Hand mixing is always imperfect, laborious, and slow and it is impossible by this method to secure the thorough stirring and kneading action which a good mixing machine gives. If a machine taking 5 or 10 horse-power requires 5 minutes to mix one-third of a yard of concrete, it is of course absurd to expect that two men will do the same work by hand in the same time. And the machine never gets tired or shirks if not constantly urged, as it is the nature of men to do. It is hard to see how the manufacture of concrete blocks can be successfully carried on without a concrete mixer. Even for a small business it will pay well in economy of labor and excellence of work to install such a machine, which may be driven by a small electric motor or gasoline engine. In work necessarily so exact as this, requiring perfectly uniform mixtures and use of a constant percentage of water, batch mixers, which take a measured quantity of material, mix it, and discharge it, at each operation, are the only satisfactory type, and continuous mixers are unsuitable. Those of the pug-mill type, consisting of an open trough with revolving paddles and bottom discharge, are positive and thorough in their action, and permit the whole operation to be watched and controlled. They should be provided with extensible arms of chilled iron, which can be lengthened as the ends become worn.

Concrete Block Systems

For smaller and less costly buildings, separate blocks, made at the factory and built up into the walls in the same manner as brick or blocks of stone, are simpler, less expensive, and much more rapid in construction than monolithic work. They also avoid some of the faults to which solid concrete work, unless skillfully done, is subject, such as the formation of shrinkage cracks.

There are two systems of block making, differing in the consistency of the concrete used:

1.   Blocks tamped or pressed from semi-wet concrete, and removed at once from the mold.

2.   Blocks poured or tamped from wet concrete, and allowed to remain in the mold until hardened.

Tamped Blocks from Semi-Wet Mixture

These are practically always made on a block machine, so arranged that as soon as a block is formed the cores and side plates are removed and the block lifted from the machine. By far the larger part of the blocks on the market are made in this way. Usually these are of the one-piece type, in which a single block, provided with hollow cores, makes the whole thickness of the wall. Another plan is the two-piece system, in which the face and back of the wall are made up of different blocks, so lapping over each other as to give a bond and hold the wall together. Blocks of the two-piece type are generally formed in a hand or hydraulic press.

Various shapes and sizes of blocks are commonly made; the builders of the most popular machines have, however, adopted the standard length of 32 inches and height of 9 inches for the full-sized block, with thickness of 8, 10 and 12 inches. Lengths of 24, 16, and 8 inches are also obtained on the same machines by the use of parting plates and suitably divided face plates; any intermediate lengths and any desired heights may be produced by simple adjustments or blocking off.

Blocks are commonly made plain, rock-faced, tool-faced, paneled, and of various ornamental patterns. New designs of face plates are constantly being added by the most progressive machine makers.