Introduction: Giant Concrete Buddha Head Garden Sculpture
After traveling to Mexico and Thailand, I was inspired by the various ruins and stone carvings I saw and wanted to make my own concrete sculpture. I had never done such a project before and was unsure about what route to take, but being a landscape contractor and self-taught artist/creator I was familiar with various forms of concrete/masonry and created a giant Buddha sculpture using the following steps.
There might be easier ways to undertake such a project, but I used what materials I had on hand in order to keep costs minimal - especially not knowing if my idea would work. The original mold and box I made lasted 5 castings before it became unusable. That was due to my lack of reinforcing the mother mold with fiberglass. I then created Version 2.0, which is the method I have been using since and am teaching you today. To date I have made 15 of these 350 lb.+ Buddha castings all of which are currently nestled in various gardens belonging to my friends, family and clients.
empty 5 gallon bucket
all purpose drywall joint topping
fiberglass resin and mat
chicken wire and hardware cloth
2 part expanding foam
1"x2"s and 2"x2"s
Solvent based Concrete sealer
needle nosed pliers
concrete mixer optional
concrete vibrator optional
Step 1: Choose What You Want to Sculpt.
Keep in mind when choosing your subject that there cannot be any undercuts - any indentation or protrusion in a shape that will prevent its withdrawal from a one-piece mold. Determine how large you want the sculpture, and whether you want it free-standing or a lean-to.
I purchased this head a long time ago at a flea market and wanted to create a bigger version. I chose to only create the front half of the head in order to avoid any undercuts and to keep it a one-piece mold. I placed tape on the head to indicate my cut-off line and took photos.
Step 2: Draw Your Outline to Scale and Begin Building Your Frame.
I drew my outline to scale on white paper to use as a guide/template. I own a projector and used that in order to enlarge the Buddha face, which made this step a bit easier.
I used 5 pieces of 1x2's screwed and taped together to give me a basic frame. Chicken wire was then shaped using needle-nosed pliers and was stapled to the wood. Shaping can be done by bending and twisting the chicken wire to create whatever shape you are going for.
Hardware cloth was used to form the nose and neck due to its ability to straight-line bend, along with its strength over chicken wire.
Step 3: Applying the Plaster Cloth.
Moisten the plaster cloth with water and apply two layers in opposing directions over the chicken wire. Let it dry overnight. Once dry you should have a solid surface to start building up with papercrete.
Step 4: Start Applying Papercrete.
Finally you can find a use for all that junk mail filling up your mailbox and old Harbor Freight ads! Papercrete can easily be made by soaking paper in water for a couple days. Once fully soaked the paper should shred easy with a paddle mixer and drill. Remove some of the water from your bucket and using a paddle mixer with a drill, mix together with 2 parts wet blended paper, 2 part Portland cement, and 1 part dry wall mud. Slowly add water until you reach a clay like consistency. If you want to make this process a bit easier you can also use cellulose attic insulation that is just pulped and shredded paper and can be purchased at any home improvement box store.
Begin building up features with papercrete and keep in mind papercrete sticks to itself so you can add layers even if dry. Start forming the subject. I like to use my bare hands when sculpting with papercrete, sort of like working with clay. Keep in mind this will dry the heck out of your hands so use gloves if you want to save your secretary hands. Applying pressure with your hands will make papercrete smooth, but don't worry about smoothing it out so much until you have reached your final layer of papercrete.
Photo # 2 shows the addition of enlarged chin, nose and eyes.
Step 5: Apply Headdress and Any Last Details.
I chose to simplify the headdress and go with a square pattern vs the coil on the original sculpture. Incredible detail can be had using latex but I was going for a rough carved of stone look. This is the time to do any last minute details you want. When the surface of the sculpture is fully dried (after couple of days in the sun depending on the thickness and weather) you can use sandpaper to smooth out the transitions of the different layers of papercrete.
Step 6: Sealing the Casting Surface
Remove the dust from sanding with a damp cloth, then take outside and place sculpture on a drop cloth of some sort. Brush on a thin coat of the wet look sealer, wait a half hour then reapply another coat. This stuff smells really bad and should be done in a well ventilated area. The sealer dries really fast and all that is needed is two thin coats.
Step 7: Cut Wooden Base to Size
Cut a melamine wood base roughly 3" larger all the way around the sculpture. The first version of the mold was a superman shape, then when I did version 2.0 it was made square. Making the box square uses a bit more foam but is easier to manage
Use this base as a template to cut a duplicate base out of plywood which will later be used as a lid to your box.
Place sculpture on the melamine wood base (smooth side up) and use plumbers putty to fill gaps between sculpture and wood.
Step 8: Apply Latex.
Give a light coat of cooking spray to entire surface and base. You don't want any of the layers of latex to fully dry so start this process early and don't stop until you are fully completed. I started a bit late and ended up finishing into the middle of the night. Start painting on a thin layer of latex with a brush. I recommend doing this process in the sun and a fan blowing across the surface helps speed up dry time between layers.
Cover the entire surface with latex as well as 2" around the perimeter on the base wood to work as the lip. You can proceed painting on thicker layers once each one has dried enough to not stick to your finger when touched.. Right after paining on my third coat I covered the entire sculpture with cheese cloth and slightly pushed it into the wet latex. This helps with strength and also allows you to paint on thicker coats without running down the side. Let it fully dry for a day or two. In total I did roughly six layers latex and two layers of cheese cloth in between as to try to give it more strength and get many uses out of it.
Step 9: Create a Barrier Between the Latex and Fiberglass.
Spray entire wooden base and sculpture with cooking spray. Then using plastic wrap, lay long horizontal strips starting at the base working your way up while overlapping each layer until fully covered. You will want the entire wooden base and sculpture covered. The last layer should be at the top. This will prevent fiberglass resin from bonding with the latex for easy removal of the latex glove.
Mist surface of plastic wrap with spray tack. Then repeat the plastic wrap process again, but using aluminum foil this time. Once fully covered, we can begin fiberglassing.
Step 10: Fiberglass.
In my original mold, I didn't use the layer of fiberglass and went straight to the foam. This worked good for about five castings then started to show signs of wear and cracking as there was nothing keeping the foam from breaking and chipping off.
Cut strips of fiberglass mat 4 inches wide by 12 inches. You will need to estimate the number of strips according to the size of your casting. Mix the fiberglass resin and activator per manufacturer directions, I think mine as 12 drops activator per 1 ounce of resin. Keep in mind not to make too large of a batch at one time as the resin dries fast.
Using a brush, apply a layer resin to one section of the sculpture. Then begin applying one strip of fiberglass mat at a time using the brush to fully saturate the mat painting another layer of resin over the top of the mat. As the chemical reaction begins to take place, the mat will soften and become more pliable. You can then move the fibers around as needed to fully cover any voids. Repeat this process until the entire sculpture and an extra 2-inch lip around the base is fully covered with fiberglass.
You will need to do two layers of fiberglass making sure to lay the second layer in the opposite direction as the first layer. Use the brush to poke out air bubbles.
Step 11: Build Your Box.
Using your wooden base as a guide, build the walls of your box around the sculpture and on top of the wooden base make it at least 3 inches above your highest point. I used 2x2's to make a frame to attach the plywood walls. Screw 2x2's to the base, but leave the screws accessible for removal in future steps.
Step 12: Foam Party!
The foam I used expanded roughly 8 times its volume. I made the mistake by trying to do this all in one pour and ended up having too much extra foam that needed to be trimmed down. I suggest doing this step in two sessions keeping in mind that the foam will continue to rise for up to 5-6 hours or more depending on weather.
The 2-part foam gets mixed one to one and needs to be blended well. Before pouring the foam, mist the inside of the box and the fiberglass with water.This helps the bonding process.
Starting at the base and deepest part of the box begin pouring in the foam making sure to cover the entire surface of the sculpture. Make sure not to simply pour the foam in one spot, but rather slowly pour across the entire sculpture so that the foam will rise evenly across the surface.
Let this dry over night. Estimate the amount of remaining foam you'll need to be level with the box walls and repeat the pouring process.
Right after pouring the last foam layer and before it has fully risen, screw the lid on to your box. Let it dry overnight.
Remove screws connecting the 2x2 frame to the base. Once you're sure all screws have been removed, lift the box from the base and pry out the sculpture.
In the first version, I didn't use the cooking spray and plastic wrap/foil layer method and my original came out in pieces. Good thing my mold was in good shape to reproduce it.
Step 14: Reproduction
Good job you got this far, pat yourself on the back now comes the easy part.
Here you can see version two of my box and it is about six years old . Still in tact after casting 15 or more sculptures.
You'll need to first mix your concrete. For every 80 lb. bag of concrete, one shovel of Portland cement was used. We used a small concrete mixer, however I've also done this without a mixer using a wheel barrel, pick and shovel. Mix your concrete, Portland cement and water (added slowly) until you have the consistency of thick clumpy oatmeal.
I recommend buying an extra bag or two of concrete for this first run until you figure out how many bags your mold takes to reproduce.
Spray inside of glove with cooking spray. Then start to shovel in the mixed concrete until you've reached the desired height. I used a concrete vibrator to minimize air pockets and bubbles. You can also tap around the outside of the box with a rubber mallet to try and raise air pockets to the surface.
bend rebar to resemble shape on photo.
Press bent rebar 3 inches into the concrete trying to center the rebar loop at the sculpture's center of gravity.
Smooth out surface of concrete with a trowel and let dry for a week.
Step 15: Removing the Sculpture.
Wait at least one week before attempting to remove the sculpture in order to allow sufficient time for curing and setting. Our sculpture weighs approximately 350 lbs. so to lift this we used a come-along attached to a beam. Carefully lift the sculpture using a come-along and use care setting it down.
Step 16: Finished. or Move on to Staining and Sealing.
You can leave the concrete sculpture as-is or stain and seal it depending on personal taste. I chose to do acid-based stains and to seal with the same sealer I used earlier. Apply stain lightly keeping in mind that the wet-look sealer will make the color look darker. Once stain is fully dry you can then move on to the sealer. Apply two coats of sealer per the earlier step.
The statue looks best when placed popping out of vegetation so find a cool place in your yard to place it.
Enjoy and remember to vote for my Instructable in the casting/concrete contest!