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Upon completing this section, you should be able to identify the ingredients essential for good concrete.

The essential ingredients of concrete are cement, aggregate, and water. A mixture of only cement and water is called cement paste. In large quantities, however, cement paste is prohibitively expensive for most construction purposes.


Most cement used today is portland cement. This is a carefully proportioned and specially processed combination of lime, silica, iron oxide, and alumina. It is usually manufactured from limestone mixed with shale, clay, or marl. Properly proportioned raw materials are pulverized and fed into kilns where they are heated to a temperature of 2,700F and maintained at that temperature for a specific time. The heat produces chemical changes in the mixture and transforms it into clinker—a hard mass of fused clay and limestone. The clinker is then ground to a fineness that will pass through a sieve containing 40,000 openings per square inch.

Types of Cement

There are five types of Portland cement covered under "Standard Specifications for Portland Cement." These specifications are governed by the American Society for Testing and Material (ASTM) types. Separate specifications, such as those required for air-entraining portland cements, are found under a separate ASTM. The type of construction, chemical composition of the soil, economy, and requirements for use of the finished concrete are factors that influence the selection of the kind of cement to be used.

TYPE I.— Type I cement is a general-purpose cement for concrete that does not require any of the special properties of the other types. In general, type I cement is intended for concrete that is not subjected to sulfate attack or damage by the heat of hydration. Type I portland cement is used in pavement and sidewalk construction, reinforced concrete buildings and bridges, railways, tanks, reservoirs, sewers, culverts, water pipes, masonry units, and soil-cement mixtures. Generally, it is more available than the other types. Type I cement reaches its design strength in about 28 days.

TYPE II.— Type II cement is modified to resist moderate sulfate attack. It also usually generates less heat of hydration and at a slower rate than type I. A typical application is for drainage structures where the sulfate concentrations in either the soil or groundwater are higher than normal but not severe. type II cement is also used in large structures where its moderate heat of hydration produces only a slight temperature rise in the concrete. However, the temperature rise in type II cement can be a problem when concrete is placed during warm weather. Type II cement reaches its design strength in about 45 days.

TYPE III.— Type III cement is a high-earlystrength cement that produces design strengths at an early age, usually 7 days or less. It has a higher heat of hydration and is more finely ground than type I. Type III permits fast form removal and, in cold weather construction, reduces the period of protection against low temperatures. Richer mixtures of type I can obtain high early strength, but type III produces it more satisfactorily and economically. However, use it cautiously in concrete structures having a minimum dimension of 2 1/2 feet or more. The high heat of hydration can cause shrinkage and cracking.

TYPE IV.— Type IV cement is a special cement. It has a low heat of hydration and is intended for applications requiring a minimal rate and amount of heat of hydration. Its strength also develops at a slower rate than the other types. Type IV is used primarily in very large concrete structures, such as gravity dams, where the temperature rise from the heat of hydration might damage the structure. Type IV cement reaches its design strength in about 90 days.

TYPE V.— Type V cement is sulfate-resistant and should be used where concrete is subjected to severe sulfate action, such as when the soil or groundwater contacting the concrete has a high sulfate content. Type V cement reaches its design strength in 60 about days.

Air-Entrained Cement

Air-entrained portland cement is a special cement that can be used with good results for a variety of conditions. It has been developed to produce concrete that is resistant to freeze-thaw action, and to scaling caused by chemicals applied for severe frost and ice removal. In this cement, very small quantities of air-entraining materials are added as the clinker is being ground during manufacturing. Concrete made with this cement contains tiny, well-distributed and completely separated air bubbles. The bubbles are so small that there may be millions of them in a cubic foot of concrete. The air bubbles provide space for freezing water to expand without damaging the concrete. Air-entrained concrete has been used in pavements in the northern states for about 25 years with excellent results. Air-entrained concrete also reduces both the amount of water loss and the capillary/water-channel structure.

An air-entrained admixture may also be added to types I, II, and III portland cement. The manufacturer specifies the percentage of air entrainment that can be expected in the concrete. An advantage of using air-entrained cement is that it can be used and batched like normal cement. The air-entrained admixture comes in a liquid form or mixed in the cement. To obtain the proper mix, you should add the admixture at the batch plant.


The material combined with cement and water to make concrete is called aggregate. Aggregate makes up 60 to 80 percent of concrete volume. It increases the strength of concrete, reduces the shrinking tendencies of the cement, and is used as an economical filler.


Aggregates are divided into fine (usually consisting of sand) and coarse categories. For most building concrete, the coarse aggregate consists of gravel or crushed stone up to 1 1/2 inches in size. However, in massive structures, such as dams, the coarse aggregate may include natural stones or rocks ranging up to 6 inches or more in size.

Purpose of Aggregates

The large, solid coarse aggregate particles form the basic structural members of the concrete. The voids between the larger coarse aggregate particles are filled by smaller particles. The voids between the smaller particles are filled by still smaller particles. Finally, the voids between the smallest coarse aggregate particles are filled by the largest fine aggregate particles. In turn, the voids between the largest fine aggregate particles are filled by smaller fine aggregate particles, the voids between the smaller fine aggregate particles by still smaller particles, and soon. Finally, the voids between the finest grains are filled with cement. You can see from this that the better the aggregate is graded (that is, the better the distribution of particles sizes), the more solidly all voids will be filled, and the denser and stronger will be the concrete.

The cement and water form a paste that binds the aggregate particles solidly together when it hardens. In a well-graded, well-designed, and well-mixed batch, each aggregate particle is thoroughly coated with the cement-water paste. Each particle is solidly bound to adjacent particles when the cement-water paste hardens.

AGGREGATE SIEVES.— The size of an aggregate sieve is designated by the number of meshes to the linear inch in that sieve. The higher the number, the finer the sieve. Any material retained on the No. 4 sieve can be considered either coarse or fine. Aggregates huger than No. 4 are all course; those smaller are all fines. No. 4 aggregates are the dividing point. The finest coarse-aggregate sieve is the same No. 4 used as the coarsest fine-aggregate sieve. With this exception, a coarse-aggregate sieve is designated by the size of one of its openings. The sieves commonly used are 1 1/2 inches, 3/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/8 inch, and No. 4. Any material that passes through the No. 200 sieve is too fine to be used in making concrete.

PARTICLE DISTRIBUTION.— Experience and experiments show that for ordinary building concrete, certain particle distributions consistently seem to produce the best results. For tine aggregate, the recommended distribution of particle sizes from No. 4 to No. 100 is shown in table 6-1.

The distribution of particle sizes in aggregate is determined by extracting a representative sample of the material, screening the sample through a series of sieves ranging in size from coarse to fine, and determining the percentage of the sample retained on each sieve. This procedure is called making a sieve analysis. For example, suppose the total sample weighs 1 pound. Place this on the No. 4 sieve, and shake the sieve until nothing more goes through. If what is left on the sieve weighs 0.05 pound, then 5 percent of the total sample is retained on the No. 4 sieve. Place what passes through on the No. 8 sieve and shake it. Suppose you find that what stays on this sieve weighs 0.1 pound. Since 0.1 pound is 10 percent of 1 pound, 10 percent of the total sample was retained on the No. 8 sieve. The cumulative retained weight is 0.15 pound. By dividing 0.15 by 1.0 pound, you will find that the total retained weight is 15 percent.

The size of coarse aggregate is usually specified as a range between a minimum and a maximum size; for example, 2 inches to No. 4, 1 inch to No. 4, 2 inches to 1 inch, and so on. The recommended particle size distributions vary with maximum and minimum nominal size limits, as shown in table 6-2.

Table 6-1.—Recommended Distribution of Particle Sizes

3/8 " 0
No. 4 18
No. 8 27
No. 16 20
No. 30 20
No. 50 10
No. 100 4


Table 6-2.—Recommended Maximum and Minimum Particle Sizes

tab0502.jpg (34069 bytes)

A blank space in table 6-2 indicates a sieve that is not required in the analysis. For example, for the 2 inch to No. 4 nominal size, there are no values listed under the 4-inch, the 3 1/2-inch, the 3-inch, and the 2 1/2-inch sieves. Since 100 percent of this material should pass through a 2 1/2-inch sieve, there is no need to use a sieve coarser than that size. For the same size designation (that is, 2 inch size aggregate), there are no values listed under the 1 1/2-inch, the 3/4-inch, and the 3/8-inch sieves. Experience has shown that it is not necessary to use these sieves in making this particular analysis.

Quality Standards

Since 66 to 78 percent of the volume of the finished concrete consists of aggregate, it is imperative that the aggregate meet certain minimum quality standards. It should consist of clean, hard, strong, durable particles free of chemicals that might interfere with hydration. The aggregate should also be free of any superfine material, which might prevent a bond between the aggregate and the cement-water paste. The undesirable substances most frequently found in aggregate are dirt, silt, clay, coal, mica, salts, and organic matter. Most of these can be removed by washing. Aggregate can be field-tested for an excess of silt, clay, and the like, using the following procedure:

  1. Fill a quart jar with the aggregate to a depth of 2 inches.
  2. Add water until the jar is about three-fourths full.
  3. Shake the jar for 1 minute, then allow it to stand for 1 hour.
  4. If, at the end of 1 hour, more than 1/8 inch of sediment has settled on top of the aggregate, as shown in figure 6-2, the material should be washed.

fig0502.jpg (9612 bytes)

Figure 6-2.—Quart jar method of determining silt content of sand.

An easily constructed rig for washing a small amount of aggregate is shown in figure 6-3.

fig0503.jpg (37188 bytes)

Figure 6-3.-Field-constructed rig for washing aggregate.

Weak, friable (easily pulverized), or laminated (layered) aggregate particles are undesirable. Especially avoid shale, stones laminated with shale, and most varieties of chart (impure flint-like rock). For most ordinary concrete work, visual inspection is enough to reveal any weaknesses in the coarse aggregate. For work in which aggregate strength and  durability are of vital importance, such as paving concrete, aggregate must be laboratory tested.

Handling and Storage

 A mass of aggregate containing particles of different sizes has a natural tendency toward segregation. "Segregation" refers to particles of the same size tending to gather together when the material is being loaded, transported, or otherwise disturbed. Aggregate should always be handled and stored by a method that minimizes segregation.

Stockpiles should not be built up in cone shapes, formed by dropping successive loads at the same spot. This procedure causes segregation. A pile should be built up in layers of uniform thickness, each made by dumping successive loads alongside each other.

If aggregate is dropped from a clamshell, bucket, or conveyor, some of the fine material may be blown aside, causing a segregation of fines on the lee side (that is, the side away from the wind) of the pile. Conveyors, clamshells, and buckets should be discharged in contact with the pile.

When a bin is being charged (filled), the material should be dropped from a point directly over the outlet. Material chuted in at an angle or material discharged against the side of a bin will segregate. Since a long drop will cause both segregation and the breakage of aggregate particles, the length of a drop into a bin should be minimized by keeping the bin as full as possible at all times. The bottom of a storage bin should always slope at least 50 toward the central outlet. If the slope is less than 50, segregation will occur as material is discharged out of the bin.


The two principal functions of water in a concrete mix are to effect hydration and improve workability. For example, a mix to be poured in forms must contain more water than is required for complete hydration of the cement. Too much water, however, causes a loss of strength by upsetting the wqtercement ratio. It also causes "water-gain" on the surface-a condition that leaves a surface layer of weak material, called laitance. As previously mentioned, an excess of water also impairs the watertightness of the concrete.

Water used in mixing concrete must be clean and free from acids, alkalis, oils, and organic materials. Most specifications recommend that the water used in mixing concrete be suitable for drinking, should such water be available.

Seawater can be used for mixing unreinforced concrete if there is a limited supply of fresh water. Tests show that the compressive strength of concrete made with seawater is 10 to 30 percent less than that obtained using fresh water. Seawater is not suitable for use in making steel-reinforced concrete because of the risk of corrosion of the reinforcement, particularly in warm and humid environments.


Admixtures include all materials added to a mix other than portland cement, water, and aggregates.

Admixtures are sometimes used in concrete mixtures to improve certain qualities, such as workability, strength, durability, watertightness, and wear resistance. They may also be added to reduce segregation, reduce the heat of hydration, entrain air, and accelerate or retard setting and hardening.

We should note that the same results can often be obtained by changing the mix proportions or by selecting other suitable materials without resorting to the use of admixtures (except air-entraining admixtures when necessary). Whenever possible, comparison should be made between these alternatives to determine which is more economical or convenient. Any admixture should be added according to current specifications and under the direction of the crew leader.

Workability Agents

Materials, such as hydrated lime and bentonite, are used to improve workability. These materials increase the fines in a concrete mix when an aggregate is tested deficient in fines (that is, lacks sufficient fine material).

Air-Entraining Agents

The deliberate adding of millions of minute disconnected air bubbles to cement paste, if evenly diffused, changes the basic concrete mix and increases durability, workability, and strength. The acceptable amount of entrained air in a concrete mix, by volume, is 3 to 7 percent. Air-entraining agents, used with types I, II, or III cement, are derivatives of natural wood resins, animal or vegetable fats, oils, alkali salts of sulfated organic compounds, and water-soluble soaps. Most air-entraining agents are in liquid form for use in the mixing water.


The only accepted accelerator for general concrete work is calcium chloride with not more than 2 percent by weight of the cement being used. This accelerator is added as a solution to the mix water and is used to speed up the strength gain. Although the final strength is not affected, the strength gain for the first 7 days is greatly affected. The strength gain for the first 7 days can be as high as 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi) over that of normal concrete mixes.


The accepted use for retarders is to reduce the rate of hydration. This permits the placement and consolidation of concrete before initial set. Agents normally used are fatty acids, sugar, and starches.


Portland cement is packed in cloth or paper sacks, each weighing 94 pounds. A 94-pound sack of cement amounts to about 1 cubic foot by loose volume.

Cement will retain its quality indefinitely if it does not come in contact with moisture. If allowed to absorb appreciable moisture in storage, however, it sets more slowly and strength is reduced. Sacked cement should be stored in warehouses or sheds made as watertight and airtight as possible. All cracks in roofs and walls should be closed, and there should be no openings between walls and roof. The floor should be above ground to protect the cement against dampness. All doors and windows should be kept closed.

Sacks should be stacked against each other to prevent circulation of air between them, but they should not be stacked against outside walls. If stacks are to stand undisturbed for long intervals, they should be covered with tarpaulins.

When shed or warehouse storage cannot be provided, sacks that must be stored in the open should be stacked on raised platforms and covered with waterproof tarps. The tarps should extend beyond the edges of the platform to deflect water away from the platform and the cement.

Cement sacks stacked in storage for long periods sometimes acquire a hardness called warehouse pack. This can usually be loosened by rolling the sack around. However, cement that has lumps or is not free flowing should not be used.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

Copyright   SweetHaven Publishing Services
All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015