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Experimental Concrete Imprinting Roller for brick or cobble effect.

Concrete is a cheap and easy material for building driveways and paths.  It is convenient to mix, requires very little specialist equipment and provides a very durable surface.  There is one problem though, it is a bit ugly and utilitarian, especially in places like Cornwall where the available aggregate is a dull grey colour as it is produced from China Clay waste.

Various finishes have been tried to improve the look of concrete and these days some stunning results are achieved by specialists using imprinting mats and stains. They look better than proper brick paving.  However, such techniques require specialist skill and equipment which I don't have.  Also a fancy driveway would not appeal to my somewhat industrial outlook on life or survive being used as a plant repair yard!

For my yard I wanted to use poured concrete as I could then do the work myself cheaply and it would be a durable surface which would withstand the punishment of any engineering projects.  But I wanted to finish the surface so it didn't look exactly like an abandoned World War II airfield! I thought about imprinting mats (which seemed to cost a fortune) and then a friend mentioned that years ago he had seen a "pimple roller" which left a pattern in the concrete.  That gave me an idea.  A bit of thinking and welding in the garage and I came up with this simple roller.

Concrete roller

Here it is being tested on a small sample of concrete.  For a Mark I experimental version I was quite pleased.

The roller was made out of two Fiat X1/9 wheel spacers and some steel rod salvaged from an old clothes airer! It leaves a simple brick or cobble effect pattern when rolled by hand through the freshly laid concrete.  No need to wait for a critical moment in the hardening process and the cost of roller was next to nothing.

Encouraged by the success of my initial experiment the time came to try laying a big area for real.  I dug out the first area of driveway to be concreted to a depth of 4 inches using the Fleming Micron, put the necessary formwork in and built a suitable tamp which can be used by one man.  I mixed the concrete 5 to 1 mix in my 1979 Villiers powered Baromix concrete mixer, tamped it, floated it and then imprinted it with the roller as I went.  I used a string line to get the first run with the roller straight.  As the job progressed the imprinting became a bit less straight and in future I might try using the string line every third row or so.  This is an experimental technique so I'll just have to work it out as I go.  Concrete laid with brick effect

You can see in the picture above the left hand side is better than the right. Here's the result, the next morning. Note the fencing to keep cats off the concrete until it was hard.

Considering this is an experimental finish and my first attempt at a large area, it hasn't turned out bad. It's got the practical benefits of concrete with a bit less of the utility about it.

I got 11 tons of three quarter to dust (aggregate) delivered for £140.  This is enough to do a very big area even at 4 or 5 inches deep.  So far I have laid about 2.5 times the area shown above using 38 bags of cement which cost about £2.50 each.  I still have quite a pile of aggregate left so the cost of surfacing my yard is yet to reach £250. So concrete is definitely a cheap option.

The second phase of my drive I wasn't so pleased with.  It looks ok but I made the mistake of making the concrete too wet, this made the imprinting rather tricky.  I'll watch for that in future. 

Phase 3 was great and the best bit so far, I got the mix just nice and the pattern looks good. With a bit of development this type of roller could be even more successful.