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What’s the Difference Between Cement and Concrete and Mortar?

Cement, concrete and mortar, these terms may be confusing for DIYers who can lump them together as messy materials used in masonry to form an even surface or bind an object to another.

Often the words are used in interchangeably – and incorrectly. Although the terms are often used in a synonymous sense, cement, concrete and mortar are three different materials:

  • Cement is a fine binding powder, not used by itself, but a component of concrete and mortar and stucco, tile grout and fine adhesives.
  • When building with brick, block and stone, the mortar is comprised of cement, sandstone and lime; binding material is used.
  • Concrete is a very strong construction material consisting of cement, sand and a large (gravel) aggregate.

What is Cement?

In both concrete and mortar, cement is the binding element. It usually contains limestone, clay, shell and silica sand, the most prevalent ingredient being limestone. These substances are crushed and heated to approximately 2700 Fahrenheit with other ingredients (including iron ore).

The material, known as the clinker, is ground in a fine powder and is packed to be used to mix different cemented materials, including mortar and concrete.

You might see cement referred to as Portland cement. That’s because it was produced first on the island of Portland on the coast of England in the 1800s by a mason, Joseph Aspdin in Leeds, that matched the colour with stone from the quarries.

The most common type of cement in building materials is still Portland cement today. It is a “hydraulic” type of cement, which simply means that when combined with water it is set and hardened.

What is Concrete?

Concrete is a mixture and a complete building material used for foundation walls, concrete slabs, patios, and many other masonry structures.

It is unique because it starts as a straightforward, dry mixture, and then becomes a flexible, semi-liquid material that can be formed and dries into a hard as rock material we know as concrete. It is also versatile.

For additional strength and to minimise cracking that can occur in solid a concrete mix, metal reinforcement like a wire mesh is added in numerous cement structures.

Concrete includes and consists of cement, sands, gravel, or other fine and rough compounds. Water is added to activate cement which constitutes the binding element of a solid compound.

In bags which integrates cement, sand and gravel you are able to purchase ready mix concrete bags, all you need to do is add water. For small projects like the anchoring of fence posts or the construction of small pads, they are helpful.

For large projects, you can either buy concrete bags and combine them with sand and gravel by yourself with a wheelbarrow or another large container; or you can purchase premixed concrete supplied usually by lorry.

What is Mortar Mix?

Mortar mix is yet another building material composed of cement, mixed in this case with fine sands and water, adding lime to improve the product’s durability.

Adding water to this combination triggers the cement in such a manner that it will harden, or cure, just like concrete. Mortar is not as solid as concrete and is not usually used as a single material for building. Rather, it is the “glue” that holds bricks, concrete block, stone, and other materials made from masonry together.

It can be mixed on-site using a cement mixer or merely mixed in a shovel or hoe in a wheelbarrow or mixing tub. Mortar is usually sold in bags in a dry pre-mixed form, combined with water.

Mortar types have been developed for various applications. It is important to use the appropriate type of mortar for masonry when work with bricks and other macerating devices because some mortars are too hard for some types of maceration and can crack when used incorrectly.

Grout is alike product but formulated without the lime additive as a form of mortar. Mortar has a higher water content so that ceramic and stone tiles flow and fill gaps. The grout is not a binding material due to its high water content, it only serves for filling gaps.s

Thin-set is a related concrete and highly fine sand product, together with a water retention agent such as a cellulose alkyl. It is used to attach ceramic and stone tiles, such as cement boards, to a substrate. Some small sets have latex and polymer additives to improve the strength of the bond. Thin-set has a prominent quality of adhesives and is sometimes called thin-set adhesives.

How Can Total Concrete & Screed Help?

Our friendly team based in Wolverhampton can offer advice on all aspects of your concrete requirements, whether it be the type of concrete you need or the estimated quantity. We can then arrange fast delivery the same or next day and we are flexible with appointment times to suit your schedule.

Our state of the art volumetric mixing trucks can mix any grade of concrete you require on site and you only pay for what you use.

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