What Is the Difference Between Concrete, Cement and Mortar?

For most people, and certainly those not in the building trade, they will have heard of concrete, mortar and cement. For many people the terms may at first seem confusing, and many people actually think they are the same thing.

In this article we will explain carefully which each of them is, what makes them different. More importantly we will explain when each of these masonry products should be used. Let's start though with a clear definition of each.​

You can see that easily in the table just below.​

Cement vs Mortar vs Concrete Differences and Uses

Masonry Product

Description

Practical Use

Cement

This is simply a binding agent that holds materials together

Seldom if ever used on its own

Mortar

A mixture of cement, sand and water

Used to hold together bricks and blocks mainly

Concrete

A mixture of materials that include cement, water, sand, gravel and/or small stones

Used for anchoring fence posts, making paths and floors

When making mortar or concrete, you can buy the individual elements and make your own mix. Those are things like bags of cement, bags of sand and bags of stones. There are certain rules for making the mix, which I will explain later.

For the smaller jobs, most people tend to buy what are called Pre-mixed bags, which means you just need to follow the instructions, add some water and mix them up. I have included some images of these ready mix products just below.

Portland Cement

Cement bags

Pre Mixed Mortar

mortar mix

Pre Mix Concrete

pre mixed concrete

A simple way to remember the difference between cement, mortar and concrete, is that cement is never used on its own. When combined with sand and water it is called mortar. If you then add gravel or stones to mortar it is called concrete.

Benefits of Pre-Mix Mortar & Concrete

If you are doing a small job around the home or garden, then using a pre-mixed mortar or concrete is what I would recommend. You simply add water, mix and it is good to go. The disadvantage is that, it can get expensive.

  • Pre mixed mortar is around £8-10 for a 6 Kg bag​
  • Pre mixed contract is around the same price. Something like a 20 Kg bag costs between £15-18 a bag

If you plan on doing a lot of work, it is much better to buy your cement, sand and gravel or stones in bulk, and mix those yourself. Typically for the bigger jobs, it is better to  have these delivered to your home, in large sacks.

How to Make Mortar

This is simply a mix of cement, sand and water. All you have to do is get the right proportions and you are good to go. The general rule is:

THREE PARTS SAND TO ONE PART CEMENT​

A good way to measure this out is to use a bucket and fill it with cement. With the same bucket measure out 3 buckets of sand. Now you have the right mix. Only ever mix up as much as you can use at any one time.

After that it is about adding the right amount of water. The drier the mix the stronger the bond will be. It is however easier to work with a more moist mixture. A lot of this comes down to experience. Always start with a small amount of water, and then add more if it needs it.

Have a look at the video below for some great advice.​

How To Make Concrete

Concrete is made by adding one part cement, two parts sand and four parts gravel. Again I have included a video below, to show how this is done.

Mix by Hand or Use a Cement Mixer

mixing mortar with a cement mixer

If you are doing small jobs such as repairs, or anchoring in fence posts, then a few bags of pre mixed mortar or concrete, will do your job. These are easy enough to mix by hand, although it will still take some physical effort.

An alternative to this is to either hire out a small cement mixer, or buy one of the cheaper electrical ones.

Again if you have one big job, hiring is the better solution. If on the other hand you plan on using this a few times on a range of jobs, then buy your own.

They are not that expensive, and for bigger jobs they are a great investment.​

Cement mixers take a lot of the physical effort out of mixing mortar or concrete. They also make the job a lot faster, and indeed a lot tidier. Mixing mortar and concrete on the ground is OK, if the area you are using is rough and ready.

However you would not wanting to be doing these mixes on a tarmac, or brick paved driveway. That can make a lot of mess, and it is also hard to get clean afterwards. With a cement mixer, a wheelbarrow and some planks, this job is quicker and neater.​

Alternatives for Mixing Concrete and Mortar

So you can mix by hand using a shovel, or by using a cement mixer. There is one other alternative, and that is called a mixing paddle. These are used more often for mixing plaster and paint, but they can be used effectively for mixing mortar. 

There are two types which is the professional mixing paddle, or a paddle that you can attach to a drill.​ The professional style, which costs around £50 has a motor attached. The paddle that you can attach to a power drill cost anything between £6-15, depending on which you buy

Professional Mixing Paddle

Nordstrand 1600W Pro Portable Hand-Held Mixer

Attaching a Mixing Paddle to a Drill

Silverline 868535 Mixing Paddle Heavy Duty

These work by putting the mixture into a bucket or barrel, and then letting the paddle and the motor do the physical work of mixing.

Where To Buy Cement Mortar and Stones?

There is usually what is called a builder's yard close enough to where people live. These are usually the first port of call for this type of product. In most cases, the people there do know what they are talking about, and should be able to offer the best advice.

These are certainly the type of place you would go for buying cement, sand and stones in any kind of bulk. The smaller bags are ok for small jobs. For large work and the bigger tasks, it is much cheaper to order in bulk.

They will also deliver to your home, though there is usually a charge for this. Make sure to ask about that. On delivery, work out where you want them to place your order. Ideally you want is somewhere, that makes it easy to transport​, to the actual area where the work is taking place.

There are of course places like B&Q and Homebase, who also do this type of product. They will always carry the smaller bags, and they also deliver in bulk.​

Cement vs Mortar vs Concrete Summary

Cement is simply a binding agent and is not used on its own. Mortar is made by adding one part cement to three parts sand and adding water to mix. Concrete is made by adding one part cement to two parts sand and four parts gravel or stones.

You can mix by hand using a shovel, a cement mixer or a mixing paddle.

You can also buy pre-mixed bags of both mortar and concrete. Then all you have to do is add water.​

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Enda McLarnon
 

I enjoy writing about tools and gadgets of all kinds. As an electrician and with many years working in the building industry, I have used my fair share of all the leading tool brands. On this website I share my experiences of these along with my colleague Geoff.

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