Tool Rentals for the DIY Weekend Warrior:
Concrete Work

by Joseph Truini

To the average homeowner, cutting concrete might seem like an impossible task. But in truth, cutting concrete isn't all that difficult if you use the right tools. There are tools specifically designed for sawing and chopping through poured-concrete walks, patios, floors and walls.

One relatively common DIY concrete project is cutting a trench through a concrete walkway, floor, patio or driveway. There are several reasons why you might need to cut the trench, including installing a drainpipe or irrigation line, or running new plumbing pipes or electrical lines. I recently helped my brother-in-law slice through his concrete driveway in order to bury a cable for an invisible dog fence.

Gas-powered concrete saws (above) can slice through a wide variety of masonry materials, including poured concrete, concrete blocks, brick, granite and other types of natural stone.

Regardless of the reason for cutting the trench, the process and tools are essentially the same:

  1. Start by measuring and marking the location of the trench onto the concrete surface. Then, snap two parallel chalk lines to indicate the sides of the trench.
  2. Next, rent a 14-inch gas-powered concrete saw to cut through the concrete. The saw looks and operates a bit like a chainsaw, but instead of having a long cutting bar and chain, it's equipped with a round diamond-grit blade or silicone-carbide abrasive blade. Concrete saws are available in various sizes, with the 14 in. saw being the most popular rental model. It has a cutting depth of approximately 4¾ in. These saws can also be used to cut through brick, concrete block, granite and even asphalt.
  3. Check with the rental associate to make sure you're using the correct gas and oil types. Gas-powered rental tools like this one typically come ready to use, filled with oil and gas. Some even come with an extra can of gas or gas/oil mixture. The rental associate will also show you how to start and operate the saw.
Tool Rental Tip: When renting a gas-powered tool, always ask if there's a four-stroke version of the tool available. Four-stroke engines run quieter, start easier, have better fuel economy, produce less exhaust and—most importantly—don't require you to premix oil and gas.
  1. Before cranking up the saw, it's important that you wear the proper safety equipment. Power tools can cause serious injuries, and a concrete saw is no exception. Be sure to wear eye goggles, hearing protection, dust mask or respirator, work gloves and work boots. Keep a firm grip on the saw with both hands at all times.
  2. Start the saw and straddle the chalk line with your feet spread shoulder width apart. Squeeze the trigger until the motor is running at top speed, then slowly lower the spinning blade down onto the chalk line. Hold the blade in place until it starts cutting into the concrete, then carefully pull it toward you while steering it along the chalk line.
  3. Apply only enough downward pressure to control the saw and keep it cutting; pressing down too forcefully will slow the cutting and put undue stress on the saw's motor. Instead, allow the weight of the saw and the blade do the cutting. Only cut to a depth of about one inch or so. Don't try cutting all the way through the concrete in one pass.
Tool Rental Tip: If you're using a concrete saw for the first time, try cutting right next to the chalk line, as opposed to sawing down the middle of it. That makes it much easier to see and follow the line.
  1. Continue to cut along the entire length of the chalk line, then go back to the starting point and make a second pass. Repeat, making a series of progressively deeper cuts until you've cut all the way through the concrete or reached the saw's maximum depth of cut. Now repeat the previous steps to saw along the remaining chalk line at the opposite side of the trench. Again, saw through the concrete in several passes and don't exert too much pressure on the blade.
  2. Once you've cut along the borders of the trench, the next step is to remove the strip of concrete from between the two cuts. You could use a sledgehammer to first bust up the concrete and then pry out the pieces with a shovel and pick axe, but there's a much simpler, faster way: rent a demolition hammer. A demolition hammer is essentially a mini-jackhammer that has a hardened-steel, chisel-tip bit. (Pointed bits are also available). It's compact and lightweight, but has plenty of power to blast through concrete. Caution: Be sure to wear safety goggles as protection from flying concrete chips.
  3. Set the bit down between the two saw cuts and about four inches from the outer edge of the concrete. Grasp the tool with two hands, press straight down and squeeze the trigger to activate the hammering action. The tool will want to bounce around, so keep a firm grip on it until the concrete begins to crack, which should only take a few seconds.
Tool Rental Tip: If the tool rental department doesn't have a demolition hammer available, ask to rent a tool called a breaker, which is a larger, more powerful version of the demolition hammer.

An electric demolition hammer, also called a chipping hammer,
works like a compact jackhammer to easily bust up concrete.

  1. Once the tip of the bit breaks through the crack, continue to hammer away while slowly rocking the tool back and forth. After a chunk of concrete breaks free, have a helper remove the loose piece. Move the demolition hammer down another four inches or so and repeat to bust off the next concrete chunk. Continue in this manner until you've chopped up and removed all the concrete from the entire trench.
  2. If you need to deepen the trench to create space for a drainpipe or similar object, use the demolition hammer to loosen and break up the soil along the bottom of the trench. That'll make it much easier to dig the trench deeper.

The ABC's of Tool Rental... Do ASK, Do TELL!

Below is a list of 18 questions to ask before renting any tool, machine or piece of equipment. It's also important to tell the rental associate how and where you're planning to use the rental tool. He or she may be able to suggest a different tool that will better serve your needs.

  1. Do you offer hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly rental rates?
  2. What are your hours of operation? Are you open on Sundays?
  3. Do you have special holiday or weekend rental rates?
  4. Can I call ahead to reserve a tool, or is it first-come, first served?
  5. When does my rental time start and end?
  6. Can you show me how to start the engine and where to add fuel and oil?
  7. What are the precautions to using this tool safely?
  8. What safety gear must I wear while using this tool?
  9. Are accessories included, such as blades, bits, and abrasives?
  10. How do you change the blade, bit or abrasive?
  11. Does this item feature dust collection? If so, how does it work?
  12. Do cordless rental tools come with one or two batteries?
  13. What happens if a tool breaks or stops working while I'm using it?
  14. Do I have to clean the rental item before returning it?
  15. If the engine comes filled with gas, do I have to return it with a full tank?
  16. What type and viscosity oil does this machine require?
  17. Do you deliver larger rental tools and machines? Is there a drop-off and pick-up fee?
  18. Must I pay a damage waiver fee on rental items?

Read more rental tool tips in these informative articles:

Back to the "Tool Rental Guide"

Woodcutting Tool Rental Tips

Rotary Drill and Demolition Hammer Rental Tips

Lawn and Garden Tool Rental Tips

Floor Repair Tool Rental Tips

About the author: Joe Truini is a home improvement expert who writes about a variety of topics related to carpentry and plumbing. Joe is also the author of numerous DIY books, including the best-selling "Building A Shed". To learn more about renting tools like those referenced by Joe, please visit the Home Depot website. All photos courtesy of Joe Truini or Makita.