Cement – the ultimate desiccant

When you buy cement (Portland cement) with which to make concrete, you buy it in 80 pound bags.  If you buy a bag of concrete mix (Reddi-mix) you get a 55 pound bag of mixed sand, gravel, cement powder and, perhaps some other bits and pieces.  Should you decide to mix Reddi-mix up for a sidewalk or something, it is a good idea to add a shovel or two of cement to the batch because it is the cement powder that is the valuable gluing agent in the Reddi-mix and the companies tend to skimp in their recipe.

If you are buying a bag of Reddi-mix, you rarely buy one.  One bag of Reddi-mix requires the above-mentioned ‘extra’ cement powder at the very least and that bag of Portland cement is enough to supplement at least fourteen more Reddi-mix bags.  So, a typical purchase of Reddi-mix – which is only good for a cubic foot or thereabouts anyway – is ten or more bags.  If I buy more than 15 bags of Reddi-mix, I add another bag of cement powder to the order.  My last purchase was 30 bags of Reddi-mix and I included two bags of Portland cement.  About 1800 pounds in total.

That is 1800 pounds in the truck and trailer, 1800 pounds carried to the boat, 1800 pounds to unload onto the shore and, of course, 1800 pounds to carry up the beach and stack in the boat shed.  At that particular time, I needed only five bags to make the step I wanted and so I kept in dry storage the remaing 25 + 2 bags in the boatshed.

But, after the step was complete, I did not have an immediate requirement for the rest and, lo and behold, a couple of years have passed.  I now have a concrete bunker inside the boatshed.  It weighs – I am guessing – in excess of 2000 pounds.  I am in the unenviable position of having a ton of concrete in my boat shed.

“How is that possible?”

The magic of desiccants.  Desiccants absorb water from the air.  BC has lots of water in the air especially if you live right on the ocean.  Despite the dry shed and the packaging, the Reddi-Mix bags have absorbed enough moisture to become 60-70 pound bricks.  “If you don’t use it you, you lose it!” does not apply here.  If you don’t use it, you may have it forever when it comes to Reddi-Mix.

Actually, the material – so far, anyway – will break up and one can pound the pseudo brick into powder again.  Shades of a stint on a Georgia chain gang, eh?  I’ve done that kind of de-constituting before. And the sweat wants to get in and make it all hard again!

Think about it – you buy, carry, lift, carry, lift, carry and lift and store.  Then after awhile, you pound the crap out of it……..all to make a rock.  And we have lots of rocks already.  So, why do it?

Well, duh, isn’t that the way things are done?  I mean, like, don’t we need concrete and stuff?  Actually NO.

The common thinking (by those who hire others to work with concrete), of course, is that you can make the rock in the shape you want it in the location you want it and concrete rocks have the advantage of sticking to other rocks and other concrete.  But that advantage was not considered enough of a bonus to warrant the labour and expense for some of the earlier ‘homesteader’ types and they dry-stacked natural rocks in such a fashion as to make foundations and such with just the rocks at hand.  No sticky medium like cement or mortar for them.

And homesteader-type people make steps out here in a similar way even today.  Just dry-stack slabs in the right way and you don’t need to cement them together. ‘Course I read handy-dandy Home-depot brochures on easy-concrete instead.  Next time around, I talk to the oldest geezer I can find before buying anything.

At first glance, dry stacking seems like a lot of work.  Not so, little butterfly.  A bit of skill, perhaps, but not as much work as paying, carrying, lifting, ferrying, storing and subsequently bashing when, in fact, you end up dry-stacking the damn things anyway.

The more I learn about living the simple way, the more I wonder how in hell we managed to invent the expensive, modern, complicated way and why.  Almost everything I see in off-the-grid construction can be done two ways – the old fashioned, aesthetically pleasing, skill-requiring cheap or free way vs the expensive, stupid, typically modern way that practically kills you.  We like to think that we are getting so much smarter but it is not apparent from what I am learning.  The old guys knew better.

Me?  Well, perhaps I could teach them thing or two about desiccants!

4 thoughts on “Cement – the ultimate desiccant

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