Introduction: Large Glass and Concrete Suncatcher
As a lifelong lover of glass, I wanted to bring a bit of color into the garden without too much risk of it breaking. If only there was a substance to secure delicate pieces of glass, to ensure the sunlit reflections would be there not only during spring and summer, but well into the other seasons. Nothing is as beautiful as a vibrantly colored display in the dead of winter. This sounds like a job for glass and concrete!
Using a mold, frame, or other way to contain concrete long enough for it to set, various cylinders or bottles of glass may be embedded into the concrete to permanently secure it.
These suncatchers are designed to be upright, not used as stepping stones, though they can be laid down on the ground, if you are certain no one will walk or stand on them. You can lean them against a tree, a fence, or other secure place that would still allow the light to shine through. You might even want to place larger stones as wedges to keep the suncatcher from rolling, should you decide to leave it freestanding on its edge.
One of my dearest Facebook friends whom I've never had the pleasure of hugging in real life, is a big part of the inspiration for this Instructable. Be sure to read Step #15 for more about this wonderful lady, Jackie Stack Lagakos. She is so amazing and talented, I can't possibly give her props and kudos in a brief introduction.
So, on with the project!
If you can mix a cake, you can make a version of this Concrete Suncatcher. The bottles don't have to be cut, but could instead be placed vertically, partially submerged into concrete before it is cured. Once the suncatcher is removed from the mold and placed upright, the bottles won't fall out, and the sun will shine through the glass.
You could also use a tile saw, as I did for this Instructable, to make glass bricks or blocks, sinking various shapes and colors into the wet concrete.
I'm already getting carried away, so let's move on to the Instructable!
Step 1: SAFETY FIRST!
First and foremost, I cannot stress safety enough!
When working with glass, saws, and even cement / concrete, safety should be a priority. You could easily be cut, scratched, or worse - severely injured. You might even develop a rash from the cement. Always, always be safe, wear protective gear, and think like a safety inspector.
Safety glasses - these safety glasses will help keep any stray splinters, shards, or slivers of glass from your precious eyes. For the best protection, be sure to use OSHA approved glasses. OSHA = Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Rubber, or other alkali-resistant gloves - There are many different types of gloves on the market. These gloves can be delivered to your door in just days, courtesy of Amazon Prime. Cement poisoning is nothing to laugh about. Protection for your hands is very important when working with harsh materials. I developed a painful rash years ago while working with cement, and, stupidly - bare hands.
Below is an important quip from Study.com:
Cement poisoning can occur if the wet cement comes in contact with your skin. Dry cement contains calcium oxide, which isn't normally dangerous, but when it is mixed with water, it changes to calcium hydroxide, which is hazardous.
Your skin has a normal pH level of 5.5. Wet cement has a very high pH level between 12 and 13, which makes it caustic. A caustic material can burn living tissue like your skin. You might get wet cement on your hands and not notice any issue. But the cement has the ability to continue to burn your skin without further contact. By the time you may realize you have been burned, there is already a lot of damage done. Cement poisoning can cause dermatitis, which is a skin irritation that is red and inflamed with small blisters. Cement poisoning can also result in discoloration of your skin, which will progress to painful burns. The skin may become a dark blue color or may be red and inflamed. This will be followed by fluid-filled blisters and can progress to open sores and even amputation.
Dust Mask - Exercise great caution to be certain you do not inhale dust from the cement. While full head gear is not required, even an inexpensive mask will be of great help. If you do not have a mask, you can use a handkerchief, or in desperate measure, at least cover your mouth and nose with your shirt!
Inhaling high levels of dust may occur when workers empty bags of cement. ... Sanding, grinding, or cutting concrete can also release large amounts of dust containing high levels of crystalline silica. Prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to a disabling and often fatal lung disease called silicosis.
Credit:Electronic Library of Construction
For an abundance of helpful information, be sure to visit:
Step 2: Gather the Materials and Tools Needed...
SAFETY! Safety glasses, safety precautions, safety, safety, safety.
TILE SAW - if cutting the bottles. While I have an older QEP Wet Tile Saw, I'm definitely hoping to upgrade to THIS ONE.
See Step 4 for more details about using a saw, or jump to my HOW TO USE A WET TILE SAW TO CUT GLASS BOTTLES Instructable from 2007. It has been some time since that Instructable was created, and I realize it is in dire need of an overhaul.
MIXING TOOLS and CONTAINERS - a spoon, a drill, a concrete mixer, depending on the size of your project
Bucket, wheelbarrow, or other container in which you will mix cement, sand, and a construction aggregate.
*Construction aggregate: Construction aggregate, or simply aggregate, is a broad category of coarse- to medium-grained particulate material used in construction, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, recycled concrete and geosynthetic aggregates. Aggregates are the most mined materials in the world.
(Thank you, Wikipedia)
GLASS BOTTLES - Various glass bottles of whatever colors delight your imagination.
FRAME - mold, or other structure to contain cement mix until set.
TAPE - Heavy-Duty packing tape works well for this project. If the tape is too wide, you may need to cut it in half, lengthwise. You may use duct tape, shipping tape, or other heavy-duty tape. The color won't matter, as it won't be seen.
BURLAP - Or other fabric, which will be soaked and used to cover the project while curing.
PLASTIC SHEETING - Even a trash bag will help to keep the moisture in, placed on top of the fabric covering your project while it cures.
CEMENT MIX- Whether a ready-made mix, or a combination you've made at home. Rapidset brand Cement All is a multi-purpose repair material, and non-shrink grout. Note the 4" thickness limit.
See a DATA SHEET for this product.
Cement All was suggested by my favorite mosaic artist, Jackie Stack Lagakos. If anyone knows her materials, it is Jackie. You can read all about Jackie and her fabulous talents on step 15.
CEMENT MIXER - Not necessary, but certainly easier than mixing by hand. I just have an inexpensive mixer from Harbor Freight Tools. It works just fine.
WATER - Plenty of water for mixing cement, washing equipment after use, washing hands, general clean-up.
Step 3: Cement Mix
For this project, you will need cement mix. You may mix your own, or even use a mix that simply requires the addition of water.
RapidSet Cement All is a quick-setting mix that creates a smooth finish, and is available in a handy box with a heavy duty liner.
Sakrete is a brand I have recently discovered. The finished product is a smooth finish in a lighter color much unlike the typical darker gray color of concrete. You can take my word for using it, or consult the website for a wealth of helpful information about this particular product, High-Strength Concrete Mix
If you would like to learn a lot more about concrete, be sure to check out this Concrete Class from Instructables member mikeasaurus.
Step 4: Bottle Type - to Cut or Not to Cut - Sideways - Upright?
The beauty of this project is that it is open to the limits you set. Glass bottles can be any color, all the same color, cut in half vertically, left whole, there are so many options! Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Idea - cut clear glass bottles in half, thirds, or any size that makes you happy. If you cut two similar bottle ends the same size, they can be taped together, with special treasures inside for the life of your Concrete Suncatcher. Seashells, gifts from wandering toddlers, coins, little trinkets, etc.
Idea - cut colored bottles in half, secure with heavy-duty tape, and make glass bricks. If the glass bricks are set into your choice of mold, then surrounded by cement, the colors will be viewable from both sides of the Suncatcher.
Idea - cut any color bottle in half, and use a different color for the other side of the glass block.
NOT TO CUT
Idea - insert whole bottles, laying on their sides, just as artist Mary Holmes did. If you admire her work, as I do, please consider purchase of her book, Paintings and Ideas.
You can cap the tops with a cork, preferably rubber, to prevent cement and rain from seeping inside the bottle. Be certain the mold you choose will work well with the length of bottles.
Another suggestion - insert whole bottles into the mold, any size, or a combination of sizes.
Step 5: Making the Glass Blocks (cutting Glass Method)
My very first Instructable on this site was a tutorial about cutting wine bottles and other glass bottles on a tile saw. Well, it is time to dust off that old Instructable, and put it to good use!
Spend a few minutes looking over my Instructable How to use a wet tile saw to cut glass bottles
Once you get the jist of the process, it is time to choose a color, a shape, a size!
If you do not have a tile saw, or access to one, there are many ways to cut a bottle.
Here are just a few methods, from other Instructables members:
How to Cut Glass Bottles by Von Malegowski
Cutting Glass Bottles by Vipercmd
Glass Bottle Cutter by Warehouse32
Depending on the type of bottle used, and the size you choose, you may not have to mess with scrubbing off, or peeling off the labels, which is a great relief if you use a number of bottles in your project. Otherwise, try to use clean bottles that have been soaked in warm to hot water to ease label removal.
Choose two bottles of the same size and shape, but matching colors is not entirely necessary, unless you want one particular color all the way through the suncatcher.
Be mindful of allowing the tile saw to do the work. Don't force the bottle through. Just cut slowly, and your glass block halves should be just fine.
Once you have cut the bottle bases to size, carefully wash them to remove tile saw residue. Give them a bit of a dry with a towel, being mindful of the sharp edges, or allow them to thoroughly air dry. Once they are dry, cut a length of tape long enough to wrap around the two cut bottle halves, sharp edges touching one another. Don't worry if you used too much, or not enough tape, you can always add more, and besides, no one is going to see the tape, so don't fret if it isn't perfect. It will be hidden by concrete. Don't fret about the tape, but do try to apply it in a clean and orderly fashion, so the two halves will stay together. Rub the tape well, so it is properly adhered to the glass.
Step 6: A Frame, a Form...
Years ago, I worked at an industrial fan company that frequently threw obsolete manufacturing items into the trash, including large plastic forms known as fan housings. A big fan of 'waste not, want not', half a dozen housings found their way home with me. We won't go into detail of how long ago that was, but it is time they serve a purpose, instead of taking up room in the garage.
As the housings feature both a rounded and a squared side, this basically gave me two molds in one for my Concrete Sun-catcher project, though I've chosen the round side for now. The sun-catcher can be cast inside the mold as is, or cut off, for ease of use.
Please note, a fan housing is hardly required for this Instructable.
There are many items you may very well have laying around your home, which can be used successfully.
Any size plastic plant container. It can be large, or even small.
Perhaps a stepping stone mold, no matter the size.
A wooden box frame, preferably with depth and smooth sides.
A hole, dug in the ground. (No, I'm not kidding, though it might be a bit tricky to get out after the concrete cures.)
Be sure your glass blocks are not too short for the mold, or they will be covered with concrete.
Step 7: Oh, the Colors! the Shapes! the Choices!
There are SO many choices of glass colors to choose from. You don't have to drink yourself sick to gather enough bottles, though. Even olive oil bottles come in various, gorgeous shades of green.
*Note* You must be of legal drinking age to visit some of the alcohol-related sites listed below.
There are so many wonderful sources for blue glass bottles. Where do I begin? Budweiser, Skyy Vodka, Bombay Sapphire Gin, and more!
Unfortunately, red is not often found in beverage bottles, and if it is, you likely would not want to cut the bottle up. Many red bottles are in fact just a film that is sprayed on the glass. Be sure to scratch an area of the glass to be certain.
Even ketchup / catsup bottles are sold in clear glass. There are endless condiments and products sold in clear bottles, so they are definitely easy to acquire. Spaghetti sauce, pickles, olives, salad dressings, etc.
I just happened to have a large box of empty Ramune bottles my son gave me. They are unique glass bottles from a popular Japanese drink, with a pinched, or 'Codd-neck' feature. Each bottle contains an actual glass marble that, unbelievably, remains in the bottle, and yet you can't swallow it.
If you are using clear bottles to make your blocks, you can even hide little treasures inside! Think of artificial flowers, plastic bugs, marbles, so many options.
Yellow bottles are often filled with Chardonnay.
Tanqueray is but one alcohol bottle that is sold in green glass bottles. Jägermeister bottles are a fabulous green that exudes color in sunlight. Though this may not be your beverage of choice, you can always visit a local establishment that serves alcohol. They are often happy to give you their empty bottles. Olive oil is available in so many beautiful shades of green.
Even brown beer bottles let in beautiful light. A local bar would likely be happy to donate a case of bottles toward your project, just ask them.
MIX AND MATCH:
If you have two pieces that match in size, but not in color, don't worry. In fact, some of the colors have difficulty capturing the light, so it is almost better in some cases to use clear bottles on what will be the backside of the color wheel, and the colored glass in front.
Step 8: Designing and Assembling the Suncatcher
Pick a mold, pick a pattern, or place the glass blocks randomly. Experiment by mixing and matching. Use your imagination, or use a specific design. Now is your time to shine. Be creative.
Remember to leave enough space between the bricks / blocks to contain them. They can be placed horizontally, or even vertically, though if placed sideways, be sure to cap off the ends. The original lids, or even cork and tape would help to keep out moisture, bugs, dirt, and such, to keep your bottles clean and shiny.
Step 9: Time to Mix
In a large container, add the required amount of water for your project, according to package instructions, then pour the cement mix on top of the water. This will prevent the dry mix from sticking, hiding beneath the bulk, which often results in a dry surprise when you think it is time to make concrete.
If using a cement mixer, allow it to run long enough to thoroughly mix. Turn off the mixer, and use a tool to make certain the entire batch is wet, and mixed.
Plan your project in a timely fashion, so the mixture is not setting around, drying.
Mix up, use up, wash up! Take care to clean your tools, so they will not be coated with permanent gunk.
Step 10: Time to Make
Spray the mold with a release agent:
Once you have a pattern in mind, remove all the blocks from the mold, and spray the mold with a release agent. I've made dozens of projects using vegetable cooking spray. A generic brand will be just fine. Spray the mold liberally, but don't leave globs. I've even used an expired block of Crisco shortening, though you should be careful not to leave blobs of shortening in the mold.
Place your blocks:
Unless you plan to create a frame that will hold your bottles precisely in place, keep in mind that they are likely to shift a bit during project completion. It is quite normal, and a slight movement will not affect their finished beauty.
After you have placed your bottles in the pattern of your choice, now is the time to add cement mixture. Using gloved hands, or a hand shovel, scoop a good portion of cement into the spaces between the glass blocks. It is a good idea to hold the glass blocks with one hand, while scooping, so as not to disturb the placement of the blocks. You might have to slightly reposition them a time or two, but be sure to press down on them as you move them, to keep cement from gathering beneath the block.
Press and wipe off the glass blocks:
Pat and tuck cement all around the mold, between the blocks, pressing as you fill. Once the mold is filled in, tap or firmly bump the edges of the mold to settle the mixture, but not so much that you disturb the blocks. Pat the cement so that it is smooth as can be. Now is the time to also gently wipe the tops of the blocks with a wet cloth, though be careful not to disturb the cement. While clean-up will also occur after the color wheel is removed, it doesn't hurt to save yourself some scrubbing time now. Hold down the tops of the blocks while you wipe, so as not to disturb their placement.
Note: USING A VIBRATORY DEVICE IS NOT RECOMMENDED.
My first color wheel was almost a disaster. I placed the entire mold on top of a vibratory tumbler, and it shook all of the blocks to the top, creating almost 3/8" of cement beneath the bottles, which I did not discover until I took it out of the mold. I had to hurry up and blindly chisel the concrete away. Thank goodness that was the backside, so hopefully no one will notice. #LessonLearned See step #10 for my goof, and how I fixed it.
However, for other projects, a Leegol Vibratory Tumbler is way cool, and very handy!
Remember, taping two glass blocks together with tape will form a seal, so the blocks will contain air. You don't want them to pop out of the mold full of cement, so consider placing something heavy on top of the project until it is dry. Make certain the heavy item does not come in contact with the cement. I just happened to have a spare plate from a microwave carousel in the garage, waiting to be used. Add a few bricks for good measure, and perfect!
Step 11: Time to Dry
Allow sufficient time for the project to cure. Be sure to consult the cement packaging for recommended time. I often loosely cover my concrete projects with burlap soaked in water. Keep the burlap moist, and even covered with plastic. In a few days, when the item is strong enough to handle being moved, I place the entire thing, mold and all, into a large vessel of water, and leave it for a week. Water curing is my preferred method, so I know it is definitely ready to be displayed afterwards, without worries. As I typically work with concrete projects in summer heat, the water method definitely works for me.
Step 12: Oh, No! My Blocks Aren't Showing! (help Is Here)
Since the bottom of most bottles are not completely flat, it is perfectly normal for some mix to ooze beneath them. Once you drop the suncatcher out of the mold, you may find what appears to be a solid block of concrete. Because of this possibility, I often create the suncatcher, allow it to cure for one day, then submerge it into a water bath overnight. Being extremely careful, I drop it out of the mold the next day, and check for this issue. The sooner you take care of it, the better, so don't wait for days until you check, or you may find yourself in need of a chisel.
Using your fingers, press where you believe the glass blocks to be. The concrete beneath should give, since it should not be very thick at all.
Continue to press until you are confident you've found the right spots. Use a stiff or wire brush to scrub the cement mix away from the surface of your glass block. If your block has ridges along the outer rim, you can use those as a guide to help remove only the cement mix necessary.
Wash out the bits you have removed, and then carefully return your suncatcher to the water bath for as long as you can. Personally, I prefer to just leave them in the bath for a week, especially in this hot Oklahoma sunny weather this time of the year.
Step 13: Q & a - (Questions and Answers)
I don't drink alcohol. What else can I use for the glass blocks?
So many options await you! Look in the grocery store for a wide range of items that are bottled in green, blue, brown, and other colors of glass.
Can I use a vibrating method to eliminate the bubbles?
Unfortunately, if you are creating glass blocks by taping two halves together, vibration will cause them to float, even in the concrete. Don't ask me how I know this. Ha!
I don't have a tile saw. How else can I cut the bottles?
Please see step #6 for a number of ideas, and links for various methods, created by fellow Instructable members.
I live in an apartment, and don't have all these tools.
No worries, you can make these suncatchers on a much smaller scale. If you live in a smaller home, apartment, or other living arrangement that does not provide room for tools, equipment and such, fear not. You, too, can make these suncatchers with a few household items!
If you just want a feel for the project without going all out, try making a single block, and placing it into something plastic, such as a butter dish. Fill the dish with just enough cement mix to surround the glass block.
A few other ideas:
CONTAINERS FOR THE BASE: Plastic trays, such as the type hamburger or other meat is often sold in. Plastic bowls from various food items, like whipped topping, butter, etc.
GLASS BLOCK IDEAS - (Non-alcoholic) Alcohol bottles are not required for this project. You can find SO many wonderful ideas in the grocery store, at yard sales, thrift stores, and more. Be creative. Look for varied shapes in addition to colors. Remember, they don't absolutely have to be cut and turned into blocks, you can leave them open on one side, just be sure it is a smooth edge.
Help! My concrete settled, and I can't see the bottles from the other side!
No worries, it happens sometimes. See step #12 for the fix.
Step 14: Cleanup - Just Do It!
Though not the most fun part of this project, cleanup is vital.
You'll want to take care of your equipment, so it will serve you well for future projects. Be certain you have cleaning cloths and fresh water available.
Cleaning the residue from your bottle faces will be a breeze if you use an attachment for your speed drill. There are many models available, though I used what we had on hand. Add this Holikme 4 Pack of scrubbers to your Amazon shopping list.
If you have used a concrete mixer, be sure to add plenty of clean water to the tank, and swish it around, either by hand, or running the mixer. Turn off the mixer before trying to wipe the inside. Once the mixer is turned off, adjust the tank so that it dumps the dirty water out. Repeat this process until you are satisfied it is clean. Leave the tank facing downward in order to empty the remaining water and any fine sand.
Step 15: Homage to My Amazing Friend, Jackie...
Years ago, I discovered the world of mosaic art. It didn't take long for me to appreciate artists like Raymond Isidore, of La Maison Picassiette. Raymond applied mosaic to his entire home, incorporating bits and pieces of glass, tile, and pottery he found on roadsides.
Tressa Prisbrey, a unique lady who scavenged local areas for discarded materials to create a little village!
Then one day, I stumbled upon Jackie Stack Lagakos. That did it for me. I was hooked. I found her website, Bottle Structures, and that was just the beginning of my profound respect for her. Jackie is amazing lady who has lived the most fascinating life. A simple visit to Google, and you will be rewarded with visions of her work, and stories of her life. Cick here for more about Jackie. Trust me, you will fall down the rabbit hole of impressive adoration for her. Thank you, Jackie, for all your inspiration, your outlook, your existence!
Step 16: Wait! There Is a Challenge? Come Join the Fun!
Instructables has been kind enough to offer a STONE * CONCRETE * CEMENT CHALLENGE, with many wonderful prizes. Click on the link, and get inspired to create.
If you have enjoyed this Instructable, I would greatly appreciate your vote in the contest. If you decide to enter your own Instructable in the contest, be sure to check all the rules and regulations about entering, and pay close attention to the entry dates.
Deadline. The Contest begins at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PT) / 8:00 a.m. GMT on August 17 2020 (the "Start Date"). Entries for the Contest must be received by Sponsor by no later than 11:59 p.m. PT on September 14 2020 / 6:59am GMT on September 15 2020 (the "Deadline").
Come join the fun!
Runner Up in the
Stone, Concrete, Cement Challenge