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Saturday, July 9, 2011


For a complete tutorial loaded with even more pictures and instructions, click here.

For a quick, fun and very easy garden project, grab a bag of concrete, your imagination, and follow me!
Concrete planters and garden ornamentation are a wonderful addition to the outdoor setting around one's home.
Often, such decor comes with a high price, enormous size and incredible weight which is not easily transported. The solution? Make your own.
While you would likely not fare well to dive right into large scale concrete landscaping, you can dabble a bit in a smaller project to begin with. Then, when you find how addicting this craft is, take it easy on me for suggesting it. So let's get started.
What you will need:

QUIKRETE® Concrete Mix (No. 1101) is the original
4000 psi average compressive strength blend of portland cement, sand, and gravel or stone. Just add water. Use for any general concrete work.
(Ver batum as posted on the Quikrete site) Resist the urge to use heavy duty concrete, as it is very chunky.

Though many home improvement stores carry ready-to-mix concrete in 80 pound bags, it is also available in other sizes, depending on your preference as well as ability to lug it around. Be sure to allow store employees to help load the larger bags into your car. There are many types of ready-to-mix available, choose accordingly. I prefer Quikrete (mainly because it is readily available in our area) and Quikrete Vinyl Concrete Patcher, but these products are mere suggestions. Nothing is cast in stone. Yet.

COLORING - Not a necessary item at all, though coloring concrete is quite fun, and easy! Check out liquid cement colors near the concrete section of your local hardware store. A 10 oz. bottle will color quite a bit of concrete. If you want to maintain color consistency in your projects, consider making up large bottles of colored water for your project, and be sure to keep a lid on the container of mixed water. Shake well before using.

- A n endless supply of molds, containers an d other ideas are available everywhere. Scour yard sales, thrift stores and other thrifty places for interesting shapes and sizes. Don't stick to bowls, use your imagination. You could even make your own. Try not to choose anything with great detail, as you may be disappointed. For finer detail, use Vinyl Patch mix, which has far less bumps and bits of rock.

Just about any container can be utilized as a mold for concrete, provided you are able to get the finished product out of it. Bowls, cups, milk cartons, jugs, the ideas are bountiful. At present, I've found much delight in selecting unique glass containers from second hand stores and yard sales. If the finished item cannot be dropped or dumped out of the mold, after the concrete has fully set up, simply (and gently) tap the glass to crack or break it from your concrete creation, then rinse off the glass and be sure to take it to the recycling center.

Plastic, stainless steel and other materials release from the cured concrete easily when non-stick spray is applied to the mold prior to adding concrete.

NON-STICK COOKING SPRAY - Yes, release agents are sold specifically for the purpose of mold release when using concrete, but quite frankly, a cheap can of non-stick cooking spray works just fine. Use it generously to ensure your project will slide out of the mold.

A WATER BATH - Concrete is not as easy as mix, set and forget. It needs to harden, or 'cure'. Unfortunately, concrete is notorious for setting before the ingredients have had a chance to bond as securely as they could have. The result of a rushed concrete job is cracking, weakened durability and a crumbled project. I allow my projects to remain in the mold for a minimum of 24 hours, then carefully remove, and gently set the item into a deep bath of water for a minimum of one week. Okay, fine, I admit it, I stuff them into pond plant containers and sometimes in with the Koi. Often I submerge the entire project to avoid any damage. DON'T rush it, don't be impatient. The reward to patience is well worth it. A week. I mean it!

WATER - Necessary to mix with the concrete. Not too hot, not too cold, not too much, not too little. Perhaps my 'luck' has been the love of making mud pies as a child. Think Goldilocks, and mix well.

RUBBER GLOVES - Nothing fancy needed, but you should wear them. Be safe, not sorry. Concrete poisoning is no fun, and it's not pretty. I know this from personal experience.

EMERGENCY MOLDS - So you've mixed a pristine batch of concrete, you've sprayed the mold and you're in the process of filling it. Whoops, not enough concrete! Quick, dump it out and reach for another mold. Keep one close by for this very reason, and don't forget to spray it first. It is better to make a bit more than to end up a bit short.

A POKER - You'll need something about the circumference of a pencil to poke out air bubbles.

A LARGE SPOON - Or any similar item to mix the concrete. My favorite? A skinny garden trowel. Keep your eyes off items in the utensil drawer of the kitchen unless you no longer wish to use it on food.

BUCKETS, MEASURING CUPS, MISCELLANEOUS 'TOOLS OF THE TRADE' - Obtain inexpensive tools and reserve them for concrete projects alone, as they will become tarnished with concrete. Don't be wasteful. Clean and re-use your tools.

Spray your mold and set aside. Mix the concrete so it is about the consistency of peanut butter, not a slushee. It should hold a bit of form when shaped into a ball, but not so wet that it slumps, and not so dry that you can't make a ball without a great deal of effort. Pack the mold, tapping and poking the concrete down into any crevices in the mold. Once filled, level off the top with something flat like a ruler. Set on a level surface out of direct sun. Wait twenty four hours before you even think of touching it.

TIME - Now you have to make a decision. I've tried submerging the entire project, mold and all, for one week before attempting to remove glass molds, as well as removing the mold by breaking it after 24 hours. I highly suggest submerging the entire project. In a week's time, you will be able to gently smack the glass and remove it from the concrete as opposed to risking a not-quite-set-yet project.

After completion, be sure to wash off your tools as well as you can, and make certain you wash your hands and arms well. Apply lotion. In one week's time, remove the concrete item from the water and...enjoy!

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