Concrete Vibrating Tips

May 02, 2019

Vibrating is a critical step on many concrete construction projects. When concrete is poured, it might have hundreds or even thousands of air bubbles, which can substantially weaken the concrete structure. Concrete vibrators eliminate air bubbles by vigorously shaking the freshly poured concrete. Using a concrete vibrator during a pour is not only recommended; in many cases it is also a building code requirement.

How Concrete Vibrators Work

Concrete vibrators come in different forms and can be electric or air-driven. Applications for concrete vibration can be grouped into three basic categories:

  • Formwork vibration: Formwork vibration is commonly used in precast concrete construction and involves mounting the vibrators to the outsides of the concrete forms. For larger pours, the external form vibrators are often spaced 6 feet apart. 
  • Surface vibration: With surface vibration, large vibrators (sometimes called "jumpers") are directed manually onto the surface of the poured concrete. This method is limited to slab depth of about 6 inches or less, but it provides a smooth surface that is especially desirable when appearance is important. 
  • Internal vibration: Internal concrete vibrators are most common type used. Many can be handled by a single operator. The process is relatively simple: The worker quickly jams a probe-like internal vibrator down into the wet concrete, then slowly withdraws it. 

How Long to Vibrate Concrete?

Most concrete is under-vibrated or improperly vibrated. The best technique with an internal vibrator is to withdraw the vibrator very slowly, at a rate of around 1 inch per second. As long as bubbles still emerge as the concrete vibrator is withdrawn, more vibration is necessary.

Contractors sometimes urge workers to complete this time-consuming task "efficiently," meaning quickly, but the result can be a structural failure after the concrete cures. At the same time, if you hold the vibrator in the concrete for too long, the water and aggregates will separate, creating problems with the strength and aesthetics of the concrete.

Internal Vibration Best Practices

Proper vibration takes skill and experience. Follow best practices to avoid common problems when using an internal vibrator.

  • Keep a spare concrete vibrator ready at hand as a backup in case the first vibrator fails. The concrete won't wait for you to sort out equipment problems.
  • Be careful not to under-vibrate low-slump concrete. "Slump" is a measure of the workability of concrete. Because low-slump concrete is stiffer, it requires more vibration.
  • Eliminate the need for vibration by using self-consolidating concrete if desired.
  • Be sure to penetrate previous lift or layers of concrete already placed to prevent cold joints. The vibrator should penetrate at least 6 inches into the previous layer. A cold joint occurs when the newer layer of concrete is poured on an older layer that has set up and hardened enough to prevent the two layers from bonding. 
  • Insert the vibrator in a vertical or nearly vertical position to maximize its effect. Also, do not bend a vibrator excessively, which can ruin it.
  • Avoid the common mistake of using a vibrator as a concrete placement tool. This can create an inconsistent surface and other problems.
  • Submerge the vibrator head fully into the concrete, and hold it there for at least 10 seconds. Pull up the vibrator at an average rate of no more than 3 inches per second; often, 1 inch per second yields the best results.
  • Overlap the previous radius of vibration every time you insert the vibrator. A good rule of thumb is that the radius of action is four times the vibrator tip diameter.
  • Verify that specific areas of concrete have not been vibrated already by other co-workers before proceeding with vibration.
  • Stop vibration when air no longer escapes from the concrete and/or the concrete surface develops a sheen.
  • Don't turn on the vibrator until the tip is fully submerged.
  • Consider using a lightweight portable vibrator for small jobs.

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