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The days are still short and cold here, but I’m starting to think about Spring and the flower garden. I don’t do all that much gardening right now, but I have in the past and very much appreciate garden/yard decorations in amongst the plants. I wanted to do a rather easy garden art project with colored cement. So, I spent a bit of time figuring out a new way to make stepping stones that have cool colorful designs. Here is the short version. First, I made a colored cement shape by adding latex paint to the cement batch and shaping the cement as if it was clay. Then I plopped the colored shape in an oiled round cake pan, shaped it a bit more, and finally, I filled the rest of the mold with uncolored cement. It’s an easy and fun way to get inlaid color into your cement projects.
If you are looking for a DIY gift for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, why not give them something that is lasting and costs less than diamonds?
Now for the details.
- container to use as a mold for the stepping stone (I used a 9-inch cake pan)
- measuring spoons/cups
- dust mask
- protective gloves
- mixing bowl
- Quikrete Anchoring Cement, Rapid Set Cement All, Shapecrete, or similar
- latex paint (for instance, most interior wall paint, optional)
- stones (optional)
- spray oil
- paper towel
- cement/concrete sealer (optional)
ABOUT THE PAINT
The type of paint to use for coloring cement (and concrete) is latex paint. Most interior wall paints are this type of paint. Leftover paint and sample-size jars are ideal for this project because you don’t need much. You can also use acrylic latex paint in little containers that you can find at craft stores. When paint is added to the cement in the mixing process, it tints the cement, giving a muted version of the color and sometimes an unexpected color.
MIXING AND POURING THE CEMENT
For my stepping stones, I made colored shapes using latex paint and left the fill cement uncolored. If you want to, the fill cement can also be colored.
Cement with Latex Paint Recipe
Use the following general proportions per batch:
8 parts Quikrete anchoring cement or Cement All (dry) by volume
1 part water
1/2 to 1 part latex paint
Making the Colored Shapes
First, coat the inside of your mold with cooking oil. For this project, you only want a light coat of oil. What I did was spray a bit of oil on a paper towel then wiped the mold with that. Be sure to wear a dust mask and gloves when working with cement.
When anchoring cement is curing (drying) it goes through a phase where it has a clay-like consistency and can be molded. It is clay-like for only about 5 minutes and then hardens. When latex paint is added, this phase is extended, and it remains clay-like for roughly 10 minutes. There is a cement product that I will mention but haven’t used yet: Shapecrete. It would probably be ideal for this project. I think it is very much like anchoring cement, but the working time is one hour, rather than 5-10 minutes with anchoring cement. If any of you try this project with Shapecrete, let me know how it worked out!
I will walk you through the process with the heart stepping stone. Of course you can make any shape or design you want. At the end, I’ll give some info on the other stepping stones where I used variations of the basic procedure.
To make the heart, I started with roughly 8 oz by volume of Cement All anchoring cement and added red paint to it in a bowl. I don’t measure the paint anymore. I suppose it is like cooking where ingredients are added by experience and feel. Per the recipe above, add up to 1 oz (2 Tablespoons) of paint and then mix.
I mix with a gloved hand, but a spoon or craft stick also work well. Once you add the paint and water to the cement you have about 10 minutes to finish mixing and shaping the cement before it is too hard to work.
Next add a small amount (like a teaspoon) of water and mix. I think it works best to mix with gloves hands at this point. Knead the cement it as if it is flour. If the cement isn’t all sticking together and can’t be formed into a ball, add a bit more water. Knead it and repeat adjustments with water until you can work the cement into a ball. If the cement is too thin and can’t be formed into a ball, add a bit more dry cement and knead it in. Or you can wait a few minutes and the cement will firm up, at which time it can be shaped. When forming the cement, you also might want to switch to a fresh pair of gloves if you have a lot of sticky colored cement on your gloves.
After forming a smooth even ball, I flattened it some and placed it in the center of the cake pan. I then flattened it a little more with the palm of my hand and shaped it like clay into a heart shape. The most important point here is that you want a good “seal” of the cement to the pan, so once you put the ball in the pan don’t move it around much. Shape it, and then leave it alone.
If you have any stray bits of colored clay on the pan, carefully wipe them off with a paper towel. I say carefully because you do not want to move the colored shape.
Filling in Around the Shape with Cement
I used about five 8 oz cups of dry anchoring cement to make a batch of fill cement for the 9-inch cake pan. You might need more or less depending on your mold and how big your cement shape is.
First put anchoring cement in a mixing bowl. Next add water, mix, and adjust the batch to a pourable consistency, like a pourable pudding. Gently pour some of the cement around the colored shapes, being careful not to disturb the shapes. Tap the mold gently to move the cement into any gaps around the shape.
Then gently pour the rest of the cement into the cake pan mold.
Let the cement cure for two hours or more.
Taking Stepping Stone Out of the Mold
To unmold the stepping stone, turn the pan over and gently tap the edge of the pan against a hard surface such as the floor. Sometimes the stepping stone will pop out with just tapping. If it doesn’t come out, tap the sides and bottom gently with a hammer or mallet. All of mine came out with one of these two methods.
What Could Go Wrong?
When experimenting with the technique, I had a few stepping stone “failures.” What do I mean? The main thing that can go wrong is cement seeping under the shape. When this happens, the shape is not completely visible in the finished stepping stone. The main way to avoid this is to put the colored cement into the mold, and then get it formed quickly and with as little moving around as possible. After this, don’t disturb the shape. The partially wet cement of the shape will form a seal between the shape and the cake pan mold, and you don’t want to break the seal. When I made the heart stepping stone, I worked the colored cement into a ball. Then I partially flattened the cement and placed it in the center of the cake pan mold. I shaped it into the heart shape in the mold, being sure to press it firmly against the mold. Then I didn’t disturb it.
The next stepping stone I made why I say to get the shapes in place then leave it alone. I made a dragonfly that had little parts of different colors. I had not worked out beforehand how big I wanted the body, tail, wings, etc. and the exact placement. So I moved the pieces around a lot. The shapes were almost dry by the time I was happy with how it looked, but I smashed them into the pan anyway and hoped for the best. The best didn’t happen. Sad. The poor dragonfly was partially covered with cement.
Another issue I had happened on the first stepping stone I made. I used a very thick batch of fill cement, and it didn’t fill in right around the flower shape leaving gaps between the flower and the fill cement. For subsequent batches, I mixed thinner cement. I liked the flower, though, and “fixed” it by filling in the gaps with black colored cement. I made a very small batch of cement mixed with black latex paint and used a toothpick with bristles (brushpick) as sort of a paintbrush to apply the black cement.
Other Stepping Stone Designs
To make the flower (described above–the one with gaps), I mixed a batch of yellow cement for the center.
Then I mixed a batch of blue cement (using blue and white paint). I made five equal-sized round balls with the batch of blue paint. From here, I flattened the balls a little, them put them in the pan and finished shaping the petals.
Then I filled in with uncolored cement. I remade the flower (photo below) with thinner fill cement and this worked to fix the gap issue.
Another style was made by putting yellow balls in the pan, then first filling in with bits of colored cement left over from other stepping stones followed by uncolored cement. This gave an interesting mottled pattern to the stepping stone.
For stone below, I worked the cement into a long thin piece, then formed it into a circle in the pan. The piece broke apart getting it into the pan, but it turned out okay anyway. I added some balls, too. You might notice that the background of this stone is a bit darker than the others. For this stone, I used Quikrete anchoring cement whereas for the others I used Cement All. The color is the only difference I notice between the two, with Quikrete being darker and Cement All being lighter.
I sealed my stepping stones with Rain Guard.
Have a wonderful day!
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