We have a wet-mix shotcrete steel fiber overhead application progressing in our state. The question is about the use of a steel trowel finish, as opposed to say a magnesium or wood float finish. In the ASA Shotcrete Inspector seminar, it was stated that a steel trowel is less durable, reduces freeze-thaw resistance and shows cracking more proximately. As this particular application is overhead and, in a tunnel, there is not as much of a concern with water infiltration and the associated freeze-thaw exposure. We usually don’t allow steel trowels for flat work, due to deicing salts, but that concern wouldn’t apply here. My superintendent has asked me to reach out to you to see if you might have any further detailed advice on this type of application. Construction is wanting a smooth finish and looks do matter here as it is a high-profile project. If the DOT were to allow the steel trowel for finishing, what would be your concerns or suggestions to this approach?
Freeze-thaw deterioration is dependent on the concrete being saturated in multiple freezing/thawing cycles. In an overhead application, where water can’t stand on the surface, the concrete can’t be saturated unless water permeates through from the upper surface. And with good quality concrete in the tunnel, water shouldn’t permeate through, so it should be functionally watertight. As a result, freeze-thaw likely isn’t a critical durability issue.
A steel trowel finish does require extra working of the surface and would require the contractor to be very attentive to the proper time to obtain the finish yet not overly disturb the fresh concrete. Gravity is working against the overhead concrete staying in place.
Having a smooth steel trowel finish would make minor shrinkage cracks more noticeable. However, in the tunnel without exposure to sunlight or much wind exposure, and with proper attention to curing, perhaps surface cracking will be minimal.
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