There is a type of person who spends their walking time looking down at the ground, searching for small things that fit in the pocket. I am one of these people. Be it cities or beaches, I watch my feet for springs, seashells, glass, rusty gears, or anything shiny. When you begin to collect too much of something, you realize you’d better do something with them before your friends question you. This is one of my solutions:
Mosaic Stepping Stones
My brother came to visit me in Japan and we made these one night after a day at the beach collecting rocks and glass. Here are the supplies:
Old Cardboard boxes (or a mold)
Dry Cement (Can be found in bags at hardware stores)
Measuring cup (and water)
Gloves, newspaper, bags
Rocks, seashells, glass, ceramic… broken stuff!
Carefully read the directions on your cement. Every mix is different. Generally speaking, you need to mix the cement with a specific amount of water listed (start with less and add more as needed because you can’t take the water back out!)
Make your cardboard molds. (see cement-reading image) I made some simple squares with old boxes and duct tape, but you could make circles, hexagons, or whatever floats your boat. Make sure they are deep enough to make the height of stone you need (Don’t go under 2 inches) and makes sure there are no holes for the cement to get out, especially the corners!
Spray the inside of your molds REALLY well with WD-40. This will make sure you can get the cardboard off your stepping stone in the end. I suggest this be done outside.
Mix cement with a disposable stir stick (we used an old umbrella handle). Just mix in 75% of the water first, then add more as needed. Be sure to wear gloves because cement is not exactly a healthy medium to get on your skin and it will dry your skin harshly. We did this outside to minimize mess.
Put your WD-40’d molds on a protected surface (newspaper or garbage bags) and pour the cement into the molds you’ve prepared. Be sure to pick up and drop your molds from a height of 1 or 2 inches a few times to settle the cement and prevent air bubbles. You can use a piece of scrap cardboard to scrape the top to make it as flat as possible. Test your cement to see how wet it is. If you press your stir stick into it and the hole fills with water after you remove it- it’s too wet. Wait a while for it to set. 5 minutes or so usually does it, though you can wait 15 or 20.
Now for the fun part. Get out your boxes of junk. Some people actually have a pre-drawn designs in mind, but I prefer random. Press pieces into the cement. Make sure to press them in far enough that they are almost flat with the cement. This will minimize the chances of them falling out after they dry. Remember to push them straight down and do not wiggle them as that will create a gap between the cement and the piece. Keep a paper towel nearby to wipe off cement or water from the tops of your pieces as you go. Try to work from one corner of your mold to the opposite side to avoid unplanned gaps.
Now that your cement is looking beautiful, put it in a safe place where it will not be disturbed for a few days. Closets are nice because the temperature does not fluctuate. Keeping them outside risks serious cracking as temperatures shift. Make sure your pieces remain absolutely FLAT as they dry or else your stepping stones will be warped and crack when you step on them. Also, cover your stones with a grocery bag to keep air flow to a minimum and slow down the drying process.
The usually curing time is 48 hours for cement, but there are always variants. I wait 3 days to be absolutely certain. When the time of unveiling comes, remove the cardboard from your mold (it usually has to be torn, but you could wet it as well), and admire your work. Some people like to spray the surface with clear acrylic spray as it will keep the porous holes of the cement from absorbing dirt and water, but if you don’t use it you’ll survive.
At this point, especially if it’s your first time, you may find some of your pieces (especially round objects like rocks) are wobbling or have plainly fallen out. These can be affixed back into their holes with some epoxy or gorilla glue. Every Chinese garden I’ve been to with cement, rock walkways has the same problem, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
I hope you have fun making your own stepping stones. If you do, please upload and post pictures of your projects and any tips you want to share. Now go use up those boxes of miscellanea!