Having Fun with Concrete
Concrete has enjoyed a serious boost in PR in recent years. Sure, ancient civilizations like the Romans and Greeks used their version of concrete to make extravagant structures, some of which survive today, but the more recent history of concrete has been somewhat more… drab.
Highway dividers, boring gray skyscrapers, parking lots—these types of things typically spring to mind when you think of concrete, but that is changing. With a range of new and interesting concrete-based products—some which we’ll talk about in more detail shortly—the humble construction material has never been so popular.
GFRC—or glass fiber reinforced concrete—is a particularly interesting option for this new age of concrete use, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. So, before we get into the best uses for GFRC concrete, let’s take a closer look at what it is.
What is GFRC Concrete?
Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete is, as the name suggests, a type of concrete that is reinforced with pieces of glass fiber. This addition to the ingredients of the concrete gives it a considerably higher tensile and flexural strength, meaning it is both stronger and less susceptible to cracking than regular concrete.
It even improves on the compressive strength of concrete, which, given that compressive strength is the thing that regular concrete excels at, is pretty impressive. This added strength can be used for a number of things, such as making lightweight panels that are extremely durable.
To understand how this works, it can be easier to think of the concrete itself as merely a binder, holding the glass fibers together. The glass fibers add a considerable amount of strength, and the concrete holds it all together. Where concrete might normally crack or sheer under a particular pressure, the glass fibers contribute more resistance, allowing the concrete to stay in one piece. The fibers are small and face in all directions, allowing them to work their strengthening magic in all directions.
Like many types of concrete, GFRC can be smoothed and polished down to an almost glass-like finish with the help of some sealant. The typical notion of a rough, somewhat dusty material that never quite seems clean and stains really easy may be well earned, but that doesn’t mean it applies to anything made using concrete.
Now that we’re all on the same page regarding what GFRC concrete is let’s get into the fun stuff. Here’s our list of fun things you can make with GFRC concrete!
One of the most popular uses for concrete outside of its role as a common, boring construction material, is as countertops in kitchens, gardens, and other areas where a solid-yet stylish countertop is needed.
Concrete countertops serve as a compelling alternative to things like granite because they are a little cheaper and a little more flexible in terms of what you can achieve.
For example, a granite countertop has to be cut to shape and delivered to your project. This can make some smaller projects difficult if the countertop shape is not simple, like a straight rectangle, or perhaps an L shape.
Introducing curves or unusual shapes makes granite a less appealing option since you not only have to have the top cut to an unusual shape, but you have to accurately size up the shape in the first place. Getting the shape wrong will be a costly mistake if you can’t make things work with the granite that’s been cut. In some cases, it’s just not practical!
With concrete, on the other hand, you can simply frame out a mold where your countertop will go, and pour the concrete in there directly. You can guarantee there won’t be any problems with fitting because the countertop will have been molded to fit the exact shape you want. And, with GFRC concrete, you can achieve stronger, lighter countertops than you could with regular concrete, which would still need reinforcing, by the way.
Concrete countertops are polished and sealed to make for a stunning industrial-looking finish that looks great, whether it’s in your kitchen, around your barbeque, or even in your restaurant or bar.
One of the good things about GFRC concrete is it is very easy to mold. That, coupled with its increased tensile and flexural strength, makes it an ideal material for a bit of homemade crafting, and coasters are about as easy as it gets when it comes to crafting. After all, they’re just a flat shape! And getting started with coasters could open the door to a range of other projects as you build your confidence in the process.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shapes—not all coasters have to be a flat disc or square. Just remember that a mug or glass needs to be able to sit safely on it when it’s finished, so you should probably stick with the “flat” part, but go crazy with the shape.
Naturally, the go-to thing when talking about molding garden ornaments is gnomes. You could buy a mold for a gnome, or sculpt one yourself and make a mold from that. A coat of paint and you’re done!
Don’t limit yourself to gnomes, however. There is a whole range of options out there for you to try, from abstract bird baths to intricate shapes for your flowerbed. You’ve probably seen those garden lights that are disguised as stones—why not make some of your own? If you’re feeling artistic, you could make some kind of embossed design to hang on a wall. You could even try your hand at…
So, naturally, we would advise you to get plenty of practice under your belt before making something that people are going to rest all of their weight on. GFRC concrete is strong, but it still needs to be used in sufficient proportions for it to work.
Examples of a piece of GFRC furniture can range from simple rectangular benches all the way up to complex postmodern pieces of art. Again, it all comes down to how much artistic flair you have and how experienced you are at making things with GFRC. A good starting point is small garden stools, but you can soon move onto benches and even more elaborate designs. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could make a full set of garden furniture—or interior furniture if you like that industrial look inside—and really show off your skills the next time you have friends over.
This applies to almost any material, but wood is particularly suited for this. There are times when you want the look of a natural piece of wood—a log, for instance, or perhaps a tree stump. The problem with natural-yet-dead wood is that it rots, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop that process.
With a bit of time, patience, and some GFRC concrete, you can make a mold and create a concrete substitute. A bit of careful painting, and you can easily end up with something that looks just as good as the real thing, but it will never rot or become home to any unwanted creepy crawlies.
Spruce Up Your Bathroom
One of the things that the more ornamental side of concrete lends itself well to is anything involving water. There’s something about the smooth, gray surface of polished concrete being lightly caressed by water that is deeply satisfying.
There are a number of ways you can incorporate GFRC concrete into your bathroom. From something as big as having a luxurious concrete bath made—make sure your floor is rated for that kind of weight, especially if upstairs—down to just making ornamental stones to decorate the room. And, of course, it can be used as flooring or for countertops, as well.
If you’re looking for something different to eat your cereal out of or a mug with a satisfying heft to it, GFRC concrete might be the material you are looking for. This is something that might be even more appealing if you have gone for some concrete furniture, as mentioned above.
At the end of the day, GFRC concrete can be used for almost anything that this kind of construction material is used for. Whether it is coating the outside of a wall, leveling the floor of your garage, or even building the foundations of your garden shed. The fact that it is also very well suited to smaller, more intricate projects just speaks to the versatility this material has.
For smaller projects, it is well within the realm of possibility for your average DIY enthusiast to handle the task, but even the larger projects are starting to be undertaken by non-professionals more often. For example, there are plenty of videos on YouTube detailing various DIY concrete countertop builds, as well as plenty of videos by professionals advising on how to undertake one of these builds.
Not every project has to be the epitome of professionalism, however. Sometimes it’s nice to just have fun with something, and if you want to make quirky little ornaments with GFRC, there is no reason you shouldn’t give it a go.