Making an Exposed Aggregate Concrete Path

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I love working with concrete because it's tough and versatile and relatively cost effective.

In this instructable I'll be jazzing up a new footpath by exposing the aggregate.

There are a few ways to do this, and many commercial operators use a high pressure spray to blast off the top surface of cement.

The method I will show you doesn't require any special tools other than what you would use when mixing and laying concrete...it doesn't use any surface disruptors or acid, nor does it use a water blaster.

So if you can lay concrete, you can do this.

If you're concerned about committing to a large project, you may want to do a test run of the method by making some pavers or tiles on a small scale. Then when you're comfortable with the process you can create your large project.

Supplies:

Aggregate (pebbles) around 12-22 mm in diameter.

Trowel

Screed (board or straight edged box aluminium)

Bucket (for pebbles)

Garden hose and water supply

Brush or broom - medium firm bristles

Helpers (the more the better, especially about an hour in...you'll be pleased you had them!)

Edging tool (optional but nice)

Step 1: Box; Mix; Pour; Lay; Screed; Trowel

We mixed our own concrete onsite but this method will work with premix concrete that has a normal cure time. A rapid set concrete should not be used.

I won't go through the specifics of the above steps, but so you know...

- box the area

- mix the concrete

- pour the concrete

- lay and screed the concrete

- trowel the concrete smooth

Pro tip

Curve your path...it's much nicer to the eye and can be easier to create than a straight edge.

Step 2: Seed the Pebbles

The pebbles are scattered or sprinkled onto the surface of the concrete. Do this by the handful, and have a good supply of pebbles on hand.

The concrete needs to be firm enough so the pebbles do not sink out of sight, but not so firm as to be difficult to push the pebbles into the concrete. You'll have to make a judgement call on this but I was able to seed the pebbles soon after trowelling the concrete smooth.

Pro tip: Wash the pebbles to remove any twigs etc.

Step 3: Push the Pebbles Into the Concrete

When you have a good covering of pebbles, begin to push them into the concrete with a trowel. You can see in the video that the concrete is still quite pliable. Take care not to push dents into your concrete...keep your tapping pressure consistent and trowel it smooth keeping the surface flat.

Finish the process by trowelling the concrete to a smooth finish. You'll know this is done when you see only a faint outline of the pebbles as shown in the last photo. A thin cement slurry will have covered all of the pebbles.

Step 4: Continue Seeding and Trowelling

It pays to have help! There is a point in this process where concrete has been laid and seeded, while at the other end, concrete is still being made and laid. Then it becomes apparent that the concrete is beginning to firm up and it needs to be seeded...while elsewhere the seeded stones need to be pushed down. It can be hectic!

So, have a few pairs of hands available...I had my family all working on this project and I was thankful for their effort!

Continue to trowel-in the seeded pebbles while someone else is seeding the new concrete further along the path. It will be a moving front of lay-screed-trowel-seed-trowel, lay-screed-trowel-seed-trowel, interspersed with cries of help as you realize the concrete is going off somewhere! See below for definition of 'going off'.

The last photo shows the concurrent stages of seeding concrete...empty boxing; fresh concrete; screed concrete; trowelled concrete; seeded concrete; trowelled seeded concrete. Whew!

Pro tip

Use an edging tool to create a nice edge to your path, using the tool while the concrete is still easy to work.

Glossary

'going off' in this instance is Kiwi slang for the concrete setting or firming up.

In different circumstances it can mean:

"Streuth mate, you better get that 3 week old lasagna out of the fridge 'cos it's going off big time."

"I'd stay away from the neighbor for an hour or two. Someone egged his house and he's royally going off."

Step 5: Last of the Seeding

We made it! Nice work everyone.

Finishing off the path, the final pebbles are being pushed into the concrete and trowelled off.

Now you have time to go and eat the cold toasted sandwich that was made for you an hour ago.

The next step takes place when the concrete has firmed up.

Step 6: Wait for the Concrete to Firm Up

It was about 8 hours on a warm day until I was ready to expose the aggregate.

Setting time will depend on many factors so you'll need to use your judgement, but as a guide the concrete won't stick to your finger when touched, and you can scratch your fingernail into the surface of the cement. You can also gently walk on the concrete...but don't twist your foot as you may loosen or tear out your precious pebbles!

Step 7: Time to Expose Your Aggregate

This is the best part!

Using a brush and light spray of water, begin to gently brush and wash away the top layer of cement to expose your pebbles. Keep your brushing light and water to a minimum...but you'll get a feel for it and can increase both as you continue.

Take your time and don't brush out too much cement as you risk the pebble coming out. Constant watering will reveal your progress.

Step 8: Your Path Is Complete

If it's all gone to plan, you should have a beautiful exposed aggregate path. You've never appreciated a footpath like the one you've just finished!

One final optional step is to apply a concrete finish coating to the path. You'll need to leave your path for 28 days or more to cure, but the coating will add luster to your path as well as seeping into the concrete and 'locking in' the pebbles.

I used a brush and roller to apply the coating to the path. It looks magnificent!

I hope you have success with your exposed aggregate projects.

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    31 Discussions

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    panzer1

    1 day ago

    good job !

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    gcai_fwb

    2 days ago

    Nice job! and it looks great - just the idea I need for finishing a planned 'stepping' stone walkway using one of these https://www.quikrete.com/athome/walkmaker.asp - I'm going to use the "country stone" pattern.
    ps. nice touch with the Kiwi slang - I'll have to dig out and reread my old Footrot Flats graphic 'novels' again

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    dragon flyer

    7 days ago

    That looks great! Does the finish coat make it slippery when it's wet?
    I've been wanting for years to make some hypertufa planters; I wonder if I could use this technique on them...

    1 reply
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    Minnear Knivesdragon flyer

    Reply 3 days ago

    It's not slippery due to the texture of the pebbles coming through. If it was smooth concrete, yes it would be slippery when wet.

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    Kink Jarfold

    5 days ago on Step 8

    Fantastically beautiful walk. Very appealing. Very artsy. Great job.

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    gerryveldkamp

    7 days ago

    one tip from one who has don it many times before, mix a pound of sugar with a bucket of lukewarm water put it in a garden weed sprayer and gently wet the surface just before it goes off then let it set. Ones set you can gently rinse of the concrete as the sugar has killed the surface layer of cement

    8 replies
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    Feelunikegerryveldkamp

    Reply 7 days ago

    Which stage of the process do you mean by 'going off ' ? Do you mean right after having pushed and trowelled in the pebbles? Or when it's firming up? or just before rinsing the concrete? Please Clarify, thank you.

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    gerryveldkampFeelunike

    Reply 6 days ago

    "Going off " is just a term we use it means just before the cement goes
    to sets, the sugar stops the chemical reaction and stops the cement
    from sticking to the stones, you could do the same with a hydrocloric
    acid / water solution, but that could be a lot riskier because the acid
    is much more aggressive and could loosen the stones. the same thing can
    happen when you don't use the sugar solution as you may have to rub to
    hard to get the stones clean

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    Minnear KnivesFeelunike

    Reply 7 days ago

    'Going off' aka the concreting beginning to set and/or firm up. This is after the stones have been pushed into the concrete and trowelled over. My concrete was ready to water and brush off after this, about 8 hours later. So yes, just before rinsing the concrete. Thanks for your question.

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    gerryveldkampdragon flyer

    Reply 6 days ago

    "Going off " is just a term we use it means just before the cement goes to sets, the sugar stops the chemical reaction and stops the cement from sticking to the stones, you could do the same with a hydrocloric acid / water solution, but that could be a lot riskier because the acid is much more aggressive and could loosen the stones. the same thing can happen when you don't use the sugar solution as you may have to rub to hard to get the stones clean

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    Alex in NZ

    9 days ago

    This looks beautiful. Well done and thank you for all the little tips :-)

    2 replies
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    Minnear KnivesAlex in NZ

    Reply 7 days ago

    Thanks for your comment. I'm in Geraldine South Canterbury, where in NZ are you?

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    Alex in NZMinnear Knives

    Reply 7 days ago

    I'm up in Welly. I would say that it's cold today, but compared to Geraldine... :-)

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    sharpstick

    7 days ago

    I think a section of concrete that long should have expansion joints.

    2 replies
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    cfusesharpstick

    Reply 7 days ago

    What about rebar? Every large chunk of concrete I've seen done has rebar in it.

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    Minnear Knivescfuse

    Reply 7 days ago

    The concrete is quite thick and it's handling only foot traffic.