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What Is Flatwork?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Flatwork includes all concrete work located along a horizontal plane. This includes indoors projects like floors or concrete stairs, as well as outdoor elements like patios, sidewalks, and driveways. Concrete flatwork does not refer to vertical structures like walls or bridges. These two types of concrete work are generally divided in this manner because of the difference in skills and techniques required to successfully complete each type. While flatwork is relatively simple and requires basic tools, other concrete work is generally much more complex and may require substantial engineering and reinforcement.

To create concrete flatwork, contractors start by excavating the soil in the area where the concrete will be poured. Some projects may require a gravel or sand base for support, while others can be poured directly onto the soil. Wooden or composite forms are used to create a mold for the wet concrete. Rebar or wire mesh can be placed into the mold to help support and reinforce the structure, though this is not always required on basic flatwork. Finally, the concrete mixture is poured into the mold and allowed to harden, or cure, to a solid finish.

Concrete flatwork may also include repair or maintenance work to fix existing concrete surfaces. Over time, concrete walkways or floors can develop chips or cracks, which are not only unsightly, but also a threat to the integrity of the structure. For minor cracks, contractors inject the crack or void with special concrete caulk, or fill it with a simple patching compound. Major repairs may require that the concrete is broken out and replaced with new, reinforced flatwork. Damaged surfaces may also be coated with a thin top layer of concrete to refinish the surface.

Simple flatwork projects are often well-suited to do-it-yourself (DIY) homeowners. For example, a small concrete patio or walkway is an easy project for even novice installers, and requires only basic tools and supplies. Large-scale projects like sidewalks or driveways often require the skill and equipment that only an experienced contractor can provide.

Despite its name, concrete flatwork does not have to feature a boring, flat finish. Many modern applications are highly textured, with special patterns and colors used to give the concrete a pleasing look. For example, stamps or molds can be used to give concrete patios the look of traditional brick or stone. Even specialty trowel work can add swirls or other designs to a paved structure. To create a smooth and simple look, a wooden float or trowel is used to remove excess concrete and flatten out the surface as it dries.

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Discussion Comments
By Animandel — On Jan 27, 2015

I have been spending a lot of time in home improvement stores lately. While looking around, I have seen the cement patchwork kits you can use for concrete flatwork. I always thought working with cement was better left to the professionals, but the associates at the home improvement stores assure me that I could fix the cracks in the sidewalk leading to our front door.

I am going to take a free concrete flatwork class next weekend and see if I think I can complete the job. If I do it myself, I will save a good amount of money.

By Drentel — On Jan 27, 2015

@Feryll - If you were completing an entire concrete driveway then that would be a job that takes a certain amount of skill and experience, but it sounds like you only have to get a relatively thin line of concrete on the edge of a driveway. This is not a particularly difficult job. As this article says, the average amateur can do this job.

Just be sure to dig out a level trench and use boards if you are going to extend the height of the concrete beyond the sides of the trench. Most people worry that the cement is going to harden before they have done everything they need to do. This isn't really a major problem for most jobs when you plan properly.

By Feryll — On Jan 26, 2015

I want to install a concrete border for our driveway. Currently the driveway has pieces of wood lying horizontally that look like they could have been part of an old railroad track along the edge. I want to put down the concrete because the wood is rotting and it's not really that pleasing to the eye.

My girlfriend sent me an article on an "easy" and inexpensive way to do this, but I have been hesitant to start the project because working with cement and doing concrete flatwork seems like it could be difficult. My biggest concerns would be getting the concrete spread evenly, and getting it put down so that it wouldn't crack in a few months.

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