On a recent visit to check for signs of life on the garlic patch in the garden, we discovered that a large chunk of stone had detached itself from a garden step. A wrongly placed foot could cause a treacherous tumble, a hefty dentist’s bill and, at the very least, a serious loss of dignity if anyone were to witness such a plunge. Winter frosts will only compound the damage, so if you have a broken step in your garden, now is a good time to take the task in hand.
Here’s how to fix your garden step…
Step One: Clean The Step
First things first – give the area a good sweep then get busy with a wire brush around and within the damaged area to remove any loose debris. New concrete, when patched onto old concrete, should stick all well and good, but for a better, more permanent fix, brush the area with a bonding solution before commencing. Failing that, washing the area down with water will help prevent the old concrete absorbing moisture from the newly applied layer which can be one of the reasons that causes a poor bond.
Step Two: Mix The Concrete
For this kind of job, a concrete mix made of 1 part cement, 3 parts sand, and 3 parts aggregate will do the trick. As the area we are fixing is relatively small, we grabbed a bag of ready mix concrete. These ‘just add water’ mixes are available in a variety of coarseness which is determined by the aggregate used. We used a rather coarse mixture, the reason being that it was the only type they had in our rubbish local hardware store. Admittedly the finish is not going to win any Chelsea Show Garden gold medals, but at least its stony texture should provide a bit more purchase for muddy wellies. If you want a smoother finish, choose a mix containing finer aggregate.
Mix your concrete on a flat surface. A large sheet of chipboard is good, but, we use an old plastic recycling bin lid, as the ridges help stop spillage and it’s nice and easy to clean afterwards. Heap the concrete mix into a pile, then turn it into a mini volcano by creating a depression in the top. Gradually pour the water into the hole, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides (which is what will inevitably happen) then carefully push the concrete mixture into the water and mix thoroughly. Add more water until you achieve the desired consistency. You want your concrete thick and porridge-like – not too dry, but not so wet that it runs when you start to apply it to your chosen area. It’s also a good idea to don a dust mask during this process as powdered concrete contains a myriad of nasty chemicals. You can de-mask once it’s mixed.
Step Three: Apply the concrete
Using a brick trowel, heap the concrete into the area, tapping with the edge of the trowel as you go to remove any air pockets that may form. Sculpt the concrete to the desired height and shape using smooth, even strokes. If you are after straight, sharp edges, you might want to construct a frame out of wood to constrain the concrete. We used a single piece of wood, pushed flush to the front of the step, held in position with a couple of bricks. To prevent the concrete from sticking to your wooden frame, apply a couple of coats of vegetable or engine oil to the wood first.
Step Four: Optional extras
For an extra grippy surface drag your wire brush over the wet concrete. The resulting cross-hatched lines will improve traction – an enhancement well worth implementing on steps as concrete can get pretty slippery when wet.
Step Five: Protect Your Handiwork
Your concrete step will take around three days to cure, depending on the outside temperature. If you think you might be in for a cold snap or a spot of rain, protect your handiwork with a damp hessian sheet or recycled plastic wrapping.
Step Six: Clean up, you mucky pup!
Although it’s tempting to fling your tools into the shed and put the kettle on for a congratulatory cup of tea, always remember to clean your tools. Concrete sticks to trowels like, er, concrete when dry, so wash them down immediately after use.