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Walk-behind Trowels - Increase productivity and improve quality

Power trowels are used for floating and finishing large concrete slabs or on concrete that is too stiff to otherwise handle utilizing manual tools. Compared to ordinary hand tools, power trowels significantly increase production and reduce costs by their ability to finish more square footage of a slab area per day. At the same time they improve quality of the concrete surface and help to maintain flatness on the slab.

There are a variety of walk-behind trowels to choose from on the market.  Industry standard sizes range from 24” edging trowels to 48” inch models which are all used on a wide range of projects.   Finishers working with hand tools can finish 300 to 600 square feet per day, whereas using a 36” power trowel they can finish 700 to 1500 square feet per day depending on conditions.

Besides the diameter size of a walk-behind trowel with most common being 24”, 36” and 48”, walk-behind trowels can also be divided into three categories.

    1. General finishing – This is a good place for contractors that are just starting out or expanding their concrete business from hand tool finishing to power trowels. They will greatly increase their production time, reducing costs and increasing the quality of the slab.
    2. High horsepower models – the added weight and power are especially suited for use during floating where higher torque is desired and are helpful in certain environmental conditions such as hot, windy weather.
    3. Variable speed trowel – typically used by the contractor who needs a wide speed range (20-200 rpm) typical in industrial flooring applications.

Most concrete finishing jobs are based on size. Walk-behind trowels are best suited for smaller jobs and getting into areas where ride-on trowels cannot access due to architectural design or preinstalled plumbing, etc.  However, applications for walk behind trowels are far reaching from residential slabs and include, commercial-industrial floors or use on high rise decks.  A guideline that can be considered is that if a contractor needs to finish less than 3000 square feet a day a walk-behind unit is a good choice.  Any contractor finishing more than that per day can justify a 36” ride-on trowel.

Beside the size of the job, environmental conditions and if the job site is inside or outside should be considered when selecting a walk-behind trowel.  For example, if the outside conditions are especially hot, dry and windy, some contractors prefer a high-horsepower model, which provides  higher torque for low speed floating while providing additional weight during the finishing phase.  For cool weather finishing, smaller light weight trowels become the finisher’s choice.  For the professional who routinely finishes industrial floors, a variable transmission trowel provides a wide speed range for low speed, high torque floating through high-speed burnishing all in one machine.

A concrete mix that contains more than three percent entrained air should be finished by utilizing hand tools and not be given a hard trowel finish with a power trowel.  Trowel selection has no influence on the concrete setting, however, knowing when the right time to begin power floating with a trowel and how to get started can influence the finish.  A general rule of thumb for starting a first pass is when you can leave only a 1/8-inch deep footprint on the surface.  Many variables effect this decision including the size and weight of the machine, the rate the concrete is setting, the speed and efficiency of the operator and the specifications of the particular slab.  The first pass should be with float blades, combo blades or float disks (Not all walk behind trowels are suitable for pan floats, check with the manufacturer for recommendations). The blades should almost be flat with a slight pitch.  Consecutive passes should be made perpendicular to the previous one.  This ensures a flatter floor. As the floor sets the pitch of the blades should increase.  For maximum productivity beginners should consult with a local technical college, or with a manufacturer who offers a training program for complete operation and finishing training before operating a power trowel.  

Like any piece of construction equipment, contractors also need to consider a variety of features that contribute to performance, reliability and ergonomics. 

Many features are based on contractor preference such as the additional weight on higher horsepower models or the variable transmission for a wide speed range.  Selection of pitch control, either dial up or lever activated, are factors to consider along with adjustable handle options, edging features, engine options, and balance which enhances the overall feel of the machine to the operator.    Of course operator comfort and ergonomics is extremely important for concrete finishers.  It’s really all about production.  The longer an operator can use a trowel without fatigue, the more productive he will be.  Final note about safety:  Operator safety is another factor to consider when reviewing walk-behind trowel options.  Making sure that the trowel meets or exceeds industry safety standards is important and manufacturers are making great gains in this area.  Contractors should select a machine with a solid runaway handle stop mechanism and one that has a protective guard ring covering the rotating blades that meets all safety standards.  Features such as these are especially important when new or less experienced operators are using the units.