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It’s an old cliché of the Mafia: A fellow gets on the wrong side of La Cosa Nostra only to wind up wearing cement shoes at the bottom of a river. Well, those shoes may be made of cement, but little else in the world is composed of cement and cement only. Concrete, however, is everywhere. It’s even in the large, rotating drums of those ubiquitous vehicles we inaccurately refer to as cement trucks. It’s not surprising that people are always mixing up these sedimentary mixes, but while they look alike and behave similarly, solid differences exist between the two.
Cement vs. Concrete
Here’s one of the main reasons cement and concrete are so often confused: There is cement in concrete. That’s right, when cement is blended with water, it creates a paste. And when that paste is combined with aggregates like gravel and sand, the result is what we know and love as concrete. Cement itself is made from calcium and silica-rich materials, such as limestone and clay. Its unique adhesive properties make it an excellent binding agent, but on its own, cement is prone to cracking. Compared with concrete, which can last hundreds of years, cement is much less durable. To use an analogy, cement is to concrete as milk is to ice cream. Sure, ice cream has milk in it, but it isn’t milk. It’s actually much better.
Using Concrete and Cement
One of the strongest and longest-lasting materials known to man, concrete is used to build schools, bridges, sidewalks, and countless other structures. But you don’t need a hard hat to have success with concrete. Amateur handymen use it for DIY projects of all kinds, among them landscape edging, kitchen countertops, and front walkways. Cement, by comparison, is used mainly in smaller jobs (for example, grouting and specialized masonry) and in the repair of cracked or crumbling concrete.
Concrete and Beyond
Complicating matters further is the fact that you can buy dozens of different kinds of concrete. Each type responds to the demands of specific applications. For example, fiber-reinforced concrete, which resists cracking even under immense loads, ranks as a common choice for driveways. There’s also fast-track concrete, employed when time is of the essence. Before purchasing any concrete, be sure to consult with an expert or do a bit of research so that you understand the pros and cons of all the options available.