Introduction: Concrete Garden Fish From Plastic Water Bottles
I've been wanting a school of ceramic or concrete fish to display in my garden for a couple of years now. Only problem is those fish can run $30 - $40 each, plus shipping. At that price I could afford one fish. So I got creative. I read Mad Props' instructable about how to make a Concrete Tiki Garden Statue: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-a-Co...
I figured that was the way to go. CementAll is more expensive than Quikrete, but I just wanted something easy and fast. At $16 for 25 lbs. I felt like I could splurge, especially since each fish only takes three cups or so of CementAll. So with all my saved plastic water bottles, I was ready to start.
CementAll Rapid Set - I used the 25 lb. size box
plastic water bottle - 1 pint size
utility knife to cut plastic bottle
1/4" hardware wire
protective eyewear - especially when cutting wire
container to mix CementAll - small metal bowl preferred, but I used a yogurt container
bigger container to catch CementAll drippings from fish - this just made it easier for me to clean up
utensil to stir CementAll
plastic forks, knives and a straw to shape CementAll
plastic netting from oranges, or vegetables to create fish scale effect
spray misting bottle of water
water for CementAll
3/8" x 1 ft. rebar pieces
water-based polyurethane or concrete sealer
Step 1: Prep Your Water Bottle and Cut Out Your Fins and Tail
Take your water bottle and push the center of the bottom up so it squishes the bottom of the bottle a bit. Squeeze the bottom of the bottle to compact. If you accidentally collapse part of the bottle, push out from the inside of the bottle with the handle of a wooden spoon or utensil. Cut the fins and tail out of 1/4" hardware wire, the pdf pattern plan is attached. Be sure to fold the wire in half for the fish tail. Arch the two sides of the fish tail at the front into an ellipse shape.
Step 2: Add Your Tail and Fins
Envelope the bottom of the plastic bottle between the two wire arches at the front of the tail. Squeeze together to fit. Wrap in masking tape to secure. Bend the tail to create a curve. Starting where the water bottle's side ridges begin, about 2" from the top and at a 90 degree angle to the tail, cut a line as wide as the side fin through the bottle. Then cut another line on the opposite side of the bottle. Insert the wire side fin through the water bottle, so it extends out evenly on both sides. Cut a line down the back perpindicular to the side fins. Insert the back fin until it meets the side fin wire. Add masking tape to secure edges of bottle to the fins. Otherwise you could develop a collapsing hole around the fins. Cut a small hole in the bottom of the fish behind the fins for the rebar, remove the bottle top and stuff opening to fill with masking tape.
Step 3: Let's Mix the CementAll and Make a Fish
Now that you have your fish armature ready, time to cover with CementAll. Mix a 4:1 ratio of CementAll to water. I finally worked out a system where I could make a fish with three small applications of CementAll, using about 3/4 to 1 cup of CementAll for each application. This stuff dries fast. Of course it didn't help that I was working outside on some of the hottest summer days of the year. I used the spray mist bottle to help keep things workable for a while longer.
The first layer you're only going to be able to cover the fish before the CementAll starts to harden. Don't try to cover the fins and end of the tail, just concentrate on the main body.
On the second application focus on the fins and the head. Cover the wire fins and tail and create decorative indents with a plastic fork, like a pie crust edge. Don't worry about the bottoms of the side fins, no one's going to look there. I made gill ridges out of CementAll on either side of the head in front of the fins. Also made sure the mouth was covered. For the eyes, take a couple of dollops of CementAll and press them on either side of the head. Push the plastic straw in the centers to form the eyes.
The third application is to create the fish scale effect. Do this last, if you don't, you're sure to hold the fish and squish the scales. Place the plastic netting over the fish and cover in CementAll. Don't do like I did in the photo above. I placed way too much CementAll on the netting and when I tried to lift up the netting, the CementAll came up with it. You need to be able to see the netting. Use any leftover CementAll on this layer to fix any indents or other imperfections.
Step 4: The Finishing Touches
Sink the straight end of the rebar in the ground and place the fish on top, through the hole at the bottom. The CementAll takes one hour to cure, so spray with water throughout the hour.
The first fish I made, I added bright blue paint to the CementAll. After it dried, it looked light blue chalk, which was okay, but not the look I wanted. And I didn't want it to look painted. I wanted a kind of thin glazed look. I finally added some acrylic paint to matte polyurethane and a bit of water, to cut any sheen. The correct way would probably be to use cement sealer, but that was too much work and I didn't want to buy a bunch of that stuff just to use on a few fish. I think my teal glaze will do fine. If not I'll re-coat. I wasn't going for a pristine look anyway.
Hope this instructable inspires you to create your own school of garden fish.
Runner Up in the
Stone, Concrete, Cement Challenge