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Pro Tips: 10 Things to Know About Concrete Cutting

June 7, 2021

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If you’re a homeowner asking, what is concrete cutting, it’s vital you find out the answer to that question before you do any concrete cutting or drilling on your property! Concrete is not like drywall, wood, or other such building materials, and needs proper tools and know-how for expert, damage-free cutting, coring, and removal.

Concrete cutting refers to controlled cutting, drilling, sawing, and removing of concrete pieces or slabs, using specialty equipment and techniques that allow for maximum accuracy, minimal mess, and fewer vibrations than jackhammers and similar equipment.

If you need a concrete driveway, patio, septic tank, or other fixture removed, or want a window installed along a basement wall, or need any concrete cutting and fabrication on your property, consider a bit more detail about professional concrete cutting. This will ensure you know when to call the pros for expert concrete cutting!

cutting concrete

Knowing more about concrete cutting can also help you decide if you even need to tear up concrete for a new basement window, to run wire or pipes run through a concrete slab, or other such fabrication. You can then discuss your needs with a concrete cutting professional near you.

1. What Is Concrete Cutting?

The term concrete cutting refers to a number of methods for cutting and drilling concrete, and each method is used for a different application. Knowing a bit more about these cutting methods and why they’re used can help you better understand how to address needed concrete cutting on your property.

Slab or flat sawing

Slab or flat sawing uses a specialty saw that sits on top of a concrete slab; the operator walks behind that saw as it cuts. Flat sawing cuts through the upper layer of concrete, anywhere from a few inches to several feet deep.

Slab or flat sawing is excellent for removing concrete slabs, and this process means less vibration and mess than jackhammers while also offering precise cuts. Slab sawing is also used to remove damaged concrete surfaces, making repaving easier. You can also use flat sawing to run pipes and other fixtures through concrete slabs; once installed, new concrete is then poured over that section.

Wall sawing

As the name implies, wall sawing cuts away flat sections along concrete walls. As with flat sawing, wall sawing can remove anywhere from a few inches to several feet of concrete and offers precise lines during cutting.

Wall sawing is used to create openings for doors, windows, ventilation ductwork, pipes, and other fixtures. You can also use wall sawing to remove entire wall sections, such as for expanding concrete walls or replacing bowing basement walls.

Core drilling

As with standard drilling, core drilling cuts holes into concrete. Core drills have specialty bits designed for clean cuts with little dust or damage to the surrounding concrete, and these bits are anywhere from a few inches to a few feet in diameter!

Core drilling is used to make “tunnels” in concrete so you can run pipes, conduit, wiring, vents, drains, and other pieces through it without having to tear up the concrete slab itself. Drilling is also used to break up concrete slabs needing removal; the drill will remove large sections of the concrete without the mess and vibration of jackhammers.

concrete cutting

2. Why Do You Have to Cut Concrete?

There are many uses for concrete cutting on both residential and commercial properties, and cutting or core drilling offers many advantages over jackhammers and other outdated forms of concrete fabrication. Note some reasons why you might call a concrete cutter for your property:

  • If you’re thinking of finishing your home’s basement or adding a bedroom in the space, you might be required legally to add egress windows. Larger basement windows can also mean more sunlight and fresh air, even if you don’t finish the space but only use it for storage, hobbies, and the like! A concrete cutter can quickly and easily cut through those basement walls, making room for a new window frame.
  • If you’d like to add outdoor lighting or cooking equipment to your patio space, a concrete cutter can make cuts through a concrete slab. This allows you to run electrical wiring, plumbing pipes, and other such fixtures through that slab.
  • Sawing and removing an upper layer of concrete allows you to create a firm foundation for fresh concrete, such as for a new garage floor, driveway, or parking lot.
  • Concrete cutting allows for quick, easy removal of concrete walls, septic tanks, wells, inground pools, and other fixtures on your property.
  • Rather than trying to repair damaged concrete porches, steps, patios, and other concrete features, a concrete cutter can break up those features for easy removal. You can then pour new concrete in their place, or otherwise renovate your property as needed.

3. The Functionality of a Concrete Cutter

cutting concrete with small tool

A concrete cutter does more than simply cut concrete. He or she will evaluate the concrete needing cutting, noting its overall thickness and condition. A concrete cutter will also note the reason for concrete fabrication, whether that’s to create an opening for conduit or because you need a damaged concrete slab removed, as this will tell him or her the best tools and equipment for the job!

Once the evaluations and inspections are completed, the concrete cutter will use the right equipment for precise, even cuts. This might take longer than you expect, as they often need to work around obstructions, wet down their saw blades as they work, and take other steps needed for precision fabrication. However, whatever your needs for concrete cutting or drilling, they offer expert cuts with little mess and vibration.

4. Cutting Concrete Expansion Joints

Concrete slabs need what are called expansion joints. These are small separations along large concrete slabs that allow concrete to absorb water or heat and then expand slightly, without cracking and breaking. Those trenches you see along driveways and sidewalks are actually expansion joints, and these are cut into freshly poured concrete not long after it starts to set and dry.

If you’re pouring new concrete on your property, you want to cut expansion joints as soon as the concrete has set enough to withstand the cutting without dislodging aggregate or otherwise coming apart, usually 6 to 12 hours after pouring. Never wait beyond 24 hours to cut new concrete, as it will have then set too much for precise cuts. A concrete cutter or installation contractor can assist with the cutting you need to have done for your fresh concrete.

contractor cutting concrete

5. The Best Blade for Cutting Concrete

If you’ve ever tried to cut drywall, wood, or any other such material, you know that the right blade is vital for clean, precise, damage-free cuts! Using the wrong blade on any building material can result in jagged ends, tears, cracks, imprecise cuts, and other damage.

Concrete is more porous and soft than many homeowners realize, which is why sharp, diamond-tipped blades are best for concrete cutting. Diamond saw blades will cut through concrete without crumbling it or causing it to soften. If you can’t find diamond-tipped saw blades at your local hardware store, rely on a professional concrete cutter to get the job done right!

6. Can I Use an Angle Grinder to Cut Concrete?

Angle grinders usually have diamond-tipped blades and can be used for smaller concrete cutting projects. Angle grinders are also useful for cutting brick, patio pavers, and even marble. Because angle grinders are so small, they may not work well for larger concrete cutting projects but are useful if you want to create an opening for an electrical outlet or otherwise break up concrete surfaces around your property.

7. Is Cracking in Concrete Normal?

If you notice cracks along a driveway or a home’s foundation, you might assume it’s time to schedule repairs or new concrete installation. However, some cracks in concrete are normal and to be expected and don’t necessarily need patching, while others need repairs or might signal the need for new concrete pouring.

crack in concrete

Plastic concrete cracks

“Plastic” concrete cracks occur when concrete is still hardening, or in what is called its plastic state. As the concrete cures, water in the mixture evaporates so the material then shrinks slightly, resulting in small cracks. These cracks are often most noticeable around objects in the middle of the slab such as posts or manholes (see https://concretesupplyco.com/6-concrete-cracks/), and they usually don’t need patching.

Expansion cracks

Heat causes concrete to expand; as it does, it pushes against anything blocking that expansion, including edging materials or another slab of concrete. Expansion joints allow for this movement, but these joints aren’t always enough to stop expansion cracking and even chipping, which then need repairs.

Heaving cracks

Moisture in the soil under concrete can freeze; as it does, it expands, pushing concrete upward. This heaving motion can result in cracks along those lifted areas. These cracks need patching, or the entire concrete slab might need replacing.

Spalling

Spalling refers to surface cracks running along the face of concrete, and is called concrete “cancer” because it spreads so easily. Spalling is often caused by premature drying of concrete and might not need patching, depending on its overall size and depth.

8. How Long Should Concrete Last?

If you need to cut concrete to remove and replace damaged areas not long after that material was poured, your original concrete installation contractor might not have been the most reliable! Concrete should last 30 to 100 years or even more, with the right maintenance.

In many cases, old concrete can even be added to new mixtures because its materials are so durable. Invest in a reliable concrete installer for your property and avoid DIY driveway and other installations, so your property’s concrete lasts as long as possible.

pouring concrete at jobsite

9. Cutting Concrete in Cold Weather

Concrete actually gets stronger in cold weather, as the material hardens slightly. Hardened concrete is more likely to ravel or crack during the cutting process. Frozen ground can also cause concrete to upheave, making it more difficult to follow a straight cutting pattern. In turn, while you can cut concrete in cold weather, it might be easier and less risky to wait for milder conditions.

10. How Big Can a Concrete Slab Be Without Expansion Joints?

Expansion joints should be no more than 2-3 times in feet the depth of concrete in inches, or 2-3 feet apart for every one inch of concrete depth. Most residential concrete slabs are about four inches deep, so expansion joints are then typically placed some 8 to 12 feet apart. While cutting expansion joints does add to your time and effort when pouring concrete, these allow concrete to expand safely over time, saving you the cost of eventual concrete repairs and replacement.

concrete pouring

Tips for Keeping Concrete in Good Condition

Damaged concrete can be cut away and replaced, and concrete will eventually degrade over time no matter how it’s maintained. However, a few simple steps can keep concrete in its best condition for as long as possible, so you can avoid otherwise unnecessary repair and replacement.

  • If there are not enough expansion joints along poured concrete, have a concrete cutter add more joints. This will allow concrete to expand without the risk of cracking and other damage.
  • Since heat can cause concrete to expand, try hosing down sidewalks and driveways once a day during especially hot summer weather.
  • Avoid using snow salt on concrete driveways, as salt is corrosive and can damage concrete surfaces. Sand and other natural snow clearing materials are typically safer for concrete.
  • It’s easy to damage concrete surfaces with sharp objects, such as snowblower blades, snow shovels, and similar household tools. When blowing or shoveling snow, keep the blade elevated just slightly above the surface of the concrete.
  • Motor oil and other automotive fluids might break down the cement binders in concrete, causing spalling, cracking, chipping, and similar damage. Avoid using your driveway for automotive repairs, or put down cardboard where you might spill oil!
  • Regular power washing removes abrasive dirt, grit, sand, and other debris as well as corrosive oils and fluids. Schedule driveway power washing every year or as needed to keep surfaces clean and damage-free.

Concrete Cutting & Coring Boston is happy to provide this information to our readers and hopefully it helped answer the question, what is concrete cutting? If you need expert concrete fabrication, call our experienced Boston concrete cutting contractors. We offer a wide range of cutting and drilling for residential and commercial concrete fixtures and surfaces, and back all our work with a full guarantee. To find out more, give us a call today.

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