Spring seems to have come early to the Pacific Northwest, this year. Not one to protest, I immediately jumped out into the garden and started working the soil. It's so satisfying when plants start popping up, almost when you've forgotten about them. It is still, technically, winter, so I have to wait to start popping plants in the dirt in earnest, but to satisfy my desire to DO SOMETHING, I decided to make stepping stones.
The added bonus to this project is that it is super duper kid friendly (minus the mixing of cement), but their favorite part is mostly in preparation...namely, getting the 'jewels' together. There is something very satisfying about pressing the marbles into half wet cement. I could see where one could get very precise and exact about this project, but I went the way of 'let's see what happens'.
We wound up making two different sizes : 6 and 12 inches in diameter. A nice bonus is how cheap this project is, because pavers/stepping stones can get crazy expensive. Especially those kits you can buy at craft stores. I saw those listed for 20-30 dollars, for one. Nuts to that. One bag of concrete costs 6 bucks. We made 6 stones, and still have half a bag left. The 'molds' are one to two dollars a piece, based on size. Really, your biggest investment are the marble jewels (especially if you have two little girls who get crazy excited and basically want to get everything shiny they see), but you could definitely use anything you have around the house. Get as complex as you want!
Stepping Stone Tutorial
Materials : Plastic plant saucers (any size).
Quikcrete concrete mix (We used the professional type, because it has fibers in it, which will
help keep them from cracking.)
Window Screening, Hardware Cloth, or Chicken Wire
Marbles, rocks, old toys...etc,
Dust mask, bandana
Stirring implement (I used an old, thick stick)
Tarp, Drop cloth, or Newspaper
Small hand shovel, or old cup
First, use the Vaseline to grease up the plant saucers. You could forego this step and hope that your stones pop out once they're dry, but why chance it?
Next cut out your window screening to be one inch smaller in diameter than your particular mold. this acts as a 'matrix' to keep your stones strong and give the concrete something to bond to.
Follow the instructions on the bag for mixing the concrete. I basically dumped shovelfuls of mix in the bucket and slowly added some water (a little at a time) to get the consistency of brownie batter. Only mix as much as you will use immediately, this stuff hardens fast. Put some in your molds, about half way. I scooped with my glove covered hands. Place the window screening on the cement, then pat it down. Put more cement on top, until the mold is filled. Tap the molds to get rid of air bubbles. Let sit for 30 - 60 mins to set up. If you put the embellishments on now, they will sink to the bottom, so be patient and let it get a little stiff. After the cement has set up, go crazy with decorating! If you make a mistake, take out the offending material, smooth the cement and redo. Let them sit, undisturbed, for three days to a week. After the first day of drying, sprinkle them with water every day (it makes the cement harder). Once dry, pop out and enjoy! Take that, fancy garden store. I don't need your stinking designer stones.
Tips: I did this outside. It really helped with clean up factor. I also put the molds on a piece of wood, so I could transport them to where their final drying place would be. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, and it rains a lot here, I didn't need to wet them down. I mean, it's concrete, it's meant for being outside and getting rained on. The concrete comes in 80 lb bags and since I'm carrying an infant most times, I got someone to help me get it in the car (and cart). Also, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! Even with gloves on, my hands got really dry (due to the concrete). I used nitrile gloves, next time, I will use thicker dishwashing gloves. Make sure to wash little hands after decorating, because, if left on too long, it can burn. We spent about 20 mins decorating before we washed up and had no problems. Also, they mostly pushed the marbles in, so they really didn't touch the cement much.