During my days in college and the early years of my working life, I often found that cash was a little hard to come by or keep for that matter.


To make ends meet during those frugal years I would often supplement my income with a bit of hard labour. Back then, my father was an accomplished bricklayer of some 35 years and he offered me a way of earning my keep by getting my hands dirty, working for him as a part-time labourer.


I will be the first to admit that I was not built for a career in the construction industry. Even so, I did learn a few valuable DIY tricks that have allowed me to save a penny or two by taking on some home restoration projects myself once I became a grown up with a house of my own.


One such gem is the ability to mix cement by hand on a slope.


Now this may sound like rather a banal string to hang on my bow, however the last 3 houses that my wife and I have lived in have all had steep inclined driveways and various garden walls or fences in need of repair.


Knowing how to mix sand and mortar on a sloping driveway, in the absence of any level surface, helped me with those home renovation projects that required an application of cement, not to mention impressing the lady of the house with my manual dexterity.

It's all in the mix

The first step to mixing up a batch of cement is to make sure that you have the right amount of ingredients to hand. You will need builders sand, some Portland Cement and a shovel.


These will be readily available from your local hardware store or builders merchants. They will also advise you on the exact type of mixes you should use and what the required consistency of the final mix should feel like. I generally use a 4:1 mix of sand to mortar, a mix favoured by my bricklayer father and mentor.


Mix all the dry materials together as per the instructions that come with the cement, or in my case as per a rather strict bricklayer with an attention to detail that would shame a forensic scientist, to form a mountain shape with a wide base.


At this point the mixture won't slide anywhere as no liquid has been added.

Now the tricky part

You will need to add the water in the right quantities and in the correct manner so as not to cause a flood of grey streams to run down your driveway.


When mixing cement by hand on a level platform, you would usually shovel a wide crater in the centre of the dry mortar deep enough to reach the surface that you are mixing on.


The water would then be poured in and mixed without having to take into account any incline. However, when working on a slope you want your dry mortar mix to resemble a miniature volcano with a crater depth of about half the height of your pile and a width of about three quarters of the diameter of the base to prevent any water drainage.


You will also need to make sure that there are plenty of nice peaks around the top of the pile as these will help when adding the water.


Add the water slowly so that it fills the well about a third of the way up, then take your shovel and gently tap the peaks so that some of the dry mixture falls into the water. Hopefully you will have made a thick enough base to make it watertight.


Gently aggregate the mixture with a shovel to so that it stiffens and at the same time make sure that you keep the outer walls of the pile dry. The aim here is to form a bowl shape so that the water does not escape down your driveway and into the street.


Your neighbours or the local council will not be best pleased if this happens.


Add more water and more dry mix from the peaks of the pile and continue to mix through with the shovel or hand trowel if you prefer. Eventually the mass and thickness of the mixture will become sufficiently turgid enough to allow you to scoop up the dry mix from the outer walls without any danger of any wet cement decorating the whole of the driveway.


Continue with this process until the consistency is such that you apply the cement to your chosen renovation project.


It's all about practice

Mixing cement by hand this way might take a couple of goes to get the hang of it, but once mastered it is a mean trick when working on an incline with limited space and no cement mixing machine to hand.