You roll into your Calgary suburban neighbourhood one day, and you notice your neighbour has just redone the walkway to their home with beautiful stonework and it looks amazing. “It’s not stone,” they say, “It’s stamped concrete.”

You look toward your own front door. The dull grey pathway crashing into those ugly cracked steps is blotchy and stained. You are an avid DIYer and have been meaning to research concrete restoration or build a new path when you got around to it. But now you HAVE to. You’re intrigued.

What is stamped concrete and how do you get your pathway and porch to look so beautiful?

Concrete stamping can be used to make your pathway look like flagstone, slate, bricks, or a combination of these stones. It comes in a variety of concrete coatings and treatments and is more affordable and easy to install than the actual stonework it is designed to resemble. With the right mix and application of materials and the proper installation techniques, it can become even more beautiful and interesting.

There is a wide array of concrete colors and sealer sheens available. There are also many different stamps and stencils to choose from. With an artful combination of these elements, your design opportunities are limitless.

However, using stamping for concrete restoration can be challenging to do yourself. Concrete dries fast and is unforgiving.  You have to be sure to properly level and prepare your foundation. The stamping process requires thoughtful planning, precise environmental considerations, special tools, and a thorough understanding of the materials needed for the job.

You will need to acquire the right tools for the job including: trowels, edgers, tampers, stamps and stencils (which can be bought or rented). Taking the time to thoroughly research the types of concrete, colorant, release agents, and sealers is also needed. The functionality of these products can vary according to environmental  conditions and application methods.

This project also demands that you follow a multi-step procedure quickly and precisely.

10 Steps to Concrete Restoration using the Stamping Method:

  1. Plan. Create a drawing of your pathway as closely to scale as possible and decide on your design. Measure the stamps and create your diagram. The more randomly placed your stamps, the more your pathway and porch will look natural
  2. Prepare. This cannot be overstated. Beginning with the proper foundation is essential for preventing cracks.  If your pathway or steps are uneven you will need to create forms and place metal or wooden stakes along the perimeter of your pathway. Depending on how cracked your pathway and steps you may or may not need to add reinforcements.
  3. Place the Concrete. Be sure to put your concrete as close to your project as possible; pour into forms and level evenly
  4. Float Surface Hardener. There are liquid and powder forms of hardener available and each are applied differently. Be sure to research the best method of application.
  5. Apply Release Agent. The colored release agent both prevents the mat from sticking to the concrete and adds visual interest. As uniformly as possible, paint it to the bottom of the mats AND toss it over the surface of the concrete.
  6. Impress Stamps. Now is the fun part. Row by row across your pathway, place the stamps. To begin, carefully align your first mat according to your master plan and then lightly place your mats across the row. You want to be sure they are snugged up close to one another and in their proper positions.  When all is set, tamp them down—but not too hard. Just hard enough to be flush with the concrete.  To make it look natural keep checking your diagram and be sure to place them as randomly as possible.
  7. Let it Set. This can take anywhere from 10 hours to two days depending on the project.
  8. Clean the Edges. Chip and sand away any protrusions from the stamps or stencils.
  9. Apply the Sealer. The sealer blocks dirt, adds sheen, and also prevents discoloration. It’s not only practical, but is just the thing that sets your project off—making the colors you’ve chosen pop and have that stone-like quality. Apply this evenly. Some types require two coats.
  10. Stand Back and Admire.

As you can see, concrete restoration using concrete stamping is a very specialized process. If it goes wrong the only way to fix it is to rip it up and start again. You will probably find that hiring a professional is not only easier than doing it yourself; it’s also the most cost-effective.