Being involved in the decorative concrete business for over 25 years, I've learned some very important lessons - as well as some costly ones - that have resulted in many sleepless nights. Early on, a good percentage of these miscellaneous mishaps and blood-shot-eyed nights could have been avoided had we implemented a good sample program from project to project. Samples can be one of the most important considerations on your job for a variety of reasons, such as letting your client know what he or she can expect texturally, how the color looks, and whether the sealer is too glossy or not shiny enough, just to name a few.
While working in the theme parks in Orlando back in the early 1990s, it was not uncommon for us to pour 10 to 20 cu. yds. of concrete samples a week so the Disney architects could hone in on the desired color and texture. In addition, the samples demonstrated the skill of the workers almost as if the pre-performance was being judged. It also established a standard to refer back to throughout the duration of the project, which leads me to a very important point - when producing your jobsite samples, it is imperative to fabricate a sample that will best represent jobsite conditions, especially in a commercial setting.
If you make your sample pristine and fit for an art gallery, this will be expected throughout the entire project, which is next to impossible to achieve. Remember, you are working with concrete, an imperfect product, which has many different performance unknowns that are never the same from load to load. You're also working in an imperfect environment with wind, rain, sun and hopefully not snow! To prove the importance of sampling, on a past high-end, 5,000-sq.-ft. project we really wanted due to the historical significance, not to mention it was in our hometown, the competition had submitted a 2-ft. by 2-ft. homely little sample. We poured a 10-ft. by 10-ft. sample at the owner's expense with the agreement that if we were awarded the contract, we would deduct the cost of producing the sample off of the overall contract. The end result of the sample was we were awarded the contract at $10 per sq. ft.
Although there are manufacturers that provide their customers with color charts depicting stain colors, color hardener or release colors, remember these are laminated pieces of paper. They should only be used as a starting reference for the clients to narrow down their color selection. Also, be careful when submitting small concrete samples produced by the manufacturer since they are cast in laboratory conditions and can sometimes give a false representation of what the actual color or texture would look like over a large area. These types of samples, however, are great for architects to keep in their libraries as a reference.
So you're not stamping or staining huge commercial projects but rather small residential jobs. Do yourself a favor and do not skip this important aspect of your project. When staining, if possible, always sample the actual concrete you are proposing to stain. This may take place underneath a stairway, a hallway closet, or a room that you know will be carpeted or tiled. Sampling in this fashion allows your client to view the actual concrete and of equal importance, it demonstrates to you how the substrate is reacting. If sampling on the concrete is not an option, here are a couple valuable tips you can use to create your own samples for submittal reasons or for simply practicing your techniques on: