How to Break Up a Concrete Slab

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Whether you are renovating or repairing, you may be faced with the need to remove an existing concrete slab. Cured concrete is incredibly strong, this is why it is the material of choice to support buildings. Having to break up a concrete slab is very physical work, even if you have access to large machinery and pneumatic hammers to assist you. Make sure you are in adequate physical shape to undertake this task.

Things You'll Need

  • Sledge hammer
  • Pickaxe
  • Chipping hammer (if needed)
  • Pneumatic hammer (if needed)
  • Oxy-acetylene torches (if needed)
  • Concrete saw (if needed)
  • Gloves
  • Start at a corner of the slab. Use the pickaxe to dig out the edge of the slab until you can see the bottom of the concrete. If your slab is thicker than 3 inches, skip to Step 4. For thinner slabs, go to Step 2.

  • Have a helper wedge the pickaxe under the corner of the slab and hold the handle down so the head is applying upward pressure to the slab.

  • Strike the top of the slab repeatedly with a sledge hammer about a 1 foot away from the corner (where the pickaxe is wedged). The concrete slab will begin to break apart as you strike it with the sledge hammer and your helper continues apply more and more upward pressure from underneath. When the piece breaks free, remove it from the slab and wedge the pickaxe under the slab again. Continue beating and breaking (moving the pickaxe as you go) until the slab is entirely removed.

  • Break up thicker concrete slabs using a chipping hammer or a pneumatic hammer. Either machine will provide the repetitive force needed to shatter the concrete and you will not over strain yourself trying to break apart a 10-inch slab with a sledge hammer. Pneumatic hammers are very large and are connected to skid steer machines or excavation machines.

  • Cut through the slab bar (if your slab has rebar in it) with oxy-acetylene torches to separate the concrete and slab bar into pieces that can be removed.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can "score" the concrete in a grid pattern with a concrete saw to make it easier to break. Cut into the concrete about 1/4 inch deep before beginning to break it up, and not only will it break easier, but it will tend to break along the cut lines and make the concrete pieces more manageable. Use this method to break an interior slab where you cannot access the bottom of the slab with a pickaxe.
  • The edges of broken concrete can be as sharp as broken glass. Always use care with handling them and wear gloves. You can not only get a serious cut from a sharp edge, but the concrete dust can get into the cut and cause a severe infection.

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