Soon after the aggregates, water, and the cement are combined, the mixture starts to harden. All Portland cements are hydraulic cements that set and harden through a chemical reaction with water. During this reaction, called hydration, a node forms on the surface of each cement particle. The node grows and expands until it links up with nodes from other cement particles or adheres to adjacent aggregates.
The building up process results in progressive stiffening, hardening, and strength development. Once the concrete is thoroughly mixed and workable it should be placed in forms before the mixture becomes too stiff.