This project is inspired by the very old art form (over 150 years old) of 'Faux Bois' which means Fake Wood in french. I have been working with concrete in many unique ways rather than the typical 'pour-in-a-mold' ways so this was just perfect to push the limits of concrete work even more, not to mention there is also an up-cycle component!
The details may look very difficult but it's more about the 'vision' than the technique...
- Portland cement
- Rapidset Cementall
- tie wire
- wire mesh, plastic mesh
- thick strong bendable wire
- styrofoam (pool noodle, pipe wrap, flutter board, etc)
- old cotton flannel fabric
- blanket weight fabric or similar
- Concrete mixing vessel
- Mixing utensils (spoons, chopsticks, paint stick etc)
- Large bucket of water for washing station
- palette knives
- 'not too precious' paint brushes
- old tooth brushes/wire brush
- emery cloth
- xacto knife
- dust mask
- many nitrile gloves
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Step 1: The Frame:
I have always marvelled at some of the amazing Faux Bois furniture that has been built by artists. It does however usually involve a welded heavy frame; something that I don’t do (maybe someday!) yet. However I did save a couple iron chair frames that are sturdy and have lovely lines. I knew someday I would figure out a perfect use!
There are many ways to add some structure on the frame to hold the concrete. I chose to use whatever material I had on hand; wire (thick & thin tie-wire) metal mesh, plastic gutter mesh, hardware cloth etc and some filler like pool noodles and styrofoam. Only some basic hand tools like pliers, wire cutter, xacto knife, gloves are needed. I made myself a raised platform (few mild cartons) to be able to work easily as a table would be too tall and the ground too low.
Oh, and did I mention pool noodles too? I had some images of branches in my mind so the round shape would work well. They are hollow in the middle and cut easily to allow placing over the wires. You can even use some pipe-insulation. The rules are pretty lax here as long as you think branches and secure well.
It’s a Wrap!
Wrapping the mesh and filler around the frame was done with the tie wire. Here’s a tip; to give it a sturdy start make a hook that can be anchored into the mesh or styrofoam and then pull tightly.
Step 2: The Branch & Wood Designs:
Go look at some trees, really look. Branches are usually reaching upward and get thinner as they go, usually branching out on alternative sides etc. Trees are usually not symmetrical or perfect. I planned a thick branch to travel up and across and added new branches across the seat by first tautly stretching and twisting strong wire. Envision that there will be thicker branches there eventually. Any styrofoam can be used as it will allow it to be lighter and not absorb any moisture in the future.
The leg is like a tree base and curving along. Luckily I have much inspiration available all around me but you can even use the look of old driftwood.
Make sure everything is secured tight and no wires poking out. The plastic gutter mesh was very easy to work with but chicken wire is very similar and works as well.
There, do you see the new branches travelling across the seat?! The pool noodles are wrapped tightly with wire as well.
Can you start to see the trees? Don’t be too fussy as there will be ways to liken it to branches even more later. I had some ‘sneaky’ tricks that will help transform the arms later on so I left them for now.
Step 3: First Coat; Utilizing Fabric With Cement:
You may know my Step Spook, he has held up great so I am utilizing this draped concrete method as a base coat and reinforced layer. To start it is key to find the right fabric as my draped concrete tests has taught me. I prefer fabric with some substance to absorb the portland cement but not be too fluffy and bumpy. An old polyester blanket was just right, thin but absorbs the portland slurry nicely.
As with the Step Spook I used a Portland Cement slurry. It’s about the consistency of thick cream. If the portland is lumpy it helps to put it through a sieve.
Very absorbent fabric may ‘steal’ the moisture from the concrete so you may need to wet it first, but I found that this could be added dry and massaged into the Portland mix. Yes, pure mucky mess!
Let’s get messy!
My intention with this Faux Bois is to wrap the branches well with the cement dipped fabric. Using thicker or thinner strips spirally around wrap the branches smoothing as you go along.
This will be just the first layer so you can be less fussy. I like the smoothness of the portland cement as I find the sand tends to not get absorbed when using a sand mix.
It’s already taking shape… you just need a vision! As long as you can see it, is all that matters! Any parts than seem a bit thin can be coated with some of the Portland Cement slurry painted on afterward so that once cured it’s a good strong shell.
I bet some of my neighbours were wondering what I was doing out back each day. It’s messy sometimes, so I keep these jobs for summer projects outside. Keep the mess down with some of my tips. You should wear a big apron and my new tip; double nitrile gloves!
It’s been brutally hot here so I covered the chair lightly to allow the portland not to dry too quickly as it cures. Misting it regularly will strengthen it. It’s not done, but the hard work is done! The next steps will take it over the top! I promise! I love making beautiful permanent furniture out of something that could have ended up in the landfill!
Step 4: Now for the Details!
What I use:
I use the concrete mix that I have come to really like working with. I know it may be unconventional but I use a fast-setting concrete mix; RapidSet Cementall for the textural details as the main structural part was done with the Portland Cement. This concrete mix sets very quickly but I don’t mind as I work in small sections and it allows much to get done quickly and cures rock hard (harder than conventional concrete).
It is unlike regular mixes as it will become quite moldable after a half-minute wait. This mix does not use as much water as well and works better if you add the water first. If the temperatures are high use ice cold water to slow things a bit. I only mix about a cup at a time. For further retarding you can add some diluted Citric Acid. I am not sure how much exactly as you will have to experiment. Most days it was about 25 degrees C and in the shade here so I managed without adding a retarder, using small amounts.
My tools of choice are artist’s palette knives as they are very flexible and also thin to use sideways. Smear some of the RapidSet Cementall on the dampened structure (always dampen older concrete first) and add your texture. There are many types of tree bark to imitate; some thick some less. Keep the direction of the branches in mind as you work.
You can use a wire brush, or old scrubby brush to add smaller line details. I’d say it is much like sculpting or even cake decorating!
The Fun Part:
This is supposed to emulate nature so feel free to add some branch sections keeping the growing direction in mind. Add a little nub…
Using a palette knife add the bark texture into the main branches.
Often the cut branch shows some wood details & rings in the end. If the scratching has left much ‘crumbs’ they can be delicately brushed away with a soft dry brush.
You can brush with water if you want to smooth out some but be careful not to brush out too much of the concrete ‘cream’ as then the sand will be mostly left on the surface.
Slowly but Surely:
You knew it was going to take a bit of time… Get your self a comfortable seat and work section by section incorporating how the ‘branches’ meet and overlap. Ends can have a weathered detail of broken bark as well. I kept looking at the trees around me.
Step 5: Adding the Winding Vines:
You can certainly just stay with having branches as your style but I also love the way vines wrap and spiral around as they grow. My old Honey Suckle arbour gave me much inspiration! To achieve this I employed the same technique as I have used for my draped projects like the Spook; dipping fabric into cement. For the fine texture of vine I used a thinner but still absorbent fabric; cotton flannel sheeting. Rip strips and soak (and massage) well until it is saturated. Run the strip through your fingers and rid the excess.
You can now act like ‘Mother Nature’ and ‘grow’ around the branches, spiralling/twisting upward! It will add a texture that accents the bark of the branches and will also cover any areas you did not want to address with branches.
The wrinkles of the twisted fabric are pretty well already perfect but you can also add in more texture as the portland cement does set much slower.
Any ‘crumbs’ can again be brushed with a dry brush.
Step 6: Yes, Even More Details!
Yes, I know I tend to be quite detail oriented! That’s the curse of being an artist.
It’s not just ‘fake wood’, it’s also fake (faux) leaves. But these are the easiest parts ever! I grabbed a few fresh ones nearby and used the RapidSet Cementall again. Mix some of the mix, let it sit for a minute and then it will pliable enough to put on the back of a leaf (much like this project)
Quickly flip it onto a section where it seems natural for a leaf to grow from vine.
This can fill some small sections where you don’t want to add branch/vein details. I love how this adds a different design to the piece and all my own design. I have not seen any of this in the old craft of Faux Bois! Finish up all side with the bark texture, vines and leaves as desired. (make sure to use the proper concrete for each)
Step 7: The Different Concrete Colours:
Tada! Love it! However, the colours of the different mixes did bother me a bit… Another layer: Again, this is optional. To bring the cement colour more similar I gave the branches a thin coat of Portland cement slurry. Don’t add too much as it will fill in the details that you created.
The purpose is to bring the grey colour closer together. The portland cement is very fine since it does not have sand it is so it also smooths somewhat. If you feel it is too rough in any sections you can also give it a sanding with some strong emery cloth! I did a bit on the seat section just be reassurance...
Step 8: Not Done Quite Yet:
As with the post of making concrete look aged I wanted to accentuate the texture. Don’t worry, it’s an super easy paint technique. I really HATE brightly painted concrete, I hate painted concrete period! This step is meant to just get a bit of ‘dirt’ into the crevices. Mix a thin watery mix of some acrylic paint (a warm dark grey/black) and bit of matte medium and liberally let it run into the crevices. Wipe any excess off with a rag.
It will (should) magically just get into the details and not darken the overall much. I aim to keep the surfaces the original weathered grey colour of concrete.
You can use an acrylic meant for exterior use like Patio Paint. Red, yellow, white and black will mix into a warm grey. Since the concrete is rough and very little paint is added it tends to stay quite well.
To further accent the details, dry the brush well and put a tiny amount of a light warm (yellow + red) white on the brush and use a rag to get most off. Then very sparingly rub it across the surface; this is called dry-brushing. It is amazing how much it will give dimension! See here how it just highlights the details. I’d say it’s one of the most valuable painting techniques to learn.
Step 9: Be Amazed!
When you are done it does not look like a painted concrete, no one will really notice and if it does eventually weather off it will not be noticeable as when big areas of colour chip off. Perfect!
This Concrete Faux Bois UpCycle Chair has so much to look at with the vein details of the leaves as well! Who needs live-edge wood?! Concrete is better!
This is now my fitting addition to the jungle of my garden…
Don’t feel this always needs to be a big piece; it could also be just a planter, a table. The hard part is limiting yourself!
Thanks for looking! And I'd love a vote...
Grand Prize in the
Stone Concrete and Cement Contest