stone or block wallwork, including stairs and fire pits, as well as faux rock accent walls and landscape features such as waterfalls, fountains and themed exhibits. This type of work is referred to as carved concrete.

These unique projects require specialized concrete mixes that are designed to be used on vertical surfaces. These vertical overlay products are typically more flexible than regular concrete, making them ideal for forming and carving. They also have low-shrinkage properties that allow for longer-lasting results.

To help contractors become experts in this area, the featured instruction from a number of concrete artisans who make their living working on vertical concrete. The experts discussed how to form, pour and carve a wide variety of decorative elements on walls and structures that resemble natural stone, rebar or lath construction. They also discussed coloring techniques and demonstrated how to create different finishes, such as a polished finish for statues.

One of the most popular decorative elements is a stenciled pattern. These patterns are applied to the concrete before it is poured, which allows the concrete to take on the appearance of multiple bricks or stones without the time and expense of laying them individually. These stenciled patterns include fish scale, basketweave and herringbone.

Another method of creating a custom appearance on a concrete surface is to expose the coarse decorate aggregate that is embedded inside the concrete when it hardens. This method is commonly used on concrete retaining walls and fences as it offers the advantage of a more rugged and rustic look that complements many landscaping designs.

When preparing to work with concrete for this type of project, it’s important to keep in mind that the concrete needs to be poured and sculpted while it is still wet. If the concrete dries too quickly, it becomes too stiff and difficult to work with. In addition, a wet concrete is easier to shape with tools and can be manipulated into tight spaces more easily than dry concrete.

Carving concrete allows contractors to add one-of-a-kind decorative accents that look like stone, rocks or chiseled wood without having to tear out existing concrete. These decorative concrete overlays, typically made of polymer-based systems, contain a combination of dry ingredients and liquids that combine to create a thick cement-like product. Experienced contractors use trowels, hopper guns and other tools to texture the overlay and carve into it to mimic various materials.

The most popular carved concrete mixes are designed to allow the concrete to be sculpted while it’s still soft, rather than waiting until it hardens to carve it. They’re generally available in a wide range of textures, from smooth and slick to coarse and abrasive, so installers can tailor the material to their needs. They can be added to new concrete pours to produce different textures and finishes or poured into pre-existing concrete to hide or change its color or texture.

When working with carved concrete, it’s important to work fast so that the concrete doesn’t dry before you can complete your design. To speed up the process, installers often use a product called SKULPTIN, a special concrete admix that helps to keep the concrete workable for multiple days after it’s poured.

SKULPTIN works by absorbing moisture in the concrete as it’s pouring, which slows down the rate at which the material solidifies. It also helps the concrete stay more malleable for longer, allowing you to work it with light touch tools until it sets up.

Another method for working with carved concrete is to spray the concrete with water as it’s being poured, which makes the surface more pliable and reduces the risk of cracking. Regardless of which technique is used, it’s critical to follow the mixing instructions on the label to ensure that the correct proportions are achieved for each batch.

Although rock- and ledge-like carved concrete projects tend to get the most attention, the versatility of these products means that they can be incorporated into a variety of indoor and outdoor concrete applications. Emil Gera of , for example, recently built a carved, GFRC staircase that simulates rock and leads down to a basement-level man cave.

The concrete that’s used in carved concrete overlays is typically a specially formulated mix designed to hold its shape when carved and stick to a wall or other surface without sluffing, sliding, drooping or losing its new custom sculpted or stamped/colored design. These specialized mixes typically contain finer grades of sand, polymers, reinforced fibers and other ingredients that improve strength, consistency and allow longer set times to allow stamping, coloring and carving to occur.

These tenacious vertical concrete overlays can be imprinted, colored and carved to simulate the appearance of natural rock, concrete block or other materials used on walls. The concrete is typically poured thickly and then hand-carved using special tools to create details like deep rock textures, wood-grain patterns and grout joints. These specialized finishes are often used for exterior walls, interior feature walls and even retaining walls.

Carving a concrete mix isn’t easy, as the mix must be soft enough to carve with a chisel but also strong enough to withstand the forces of gravity. The trick is to use the right type of admix, which can reduce sag and improve the workability of the concrete while it’s still wet. for example, uses an admix called Car-VZ, which he developed with to solve the problems of carved concrete, while Russell says that several good admixes are available.

Once the carved concrete has set sufficiently to become stiff enough to hold its new shape, it’s time for the final finishing touches. Depending on the project, a coating of water-based or latex exterior concrete paint may be used, or the carved surface can be coated with resins to enhance its durability.

For the workshop at the Ness and fellow workshop instructor Troy Lemon used Stone Edge Surfaces Pro Wall Mix to help participants make a faux stone facade for a retaining wall, as well as an impromptu freestanding rock wall that looked like a large stack of boulders. Though intended to be destroyed at the end of the workshop, representatives asked if they could keep the carved wall and move it somewhere else on the campus for permanent display.

A picture-perfect concrete surface requires proper finishing techniques. Concrete workers who don’t finish a slab correctly risk producing unattractive concrete and may even put themselves at risk of back injuries. The key to a successful concrete finish is proper timing and training. A well-timed finish will prevent concrete from settling and causing problems down the line.

The experts at a number of concrete finishing courses that are ideal for concrete contractors interested in upgrading their skills to a more sculptural and decorative level. Participants in these classes learn how to pour and shape concrete into unique shapes that enhance the beauty of a home or commercial structure.

Carving workshops teach participants how to make a range of textural finishes that mimic everything from sandstone to weathered wood. The classes also teach participants how to use vertical carving mixes that are designed specifically for the complexities of working on a wall. Ness, for example, uses an admix called Car-VZ, which he co-developed withto address common problems that come up when working on walls.

When it comes to finishing carved concrete, the options are limitless. For example, some carvers use a rock salt finish—sprinkling water softener crystals over fresh concrete and running a roller over the surface to produce a speckled texture that mimics the appearance of weathered stone.

Other carvers use a technique called stenciling, wherein a stencil is laid over the fresh concrete and a pattern is carved into it with a hand tool. Typical stencil patterns include geometric shapes, natural stone, bricks, tiles and cobblestones.

Joshua Russell, owner of Besays his split is about 80% residential and 20% commercial. He agrees with Emil Gera that many carved concrete projects are outdoor amenities that imitate rock, but he notes that it is not uncommon for a sculptor to be asked to create indoor features that look like stone, including fireplaces and entertainment centers.

Melissa Cohan