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How to Make Steppingstones

This summer you could be 'stepping out' on your own original works of art. Use these instructions to create one-of-a-kind stepping stones for your garden or yard.

Bett McLean

As you're roaming your garden or yard, imagine following a path of decorated stones to your favorite bench or coming upon a stone surprise tucked in a wildflower patch. Our do-it-yourself steppingstones can be as simple or elaborate, as practical or whimsical as you wish — and they can be created in a few hours. This year, instead of stepping in the mud to avoid trampling your basil, you could be standing on an original work of art.

Materials Needed:

  • a mold — a plastic plant tray or pizza box
  • Quikcrete mortar mix
  • bucket
  • rubber gloves
  • mixing tool
  • trowel
  • paper mask
  • protective eyewear
  • paper towels
  • craft sticks
  • decorative items

Step 1:

Poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of your plastic plant tray or reinforce your pizza box with tape.

Step 2:

Plan your design using a paper template. (Mortar hardens quickly, so it's important to plan first, and mix and pour second.)

Step 3:

Mix the mortar with water until it's the consistency of thick frosting. We found it best to start with water and pour in the mortar a cup at a time, stirring as you go (wear protective eyewear and a paper mask so you don't inhale the concrete dust).

Step 4:

Pour the mortar into your mold. Use your gloved hands to knead the mix until there are no bubbles. Smooth the top with a trowel. The surface should give but shouldn't be runny.

Step 5:

Embed your decorative items. Start with the border (where the mix dries fastest) and move to the middle. You should feel the mixture sort of "grabbing" your items as you press them in with your gloved hand or a craft stick. Don't push too hard, but do make sure they're actually stuck to the surface. If your decorations sink below the surface, your mixture is too wet. Start over again.

Step 6:

Let your stone dry in a protected area. Most quick-drying mixtures set in a couple of hours, but we left all of our stones overnight just to be safe.

Step 7:

Carefully turn over your mold, and gently pop out the stone. If you're using a cardboard box, tear away the cardboard.

Steppingstone Tips:

  • Choose a workspace where your molds won't have to be moved for 24 hours. When we moved filled molds before they were completely "set," we found that we'd broken the suction and that decorative items popped out and cracks formed around the edges of the stone.

  • Wear gloves when you're mixing and use craft sticks to embed the items in the mortar. Thin medical-supply gloves offered protection without getting in the way.

  • Smooth the top of your stone all the way to the edge of the mold. If the concrete is a little higher around the edges, it's likely to chip or crumble off when you remove the stone from the mold.

  • If you're using concrete stain (we tried brown, yellow and black), add the stain to the water before you add the mortar mix.

  • For added durability, you can embed a layer of thin mesh (like window-screen material or chicken wire) in the middle of the steppingstone. Fill the mold halfway, add the screen and then fill to the top.

  • To lay several steppingstones in a row, follow Paul James' advice from Gardening by the Yard: Walk across the area where the stone will be laid and mark with chalk or flour where your feet fall. You'll notice that the marks won't be one after another in a straight line; they'll create a sort of natural zigzag.

Photos by David Luttrell

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