Abstract The set of high alumina cement (HAC) may be considerably influenced by addition of small quantities of alkali metal salts. The influence of concentration of the salt, chemical nature of anion and the type of alkali metal cations have been studied. The measurements of flexural and compressive strength of HAV and HAC with lithium and other alkali metal salts have been made. The lithium cation has greater effect on the setting time than other alkali cations. The effect of hydroxyl ion on setting time is greater than the effect of other investigated anions. Along with rapid setting, lithium salts cause the strength development at early ages. The integral analyses of the results have been made in order to test the process of hardening. The process obeys a simple first-order reaction rate in the period of 6 h after first appearance of the strength. The action of lithium-containing setting accelerators is based on a shortening of the induction period, while they have no effect on the rate of hardening.