Concrete is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous materials we’ve ever used, aside from alloys and other metals that are usually worked with. For such a common material, there can be a lot of things we may not know about concrete—right down to the basic principles.

That’s understandable: Not everyone is a concrete worker and we’re better off not handling something that we don’t fully know how to use. But even just educating ourselves on the simplest things, like how concrete works, can give us a heads up on how to treat it when it comes to repairs, sourcing, or even renovations.

So, what exactly makes concrete the way it is? There are three important parts:

The Aggregate

The aggregate is what makes up the majority of the concrete. These fine or coarse particles are often the materials that give finished concrete structure stability and form, much like packing material into a hollow tube reinforces it. Aggregates can be made from a variety of stones and materials, which can determine how strong it will eventually be.

Size matters when it comes to aggregates. The more distributed size ratio (or the mixture between big particles and small particles) a certain aggregate mixture has, the easier it will be for the binder to work, and the lower the cost will be.

The Binder

The binder is the mixture that allows the aggregates to combine in a solid form (when dried) and a liquid form (once mixed). Binders can be made of different chemicals, but the most common one that’s used is cement. Cement and concrete aren’t the same: while all cement may be part of the concrete, not all concrete may use cement.

The most common type of binder is Portland cement, but other varieties exist that can provide additional benefits to the concrete mixture. They’re often used in special construction projects or combined with reinforced concrete for high-rise buildings.

Water

Female worker concrete mix

Finally, water is an essential part of any concrete mixture. It allows the aggregate and the binder to mix together, fills in the gaps, and turns the mixture into a paste-like form that’s easy to apply and work with. Water in concrete must be precisely measured and mixed in order to get the most optimal output of concrete to use.

A lower water-to-cement ratio typically yields stronger concrete, but this can be changed or reinforced using a different binder. Typically, the most important part of the water in the concrete is quality; impurities will greatly affect the structure and stability of the concrete as it dries.

There are other additives that you can add to the concrete mixture, such as chemicals that change the way the concrete behaves before and after it sets, and reinforcement materials such as rebar and steel. However, concrete by itself is a simple mixture of materials that must be mixed in a very exact process in order to get the best possible results.

The application is also extremely important: the right plastering tools and equipment make working with concrete easier and can lower costs. When all of these factors work in unison, it becomes possible to create a sturdy and sound structure with ease.