Concrete is the name applied to an artificial combination of various mineral substances which under chemical action become incorporated into a solid mass. There are one or two compositions of comparatively trifling importance which receive the same name, though differing fundamentally from true concrete, their solidification being independent of chemical influence. These compositions only call for passing mention; they are: Tar concrete, made of broken stones (macadam) and tar; iron concrete, composed of iron turnings, asphalt, bitumen, and pitch; and lead concrete, consisting of broken bricks set in molten lead. The last two varieties, with rare exceptions, are only used in connection with military engineering, such as for fortifications.

Concrete proper consists essentially of two groups or classes of ingredients. The first, termed the aggregate, is a heterogeneous mass, in itself inactive, of mineral material, such as shingle, broken stone, broken brick, gravel, and sand. These are the substances most commonly in evidence, but other ingredients are also occasionally employed, such as slag from iron furnaces. Burnt clay, in any form, and earthenware, make admirable material for incorporation. The second class constitutes the active agency which produces adhesion and solidification. It is termed the matrix, and consists of hydraulic lime or cement, combined with water.

One of the essential features in good concrete is cleanliness and an entire absence of dirt, dust, greasy matter, and impurities of any description. The material will preferably be sharp and angular, with a rough, porous surface, to which the matrix will more readily adhere than to smooth, vitreous substances. The specific gravity of the aggregate will depend upon the purpose for which the concrete is to be used. For beams and lintels, a light aggregate, such as coke breeze from gasworks, is permissible, especially when the work is designed to receive nails. On the other hand, for retaining walls, the heaviest possible aggregate is desirable on the ground of stability.

The aggregate by no means should be uniform in size. Fragments of different dimensions are most essential, so that the smaller material may fill up the interstices of the larger. It is not infrequently stipulated by engineers that no individual fragment shall be more than 4 inches across, and the material is often specified to pass through a ring 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. The absolute limits to size for the aggregate, however, are determinable by a number of considerations, not the least important of which is the magnitude and bulk of the work in which it is to be employed. The particles of sand should also be of varying degrees of coarseness. A fine, dustlike sand is objectionable; its minute subdivision prevents complete contact with the cement on all its faces. Another desideratum is that the particles should not be too spherical, a condition brought about by continued attrition. Hence, pit sand is better in many cases than river sand or shore sand.

The matrix is almost universally Portland cement. It should not be used in too hot a condition, to which end it is usually spread over a wooden floor to a depth of a few inches, for a few days prior to use. By this means, the aluminate of lime becomes partially hydrated, and its activity is thereby modified.

Roman cement and hydraulic lime may also be used as matrices.

Portland cement will take a larger proportion of sand than either Roman cement or hydraulic lime; but with the larger ratios of sand, its tenacity is, of course, correspondingly reduced. One part of cement to 4 parts of sand should therefore be looked upon as the upper limit, while for the strongest mortar the proportion need hardly exceed 1 part of cement to 1.5 or 2 parts of sand. In the ensuing calculations there is assumed a ratio of 1 to 3. For impermeability, the proportion of 1 to 2 should be observed, and for Roman cement this proportion should never be exceeded. The ratio will even advantageously be limited to 2 to 3. For hydraulic lime equal parts of sand and cement are suitable, though 2 parts of sand to 1 part of cement may be used.

The quantity of mortar required in reference to the aggregate is based on the vacuities in the latter. For any particular aggregate the amount of empty space may be determined by filling a tank of known volume with the minerals and then adding sufficient water to bring to a level surface. The volume of water added (provided, of course, the aggregate be impervious or previously saturated) gives the net volume of mortar required. To this it is necessary to make some addition (say 10 per cent of the whole), in order to insure the thorough flushing of every part of the work.

Assuming that the proportion of interstices is 30 per cent and adding 10 for the reason just stated, we derive 40 parts as the quantity of mortar to 100 — 10 = 90 parts of the aggregate. An allowance of 0.25 volume for shrinkage brings the volume of the dry materials (sand and cement) of the mortar to 40 + 40/3 = 53⅓ parts, which, divided in the ratio of 1 to 3, yields: 531

Cement 53⅓ / 4 =....... 13⅓ parts

Sand, X 53⅓ =....... 40 parts

Aggregate........... 90 parts

Total..........143⅓ parts

As the resultant concrete is 100 parts, the total shrinkage is 30 per cent. Expressed in terms of the cement, the concrete would have a composition of 1 part cement, 3 parts sand, 7 parts gravel and broken stone, and it would form, approximately, what is commonly known as 7 to 1 concrete.

There are other ratios depending on the proportion of sand. Thus we have:

Cement                Sand              Aggregate

1...........1.5...........4⅓

1...........2 ...........5

1...........2.5...........6

1...........3 ...........7

1...........3.5...........7.5

1...........4 ...........8.25

The cost of concrete may be materially reduced without affecting the strength or efficacy of the work, by a plentiful use of stone "plums" or "burrs." These are bedded in the fluid concrete during its deposition in situ, but care must be taken to see that 'they are thoroughly surrounded by mortar and not in contact with each other. Furthermore, if they are of a porous nature, they should be well wetted before use.

The mixing of concrete is important. If done by hand, the materials forming the aggregate will be laid out on a platform and covered by the cement in a thin layer. The whole should be turned over thrice in the dry state, and as many times wet, before depositing, in order to bring about thorough and complete amalgamation. Once mixed, the concrete is to be deposited immediately and allowed to remain undisturbed until the action of setting is finished. Deposition should be effected, wherever possible, without tipping from a height of more than about 6 feet, as in greater falls there is a likelihood of the heavier portions of the aggregate separating from the lighter. In extensive undertakings, concrete is more economically mixed by mechanical appliances.

The water used for mixing may be either salt or fresh, so far as the strength of the concrete is concerned. For surface work above the ground level, salinity in any of the ingredients is objectionable, since it tends to produce efflorescence— an unsightly, floury deposit, difficult to get rid of. The quantity of water required cannot be stated with exactitude; it will depend upon the proportion of the aggregate and its porosity. It is best determined by experiment in each particular case. Without being profuse enough to "drown" the concrete, it should be plentiful enough to act as an efficient intermediary between every particle of the aggregate and every particle of the matrix. Insufficient moisture is, in fact, as deleterious as an excess.