Introduction: Personalized Garden Stepping Stones

Picture of Personalized Garden Stepping Stones

I started making these stepping stones this spring so decided to publish. I use a hotwire machine as can be seen in my other instructables on that subject. I find so many uses for the hotwire technique I don't know how a craftsperson can be without one! So many things, so much fun, very worth while! See "Hotwire Magic" on this site to get up to speed.

Step 1: Materials and Tools Needed for This Project:

Picture of Materials and Tools Needed for This Project:

1. Form(s) for the stepping stone
2. Cement, mortar, sand, water, usual concrete items.
3. Buckets
4. Trowels, spreaders, etc.
5. Sponges
6. Cans or measuring cups to measure the various ingredients.
7. Styrofoam or EPS foam (To make letters for the name, message).
9. Hotwire machine...Mighty Goliath! (See my instructable: making the mighty goliath).
10. Backer or bottom board for the mold. Letters will be glued to this board, and the board serves as the bottom of the mold.

Step 2: Build or Select Forms to Be Used.

Picture of Build or Select Forms to Be Used.

I have made bricks with names also, so have shown some brick forms. For the stepping stones shown, I used a commercially available "walkmaker". These can be found at big box stores. The last time I checked, they were about $13.00. I want to use the largest of the stone shapes as my form. As shown, the form is oriented the way it would be if I wanted to pour a section of walkway. For this use,however, the form is inverted, so that the molded edge will be on the correct face of the stepping stone.

Step 3: Design the Name of Message to Use

Picture of Design the Name of Message to Use

First, I pick my font and point size on the computer....Then I print out the letters/message on a piece of cardstock or regular paper. The letters are then cut out with scissors. I have used previously cut letters to demonstrate, but it is the same for all projects.

Step 4: Glue or Pin Letters to a Foam Blank.

Picture of Glue or Pin Letters to a Foam Blank.

The choice depends on whether you want to resuse these letters. I have alphabets to use, so I pin them on the foam blank. If they are glued, they will be destroyed in the process. It's very easy to cut more, however.

Step 5: Cut Letters Out on the Hotwire

Picture of Cut Letters Out on the Hotwire

This takes a little practice, but not much. The difficulties might be in not setting the correct temperature on the cutting wire. Practice on a few extra letters, and it becomes very simple. Here is the message "welcome to my garden". It is orange simply because I use this foam for all kinds of signs, and I pre-paint some pieces if I know what colors I want. Obviously, the color doesn't matter as it will be removed with the styrofoam at the end.

Step 6: Place and Glue Letters on Bottom Board

Picture of Place and Glue Letters on Bottom Board

Line out the letters accurately, as you want them to be as straight as possible simply for esthetic reasons. The letters must be flipped, right to left with the finish side of the letter facing or glued to the board. I use a mirror to check my work and insure that the letters are lined up correctly, and that they are not reversed. It's best to let the letters sit overnight if possible. I have had them float loose and disappear into the concrete! Hate when that happens.

Step 7: Mix Up a Batch of Concrete Mix With Colorant If Wanted

Picture of Mix Up a Batch of Concrete Mix With Colorant If Wanted

I use a standard mix of 3 parts sand to 1 part cement. If colorant is chosen, add to the water, and not the dry parts. How much colorant to use? I use about 2 tablespoons to 1 and a half cups of water, more or less. Not critical for sure. For the dry mixes, I use a regular 14oz. can, and for the stepping stone it takes about 7 cans of mix to complete the pour. Use a small amount of vegetable oil applied with an old brush to the mold sides as a release agent.

Step 8: Pour the Concrete Into the Mold.

Picture of Pour the Concrete Into the Mold.

Add about 1/3 of the thoroughly mixed water, cement, sand concoction. I tap the edges of the mold, and use a hammer to tap on the bottom (gently) so as to release any air bubbles.

Step 9: Let Set and Cure for 24-48 Hours

Picture of Let Set and Cure for 24-48 Hours

It's always best to go for the longer curing time. I do these on the floor of the garage, so they are not in direct sunlight as they dry/cure. From time to time I spray on some water so that the mix doesn't dry out too rapidly, and aids in the curing process.

Step 10: Remove From Mold and Clean Out Letters

Picture of Remove From Mold and Clean Out Letters

To remove from mold, invert mold and stone, and gently shake stone loose. It should be about one and 1/4 to one and 1/2 inch thick and is very strong. However, letting it sit in the shade for a few days or more will allow it to cure to it's full strength. I usually let them sit for 3-4 days before removing the foam letters. To do this, I use "dental pick" tools for lack of a better description.

Step 11: Stepping Stones Are Ready for the Garden!

Picture of Stepping Stones Are Ready for the Garden!

Voila! If everything comes together right, a nice stepping stone emerges! These can now be placed in the garden, incorporated in a sidewalk, or wherever they fit.


r-philp (author)2009-06-28

You could also dissolve the styrofoam easily with lacquer thinner.

chuckr44 (author)r-philp2009-06-30

What is lacquer thinner? Is it methanol or acetone or something else? Mineral spirits perhaps?

r-philp (author)chuckr442009-06-30

Lacquer thinner is an acetone based solvent. Nail polish remover is essentially lacquer thinner. (which would work too.) It might save you quite a bit of time picking at the foam. A dip in some acetone solvent, and a rinse with water, and you should be done. It's probably worth a try on a small project.

MacGyver1138 (author)r-philp2009-12-30

Regular Styrofoam will dissolve easily in gasoline, as well.  I think that would be even cheaper than lacquer thinner or mineral spirits.

tomanique (author)MacGyver11382012-04-02

Yup, and you'd be left with a little backyard napalm.

MacGyver1138 (author)tomanique2012-04-02

I wasn't planning on making an Instructable about it, but yes, that's true!

shirleyinkuwait (author)2011-10-02

What is the difference between cement and mortar?

Graham56 (author)2010-07-25

Hi Creativeman If you put a bit of peat/soil in your concrete mix it would look a lot more natural--weather'ed, I've done this with an old sink in the garden (put sand, peat, concrete mix on It).............Very good idea, I like your way of lettering the concrete I'm going to give this a go. Graham56

Creativeman (author)Graham562010-07-25

Thanks Graham56...I like your idea, any chance of seeing a picture of that sink? What are the ratios/volumes of the mix? Sounds good. Cman

Graham56 (author)Creativeman2010-07-25

Hi Cman The mix for the sink are 1 part cement 1 and a half parts peat 1 and a half parts sand (sharp if you've got it) I'm having a bit of trouble uploading the pic's but you will get em--- er hang on----

porcupinemamma (author)2009-08-08

Looks really good, but i don't know what a hot wire is.

dchall8 (author)porcupinemamma2010-06-23

Search for Hot Wire on Instructables. There are Instructables on how to make one.

porcupinemamma (author)dchall82010-06-24

O.K thanks :0)

noxelt (author)2009-07-03

Has anyone tried doing it right-side up and pressing the foam letters in (forward-facing) and smoothing the surface? I am wondering what the avantages of doing it upside down are? Terry

dchall8 (author)noxelt2010-06-23

I think the advantage to doing it upside down is that all the bubbles float to the top. If you want a perfectly smooth surface, put the foam pieces on the bottom of the mold.

DebH57 (author)2009-07-20

Now yanno CMan you put my garden stones to shame here. You did an excellent job on this, professional appearance. V+5. You can make one with my name on it anytiime (hint, hint - jk)

3366carlos (author)2009-07-18


butterfly1110 (author)2009-07-04

What is the Mighty Goliath? This sounds like something I could do. I am 70 yrs. old, but would love to make these for my garden.

Photo 5 of this step shows the hot wire machine, Mighty Goliath. Cman

DaveNJ (author)2009-07-03

Cman - I am assuming you used mortar cement (1 part mortar to 3 parts sand) and not the cement with gravel in it? thanks!

Creativeman (author)DaveNJ2009-07-03

You are correct sir! Cman

ChrysN (author)2009-07-02

Very cool, I also like your painted rocks; the bunnies, cats, tomato and mouse, they are adorable.

Creativeman (author)ChrysN2009-07-02

Thanks Chrys. Cman

karrotsp (author)2009-07-02

I see some wonderful Christmas gifts coming my friends way. Thanks so much and I am going to give the acetone idea a try. Keep the great ideas coming.

Creativeman (author)karrotsp2009-07-02

You are welcome....let me know how the acetone thing works. I tried it a time or two, and it leaves a gooey, gluey mess which was harder to clean out than the foam, alone. (It melts and doesn't "evaporate".) Cman

villagecraftsmith (author)2009-07-02

Very cool. We have been using old pizza boxes for forms to make square stones and painting them. I love this way to add names to them. I have lots of sheets of foam I have saved for various other projects. I see Christmas presents ahead:) Thanks for sharing. (BTW I got the pizza boxes free at the hotel where I worked. If you have a friend that works at one just check in on the morning after a bunch of kids in sports or church groups have been in. They get stacks of them out of every room. Also a great source for light bulbs and toilet paper rolls.)

Thanks VC...thanks for the suggestions as well. Cman

Forgot to mention, I line the pizza box with butcher paper.

sleeepy2 (author)2009-07-02

You know a Sheri and a Shari, and they both garden?

ntheiring (author)2009-07-02

Very nice, This is an awesome instructable! Where did you get the foam cutter? Thanks.

Dale 1944 (author)2009-07-02

Thank you so much for this creative use of concrete. Many printers have a "mirror image" setting in the set up screen. This setting makes it easier to do the letters if you could cut the letters and foam at the same time. Even if that would not work, you could use it to make the template for attaching the foam letters to the backer board. If the message size is larger than your printer format (in most cases 8 1/2" X 11",) many printers have a "tile image" feature which will allow you to tape together two or more pages making this step easier. As you have probably figured already, I have no creative ability so I have to use these workarounds to compensate! Thanks again for this great article.

DaveNJ (author)2009-06-28

Great stuff as usual. Very well done! I will try this out.

theRIAA (author)2009-06-27

sweet! I would recommend a pressure washer for the foam removal, and you can easily paint the inside of the letters for some contrast (:

The Instrucdertaker (author)2009-06-27

Many thanks. And beautifully illustrated with pics. :-)

Mr. Rig It (author)2009-06-27

SWEET! I have to do this.

About This Instructable




Bio: Retired, doing art work now. Great. Have the time and the money to spend doing what I want to do.
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