Looking for practical concrete finishing methods? Concrete finishing is key to creating both visually stunning and resilient surfaces. With this guide, SSG Shotcrete walks you through the essential techniques, from polishing to texturing, to equip you with the skills for a durable and appealing finish. Discover the tools needed and the critical steps that make a difference in the longevity and appearance of your concrete projects.

Key Takeaways

  • Concrete finishing is the last step in the installation process and involves a range of techniques that ensure the surface is not only durable and functional but also aesthetically pleasing, with proper maintenance promising longevity of up to a century.
  • There is a multitude of finishing techniques available to meet various design and functional needs, with popular options including polished concrete floors, stamped concrete, exposed aggregate, stenciled finishes, and broom finishing for slip resistance.
  • Specialty concrete finishes such as shotcrete offer an alternative to traditional methods, providing benefits in speed, cost efficiency, and versatility for complex shapes and designs, and are applicable in constructing smooth to textured surfaces.

Understanding Concrete Finishing

Concrete finishing, as the name implies, is the final step in the concrete installation process. It is the art and science of creating surfaces that are not only durable but also visually appealing. The right concrete flooring finish can transform a regular surface into a striking feature that endures for many years, contributing to the functionality and design of spaces. This transformation is not only aesthetic. Properly maintained concrete finishes can withstand heavy traffic and last up to a hundred years, making them an excellent investment for any building project.

Concrete is a highly versatile material, and this versatility extends to its finishes. From the smooth, sleek look of polished concrete floors to the textured appeal of stamped concrete surfaces, there is a concrete finish to suit every style and functionality need, including the popular textured concrete finish. These finishes are more than just a final touch; they are a cost-effective solution that combines superior functional attributes with creative design possibilities. But how exactly is a concrete finish achieved? What are the techniques involved? And how can these techniques be manipulated to achieve the different types of concrete finishes? Let’s delve further into this topic.

The Basics of Concrete Finishing

The process of concrete finishing begins with pouring the concrete. Tools like shovels or come-along rakes are used to distribute the concrete, ensuring a uniform layer is applied to the intended area. Once poured, the concrete is screeded or leveled. This involves dragging a flat edge across the surface in a sawing motion to bring the concrete to a specified grade.

After screeding, the next step is floating the concrete. This involves using a darby or float in overlapping arcs to flatten the surface, push down lumps, and fill voids. The edges of the concrete slab are then trimmed to create crisp, clean lines that enhance the overall look and form a seal around the slab.

Proper timing and training are essential during this process to ensure the concrete surface achieves the proper grade and a high-quality finish.

Tools and Equipment for Concrete Finishing

A variety of tools are employed in concrete finishing, each with a specific role in achieving the desired outcome. These include:

  • Shovels and come-along rakes for distributing the concrete
  • Screeds for leveling
  • Floats and darbies for flattening
  • Edgers for trimming the slab’s edges
  • Groovers and trowels for adding texture and smoothness.

The proper utilization of these tools is crucial. For instance, a come-along rake is ideal for moving large amounts of concrete, while a trowel is best for creating a smooth finish on the surface. Each tool is used at a specific stage of the concrete finishing process, and understanding how and when to use them is key to achieving a well-finished concrete surface.

Top Concrete Finishing Techniques

Illustration of polished concrete floors

Concrete finishing techniques are as diverse as the projects they are used on. Some popular types of concrete finishes include:

  • Polished concrete floors that gleam under the lights of a modern showroom
  • Stamped concrete surfaces that mimic the look of natural stone
  • Acid staining to create unique and vibrant colors
  • Exposed aggregate for a textured and decorative finish
  • Broom finishing for a slip-resistant surface

These techniques not only offer a range of aesthetic options but also provide various functional benefits, such as enhanced durability and slip resistance.

To achieve a smooth concrete surface, screeds are utilized to level the concrete, followed by trowels for smoothness. For larger projects, power trowels ensure an even, polished surface. Decorative concrete finishes provide unlimited choices of pigmentation, while polished concrete offers a durable high-gloss, smooth surface. Stenciled finishes, on the other hand, offer a cost-effective decorative alternative.

Let’s delve deeper into some of these techniques.

Polished Concrete Floors

Illustration of wet concrete surface

Polished concrete floors are a sight to behold. Heavy-duty machines equipped with diamond abrasives are used to grind down concrete surfaces to the desired level of shine and smoothness. This process results in achieving the polished concrete finish for the concrete surface. But before the polishing begins, the concrete surface must be prepared. This includes stripping any existing sealer, repairing cracks, and ensuring it is properly profiled and cleaned.

During the polishing process, chemical hardeners are applied to the concrete to enhance its strength and protect against water infiltration. The result is a trendy, modern look that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also durable. Polished concrete is a popular choice for indoor spaces such as:

  • large warehouses
  • retail stores
  • showrooms
  • office buildings
  • residential areas

due to its versatility and durability. It provides a sleek and modern look while also being easy to maintain.

Stamped Concrete Surfaces

Illustration of stamped concrete surface

Another popular concrete finishing technique is stamping. Stamped concrete finishes can mimic the look of:

  • Bricks
  • Natural stone
  • Tiles
  • Slate

This provides endless customizations and designs for visually appealing and durable surfaces. This technique is often used in outdoor spaces such as parks, patios, walkways, and landscaping to enhance aesthetic appeal.

However, as with all things, there are downsides to consider. While stamped concrete offers aesthetic advantages, it can be less durable and prone to cracking. As such, it may not be suitable for areas subjected to heavy loads. Therefore, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each finishing technique is crucial in making an informed decision on the best option for your project.

Exposed Aggregate Finish

If you’re looking for a finish that combines visual appeal with practical functionality, the exposed aggregate finish might be just the ticket. One of the steps in this technique is to wash the surface of new concrete to expose smooth stones, pebbles, and other materials that were used in the mix. This helps to achieve a textured and visually appealing finish. This is achieved by removing the top layer of freshly poured cement.

The result is a flat surface” that is not only visually striking but also has non-skid properties, making it ideal for:

To achieve the exposed aggregate finish, different types of acid washes may be utilized, and sealers or special coatings can be applied for added weather protection.

Specialty Concrete Finishes

Illustration of stenciled concrete design

In addition to the standard concrete finishing techniques, there are also specialty finishes that offer unique aesthetics and functionality. These include stenciled designs, the salt finish technique, and the broom finish. Each of these techniques offers its own set of benefits and can transform the look and feel of any space.

For instance, epoxy resin finishes create a high-gloss, vibrant surface suitable for high-traffic commercial applications, though they can be expensive and laborious to apply. On the other hand, unique exposed concrete finishes can be achieved by incorporating exotic materials such as rose quartz, limestone, crushed stone or colored glass, offering distinctive aesthetics. Let’s explore these specialty finishes in more detail.

Stenciled Concrete Designs

Stenciled concrete finishes are a creative and cost-effective decorative alternative. Using paper stencils, various intricate patterns and designs can be formed on concrete surfaces. This technique is easier to install compared to more labor-intensive techniques like a stamped concrete finish, making it a popular choice for many builders and homeowners.

From simple geometric patterns to complex, detailed designs, stenciled concrete offers endless possibilities for customization. Whether you’re aiming for a contemporary, minimalist look or a more ornate, traditional style, stenciled concrete can help you achieve your desired aesthetic.

Salt Finish Technique

Another specialty concrete finish is the salt finish. It’s achieved by applying coarse rock salt crystals to freshly poured concrete surfaces. Once the concrete sets, these crystals are washed off with water, leaving small pits in the surface. This technique helps in removing excess concrete, ensuring a unique and visually appealing finish.

The texture of a salt finish is characterized by the small bumps and indentations formed during the application process. It’s commonly used on:

  • driveways
  • patios
  • sidewalks
  • swimming pool decks

where a decorative, textured surface or polished finish is desired. However, it’s important to note that salt finish concrete surfaces require proper sealing to prevent water accumulation in the pits, which could lead to cracking and other types of concrete damage.

Broom Finish for Slip-Resistant Surfaces

If safety is a top concern, the broom finish is an excellent choice. This technique involves dragging a broom across the surface of the concrete, creating a series of ridges that provide increased traction. This makes it an ideal finish for outdoor settings and near water sources where slip-resistance is crucial.

The application of the broom finish is timed while the concrete mix is still wet to ensure the finish is effective. With the right application, a broom finish not only enhances safety but also adds a subtle decorative touch to the concrete surface.

Tips for Successful Concrete Finishing

Now that we’ve explored the various concrete finishing techniques, let’s discuss some tips for successful concrete finishing. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a DIY enthusiast, these tips will help you achieve a high-quality finish that’s both durable and visually appealing.

The finishing process is integral to concrete work. It starts with the concrete pour and continues until the material has cured for maximum strength and durability. One of the crucial steps in the finishing process is allowing the finish to dry. This is important for the concrete floor to fully set and be ready for use.

Proper Surface Preparation

Proper surface preparation is the foundation of a successful concrete finish. This involves assessing the concrete’s strength and moisture content to ensure proper coat adhesion. It also includes the removal of laitance, dirt, debris, and contaminants like oil and grease from the concrete surface.

Surface imperfections such as protrusions exceeding 1/16 inch should be ground down, and any cracks or holes should be patched and cured before the coating application. Incorporating control joints into the concrete slab is also necessary to eliminate unsightly random cracks as the concrete cures and shrinks.

Timing and Moisture Control

Timing and moisture control are crucial to achieving a high-quality concrete and troweled finish throughout. The right combination of these two elements is critical for an optimal troweled concrete finish. Before starting the troweling process, it’s essential to wait for excess water to evaporate from the concrete surface.

Initial curing techniques, such as covering with plastic, should be applied soon after placing the wet concrete. This helps manage moisture loss and maintain a consistent temperature until the troweling process begins.

After the final finish has been applied, final curing methods should be used to control moisture loss and maintain a consistent concrete temperature.

Curing and Sealing

The process of curing and sealing is the final step in concrete finishing and it’s critical for the concrete to develop its full strength and durability. Curing involves maintaining adequate moisture and temperature to ensure the concrete sets and hardens properly.

After the concrete has cured, applying a high-quality seal is essential to:

  • Prevent water penetration
  • Enhance longevity
  • Protect concrete surfaces from moisture, staining, and corrosion
  • Safeguard the finished product
  • Ensure it can withstand the test of time.

Shotcrete Finishing: A Versatile Alternative

Let’s now explore a technique that offers a versatile alternative to traditional concrete methods: shotcrete finishing. Shotcrete is a method of applying concrete projected at high velocity primarily onto a vertical or overhead surface. This process offers distinct advantages in speed, cost savings, and adaptability for various shapes and surfaces.

Shotcrete finishing offers several advantages over traditional methods:

  • Faster construction times due to high-pressure application
  • Reduction in formwork and shoring, resulting in cost savings
  • Enhanced bonding characteristics for superior structural strength and durability.

What is Shotcrete?

Shotcrete is a concrete application process where the material is projected at high velocity onto a surface. This can be achieved using either a dry or wet-mix process. The process involves spraying concrete through a high-pressure hose, which allows for quick solidification and strong adhesion.

One of the key advantages of shotcrete is its versatility. Its application technique enables it to conform to various shapes and surfaces, accommodating complex designs. This makes it a popular choice for projects that require a flexible and adaptable concrete application method.

Advantages of Shotcrete Finishing

Shotcrete finishing offers several advantages. For starters, it can result in construction time savings of 33% to 50% when compared to traditional form-and-pour processes. Significant cost factors in traditional concrete processes, such as crane time, are notably reduced or even eliminated with the use of shotcrete.

In addition, using shotcrete can lead to savings of 50 to 100% on formwork expenses compared to conventional concrete methods. Furthermore, shotcrete can be installed horizontally, vertically, or overhead, conforming to nearly any shape or contour with minimal formwork needed.

Shotcrete Applications and Best Practices

Shotcrete is a very versatile material and concrete finishing method that can be shaped into various styles. While still malleable, shotcrete allows finishers to work the material into various desired finishes. This flexibility, combined with its quick application, makes shotcrete a suitable choice for a wide variety of construction projects. Some common finishes achieved with shotcrete include:

  • Smooth finish
  • Exposed aggregate finish
  • Stamped finish
  • Stenciled finish
  • Rock texture finish

These finishes can be customized to meet the specific design requirements of each project.

As with any construction procedure, following best practices is key to achieving a successful outcome. For shotcrete applications, this involves understanding the specific project needs, choosing the right mix process (wet or dry), and ensuring the application is performed by skilled professionals. With the right approach, shotcrete can offer a streamlined alternative to cast-in-place concrete, being applicable in situations where traditional methods are not viable or less economical.


In conclusion, concrete finishing is a versatile and valuable skill in the construction industry. From the smooth allure of polished concrete floors to the decorative appeal of stamped and stenciled designs, the possibilities are virtually endless. While the techniques and processes may vary, the goal remains the same: to transform ordinary concrete into functional and visually appealing surfaces. With the right tools, techniques, and best practices, you can create stunning concrete finishes that enhance the value and aesthetics of any space.

Let this knowledge inspire you to consider the possibilities that SSG Shotcrete offers for your next project.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is concrete finishing?

Concrete finishing involves treating freshly poured concrete with different techniques and tools to create a durable and visually appealing surface.

What are the common techniques used in concrete finishing?

Common techniques used in concrete finishing include polished concrete floors, stamped concrete surfaces, exposed aggregate finishes, and shotcrete finishing, which offer a variety of aesthetic and functional options.

What is shotcrete?

Shotcrete is a method of applying concrete by projecting the material at high velocity onto a surface for quick solidification and strong adhesion.