Introduction: Garden Art - Glass Totems

Picture of Garden Art - Glass Totems

Here is a great little project to use up any glass dishes, lamp shades, or other glass pieces you might have lying around the house. It's a fun way to recycle and create art for your yard and gardens. I have more pictures on my website along with complete instructions. (Update: 11/21/17: I have closed down the gardens and crafts website. Visit our new website

You will need assorted glass dishes that have a flat surface area for the glue. I prefer to use cut glass as it hides any condensation you might get if your totems are displayed in the sun. Good examples are plates, salad bowls, saucers, vases, goblets, hurricane lampshades, toothpick holders, desert bowls, etc.

If you don't have any glass dishes to use, you can find them inexpensively at flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores and online. I don't know what is more fun...collecting the pieces, or actually making the totem. I've also gotten them free by waiting until the end of a yard sale or garage sale. There is usually a box of stuff by the road that they don't want to keep. It's amazing what people will throw away.

Colored glass works well to, but is usually more expensive, plus you need to be careful that the glass you are buying is not painted because the paint will peel off when exposed to the elements for a period of time. I don't like to spend more than $2-$5 per piece, and inexpensive colored glass is usually painted.

You will also need an outdoor clear silicone glue to glue the pieces together.

This project was also featured in the Woman's Publication Gardening & Deck Design (April 2009 Issue).

Step 1: Collecting Your Glass Pieces

Look for pieces that will stack well together and have a flat gluing surface on the bottoms. This will help prevent water and air from getting inside once they are glued together and it will help the totems look level when you have a flat gluing surface to work with.

Personally, I like to glue a plate between each piece. I think this adds to the overall look as well as helping the pieces be sturdier once glued together.

Step 2: Preparing the Glass Pieces

Clean all glass well with warm soapy water and make sure they are thoroughly dry and lint free before gluing. I used a microfiber cloth to "polish" the glass before gluing. You can use denture cleaning tabs for hard to clean vases (1-4 tabs per vase usually works).

Step 3: Gluing

Picture of Gluing

Use a clear silicone glue or Lexel for best results. Make sure the adhesive you use is weather resistant. Glue up pieces in sections, letting each section cure before putting them all together as one piece. Try gluing the pieces during low humidity to reduce condensation.

Step 4: Displaying Your Totems

Picture of Displaying Your Totems

You can make free standing totems or use an upside down vase glued to the bottom to mount them on poles. Copper is a popular choices, but with prices being so high these days, I use PVC conduit pipe (the gray stuff in the home improvement stores). I paint it using a spray paint specifically for plastics to give it the look of copper or any other color you may like.

Rebar is pounded into the ground first and then the conduit is placed over that. The great thing about conduit is that each end is slightly bigger than the remainder of the conduit so you have more flexibility in what you use on the bottom of your totems. I've found the short wide mouth vases that narrow as you get closer to the bottom and toothpick holders work great.

Step 5: Displaying Them in Your Garden

Picture of Displaying Them in Your Garden

They really sparkle in the sun and look great in the garden. The options are endless.


KellySmith (author)2016-11-12

These are beautiful! I'd like to make one for my mom's garden, but I'm wondering how they hold up in cold weather. It gets seriously cold in Missouri.

I leave mine outside all year round and they do great. I use Lexel for the adhesive. If you use silicone you might want to bring them inside for the winter as it doesn't hold up as well. I live in central New York where it gets very cold and lots of snow.

Great! Thanks!

Helen_B (author)2014-08-24

Thanks for the great tip on mounting in the garden. I've been making garden art plates and other little objects this summer, but have been having trouble coming up with how to mount them properly. I LOVE your totems! I've been collecting glassware to make one for about two years and almost have enough for a totem.

bsfout (author)2014-08-05

I love making these and the garden art a great way to hang is use a plate at top with a cup glued on its side with handle up hang it by the cup handle with a small sheapherds hook but i have yet found a glue that holds for very long even the e6000 are there certain types of glass that bond better together and I find bud vases work really good to fit over the top of what ever post you use and i like to use the round wood dowels you can get themin different sizes to fitthe bud vases

bsfout (author)2014-08-05

I love making these and the garden art a great way to hang is use a plate at top with a cup glued on its side with handle up hang it by the cup handle with a small sheapherds hook but i have yet found a glue that holds for very long even the e6000 are there certain types of glass that bond better together and I find bud vases work really good to fit over the top of what ever post you use and i like to use the round wood dowels you can get themin different sizes to fitthe bud vases

AmyInNH (author)2014-05-11

Just saw these again at a community plant sale. I've been saving glass for the past two years since I saw them last time. Thank you for posting instructions, particularly the adhesive recommendations. Trekked over to your blog, will need to spend a (rainy) day there browsing. Thanks for your time posting all this info, very inspiring.

artist without a medium (author)2009-04-21

Very nice. I may try this using of old glass insulators.I'll let you know how it turns out.

We have some old glass insulators in our shed; they are so pretty, but guess I'm not creative enough to figure out something neat to do with them.  Did you ever do anything with yours and if so, could you post a photo, so those of us who are creative-challenged can benefit?


bauble (author)mjreneau2010-03-21

This is a beautiful idea GardensAndCrafts. I'll be doing this for sure. Might take apart a solar garden light and put it in one of these glass creations.

As for the glass insulators, I got some big ones when a telegraph pole on my old street was replaced. Here's some pictures of them in my old garden. The insulators would have been 10 or 11 inches across and were very heavy.

bauble (author)bauble2010-03-21

Here's another lot hanging from a tree.

joseph73 (author)bauble2012-09-05

How did you hang this, I'm very puzzled
It looks awesome

bauble (author)joseph732012-09-06

Hi there Joseph

I've managed to track down the original photo from 2005. I've taken a screenshot of it at full size, but digital cameras back then weren't what they are now...

So you should be able to see a bit more detail now. It looks like I've used two shackles. I used two instead one just for the extra length. Safety is the most important thing, these shackles are very sturdy as you can see. I've secured the top shackle to the tree using a good sized coach screw. The bottom insulator is secured to the other one with another shackle which also happens to have a split pin through it.

I was thinking about these glass insulators a few days ago and wishing I could get some more as I left those ones in the garden when I moved away.

bauble (author)bauble2012-09-06

I made a mistake. I meant to say the bottom shackle is attached to the top shackle in the last line of the second paragraph.

Joseph - Those are insulators from an electroc company, most likely. You can find many styles at flea markets and antique stores. I have several myself, but don't have a string of three hanging anywhere...yet.

I've used some to line a small garden bed and then I made hose guides with a whole bunch of them.  There are pictures at this link of the hose guides.  I'll have to look to see if I have a picture of the garden beds.

Here are some pictures of the garden beds with the insulators.

chrissycookie (author)2012-07-12

I've made several of these garden art pieces and love it! I am not sure how they will last outdoors in the weather. Also, I'm using E6000 to glue pieces together which seems to work the best with the least cure time. What have you found to be the best glue?

ladybugm (author)chrissycookie2012-07-15

I have found that E6000 is very good. In fact most glues can be taken apart with different products, but we are unable to remove anything once the E6000 has cured. We can lift up our totems by the top piece and some are pretty heavy. However you must be sure that all your pieces are clean and free of any finger prints.

I have had many people tell me that E6000 does not work all that well, but then preparation of the glass is everything. Lexel is my favorite, although the cure time is long.

I also have not had luck with solar lights. For one thing the light usually stops working long before my totem breaks or comes unstuck and I don't like how they look during the day when they are not lit.

chrissycookie (author)2012-07-12

Solar lights are an inexpensive way to add light and interest to your piece.

JDiebling (author)2012-06-27

Theseare so cute. Was wondering if I could use heavy duty plastic platesand bowls for this? Thanks

I have never used plastic so not sure how they would hold up. I imagine the sun would fade them out in one season though.

juliesdotter (author)2012-05-19

i haven't tried this yet, but if you didn't have a bottom piece that fit securely onto the pvc or the conduit, couldn't your wrap the end of hte pvc or conduit with clear plastic bags and then when the fit was secure, tape the bags to secure them? since it is clear, it wouldn't show...

or, how about finding a a fitting that will fit into the bottom piece and glueing it onto the end of the pvc?

Julie - Duct tape works great for that. I have a couple of pieces that wobbled a little and I wrapped duct tape around the parts of the pvc where it needed more support. I used to use aluminum foil or plastic wrap, but eventually that would fall out. Then it dawned on me to try the duct tape and it worked great and you can't see it either.

wmkcross (author)2012-02-09

might be cool to add a solar powered light as a stake. the light would difuse up into the totem at night.

richlgordon (author)2011-08-26

If you want to start your totem with a larger more substantial vase or bowl, I don't understand how you can anchor something 4 or 5 feet high to the ground using PVC pipe, even though I love the idea of using PVC (visible or invisible). I also like the idea of putting the PVC over rebar, I just don't understand how a few inches or so of PVC can stabilize and hold something in place.

You would not use PVC pipe in that case, the totem will sit on a hard surface all by itself.

Lady Gettysburg (author)2011-07-23

Hi I just joined. My friend showed me some pictures of totems she makes and these are by far neater than she hers. I just collected 2 boxes of glassware from a thrift shop and with this great information, can't wait to get started. I will post some of mine after I get them finished.

Handy-nan (author)2011-07-08

Brilliant!!! idea of using the rebar and conduit, then painting the conduit. I've collected up an assortment of items to build my first totem. I've been trying to figure out the best way to secure it in the garden. This is perfect!!! Thanks!!!

fleur2 (author)2011-03-23

Specifically, what kind of Lexel do you use? Glue? Caulk? Clear" Thanks. I'm collecting stuff for a totem and want it to last.

dianajc (author)fleur22011-03-31

I am using an aquarium silcone for my outdoor glass projects. it works great and is not toxic like most of the other silicones.

GardensAndCrafts (author)fleur22011-03-23

There is only one type of Lexel that I know of and it only comes in clear. Here is a link:

quiltbev (author)2011-03-09

I can't find the discussion about the glues to use with the glass totems...I used Well Bond and it is still white after 4 days--not clear! Did I use it too thickly do you suppose? I can't find that Lex--whatever. Any ideas of who might carry that one?
Thanks for the inspiration--lots of fun! I just want my glue to be clear!:-)

Weldbond won't work with totems. I get Lexel at my local hardware store. You can also use clear silicone.

zowi420 (author)2011-01-10

for the bottom piece, just use an upside down vase or glass soda pop bottle. It is perfect to slide onto the copper pipe (or stick or whatever), and the bottom, which is now the top, is a flat surface, perfect for stacking the dishes you've picked for the project: Tip: Less is better!

bauble (author)2010-03-29

Thanks for the great idea. I've made one too, but haven't glued it. I used 3 plates, 1 drinking glass, 2 candle holders and one funny shaped thing at the top. Actually it's similar to the glass object at the top of the photo in Step 5.

quiltbev (author)bauble2010-12-26

I think that's a "ring holder" at the top--used for holding the wedding ring while
doing dishes by hand--Obsolete?

I believe you are right. I use them quite often, they make good toppers.

suhuben (author)2010-05-13

How are the totems attached to the poles? I've made similar items but always used my  drill press to drill thru plates & bolt them to the pipe. I got some free galvanized poles that I am using, now, but I like the idea of PVC if you could tell me, please how you attach the totems to the pipe.

GardensAndCrafts (author)suhuben2010-05-13

The pvc pipe (or grey electrical conduit)  is not attached to the totem.  On the bottom of each totem I've glued a small vase or toothpick holder that fits the pvc perfectly.  Once the glue has cured I just slip the totem on top of the pvc.    I hope this answers your question.

suhuben (author)GardensAndCrafts2010-05-13

I sure have been doing it the hard way, but don't they slip off the pvc when it's windy or rainy? It doesn't seem sturdy enough to me. I have also used hocky pucks to stabilize the bird baths I have made out of crystal & glass. I drill an opening to insert the pipe (I've been using copper of galvanzied) so the first plate has a sturdy base. Then I screw it into the cap & use putty to hold the cap onto the pipe. It's a lot more involved than it need to be, from what you just told me. I am going to try it! Thanks!

enemigo (author)suhuben2010-10-31

Try a little silicone sealer on the end of the pvc it´ll act like glue and is not hard to remove later

GardensAndCrafts (author)suhuben2010-05-15

No they don't slip off.  I just make sure that the glass pieces I choose for the bottom fit the pipe tight.  I take a small piece of pvc conduit with me when I am looking to buy glass so I know immediately if they will work.  The vintage toothpick holders I find work really well.

I've had some totems that were a little wobbly so I just wrapped the end of the pipe with a little saran wrap and it was fine.  If you use the grey pvc conduit found in the electrical section, it has a thicker end, so you have two choices of the size of glass pieces you can use for the base. 

Once painted with paint, you can't even tell it's pvc, especially if you use a hammered copper coloed paint.  I like to use the spray paints made for plastic or use a plastic primer and any color regular spray paint.

Good luck....this technique works great for me.

sgsidekick (author)2010-08-05

I made the mistake of showing this site to my mil, who demanded to know where HER gardenglass thingy was!! I finally broke down and got some pieces from the dollar store and ended up with a very nice "thingy"...which she now is using as a kitchen table centerpiece!! Go figure! Thanks for this 'ible! It is very cool!

enemigo (author)sgsidekick2010-10-31

try looking in the"goodwill" for old kitchen dishes and candleholders

suhuben (author)2010-05-15

Thank you so much! I am going to try it. But, I must admite I love using my drill press! Your idea is so much simpler, cheaper, & I am excited to try it.

munsey (author)2009-06-18

I used 2 tubes of fish aquarium silicone for three birdbath towers. I am enthused with the prospects of different colors and crockery options.

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