By Francesca Clarke
Before I had children, my Dad got some pretty good Father's Day gifts. Home Depot gift certificates and cool tech toys were among his favorites. When our oldest was born, 5 years ago, we started giving framed pictures instead.
As our family has grown, the photos have become more abundant, and the frames cheaper. He loves having pictures of the grandchildren, but I wanted to come up with something a bit more creative this year.
With nearly every visit to my parents' place, Grandpa takes the children up to his garden to check on the plants. My boys love to notice how Grandpa's garden is growing, and to report on the changes since their last visit. My dad loves to garden, and sharing that with his grandkids has become a sort of ritual. This Father's Day, we decided to build on that and make him a stepping stone.
Reasd on to see how we made this garden stone, and for some tips to make your own.
After filling my cart at Michaels with gravel-free cement and a mold, I found this kit
on sale for 50% off. While I am a die-hard DIY
er, I just can't justify spending more for the cement and the mold separately when they are cheaper bought together.
Here's everything you need to make a 12" by 12" stepping stone (the first three of which you'll find in the kit):
- 8 lbs of cement mix
- Stirring stick
- Plastic mold
- Large bucket for mixing the cement (hopefully something you're not too attached to)
- Measuring cup
- Waterproof acrylic paint
- Decorative stones and other embellishments
- Pencil, toothpick or skewer for writing (or better yet, some concrete stamps)
- PAM or WD40 (if you are using a homemade mold)
My sister, her two children, my three children, and I armed ourselves with our supplies, and got ready to get messy making Grandpa's gift. You'll want to follow the cement mixing and setting instructions that come with your kit or cement, but the times and portions we used seem typical for this stepping stone size. Here's how to make your garden stone:
Mix the cement
Pour the cement
- Pour 2 cups of water into the mixing bucket.
- Pour in 2.5 lbs of cement and mix for one minute.
- Add another 2.5 lbs of cement and mix for another minute.
- Adding the rest of the cement, stir for three minutes, making sure it is mixed thoroughly.
Make your imprints
- If you are using a homemade mold, you will need to grease it first with WD40 or PAM. If not, skip this step.
- Pour the cement into the mold.
- Gently shake the mold, working out air and forcing bubbles to the surface.
- Smooth out the bubbles by patting the surface with the mixing stick.
- Run the long side of the stick over the surface of the cement, scraping away any imperfections and giving it a polished finish.
Setting times differ, so check the instructions that came with your specific cement mix. For each recommended time, I found it best to wait until the outside time had passed. You'll have to press a little harder, but this way the imprint won't fill in.
Let the stone set
- Add decorative stones: after 5 min., add in stones or any other items that get pressed into the cement.
- Write and draw in the cement: after 15-25 min., draw in the cement using a pencil or skewer.
- Make handprints: after 20-30 min., press handprints into the cement.
The stone needs to set for 48 hours. Don't move the stone to another place for setting: leave it in one place (far from little hands), undisturbed.
Take it out of the mold
- Flip the mold upside-down onto a cloth or towel.
- Working your way around the edges, gently peel the mold away from the cement.
- Tap the bottom of the mold to release the stone.
Paint the stone
We planned on painting our garden stone, but were so happy with how it looked "au naturel" that we decided not to. If you do paint it, you'll want to use waterproof acrylics. You could add a little highlighting yourself, or let the kiddie crafters dig in and decorate.
Tips and tricks
The best part about following these instructions is that somebody (that's me!) has already made the mistakes for you. Here are a few things we found out the hard way, some solutions we discovered, and tips for next time.
-Don't add too much water: It will be really hard to mix -- it is after all, cement. But don't be tempted to add more water. This will give you trouble the whole way through, causing the writing and imprints not to take, and causing it to take longer to set in the end.
-Choose a different mixing tool: The kit came with a paint mixing stick, which is also what is recommended in other instructions I've found. I don't think this stick was strong enough to give a good stir and thoroughly mix the cement. I'd suggest using a sturdier wooden stick or other utensil that you're comfortable tossing out afterwards.
-What if there is too much water? Even if you didn't add too much, there might still be a thin layer on the top. This will prevent the stone from having that partially-set top texture, making it very hard to write or draw on. Scrape off as much as you can with the mixing stick. If the top layer is still too moist, place a paper towel over it, and pat gently, absorbing some of the water. Do this a few times, until the surface rock has a tacky texture.
-Plan your stone ahead of time: Our original plan was to etch the words "Grandpa's Garden" at the top of the stone, and have each little handprint in the space bellow. Clearly, there wasn't enough room for that (I guess our babies' hands are larger than we thought!). We would have been wiser to draw out our design on paper, first, and plan how everything would fit together.
-Invest in some concrete stamps: Before we realized that there wasn't going to be enough space for our wording, we tried etching it out with a pencil. No matter how careful we were, the lettering looked messy. Concrete letter stamps would have made the inscription look crisp and polished.
-How do I get the concrete out from under my fingernails? Sorry, I've got nothing here. I was hoping you could answer that for me! The whole project takes two days, so get started now, and it will be ready for Father's Day.