Mastering the Art of DIY Stepping Stones

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What started out as a desperate attempt at a should-be-simple project out first year as a family of 4 has become a new favorite project.  Learn from our mistakes and try out some beautiful designs that we have come up with.

See my tips & tricks for getting great results below!

Flashback

20130713-162248.jpgWith baby Irish twins at home, even the simplest tasks can seem impossible.  With a colicky baby and strong-willed 1-year-old, it was a good day if we had all had a minimum amount of sleep and 3 meals.  However, the ambitious d0-it-all spirit in my couldn’t be quelled.  I was determined to complete a stepping stone kit that we were given.  How hard can it be?  People do these all the time?  But, I found the task to be difficult with someone needing me every 3.5 seconds.  We ended up with a beautiful disaster that I never could part with because it summed up our first year as 4 to perfection:  a solid attempt, but a serious struggle at normal tasks.

It turns out, you should know a few tips and tricks to get these things to turn out like all of those beautiful stepping stones on Pinterest.

Learning Curve

We have a playscape tucked into a small corner of our yard, and the best path from the end of the slide to the ladder is through a flower bed.  I decided to give stepping stones another try because it would be so beautiful if the girls could create a path through the flower bed using stepping stones.  So we tried the project again with much more success the following year.  I did this stone with a 1 & 2 year old with the lessons learned from the 2012 disaster stone.

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The butterfly stone was such a success, that I was brave enough to try another.  Truly on the path to that beautiful garden path (see what I did there?).

heart stepping stone

With 3 stones behind us and some serious improvement along the way, we tried for a second stepping stone this year.  This time, I let the girls (now 2.5 & 3.5) place many of the glass mosaics themselves.  We’ve seriously come a long way!

stepping stone

It isn’t exactly how I would have done it myself, but one of the greatest things about parenthood is watching your children learn to do these things themselves so I let myself step back and assist rather than dictate.

How to get great stepping stone results

There are directions on the box, so be sure to read them first.  Personally, I found them a bit vague, so here are some parent-to-parent directions.

  1. Allow plenty of time.  Don’t plan this when you need to be somewhere later because it always takes longer than we expect.  I did the first two when my husband was around to watch the kiddos while I did the prep work, and I let them play nearby for the third and fourth stone.  The best days are when you’re home for the day but have plenty of time before dinner & bedtime.
  2. Get all materials ready first!  You’ll need:
    1. A mold, comes in craft store kits like this one or you can recycle another container
    2. Cement mix, also comes in the kits or can be purchased separately so you can save money by reusing your mold
    3. Letter stamps, comes in some kits and are also sold separately
    4. Decorations, like glass mosaic.  I don’t like the plastic & resin versions because they won’t last.  Opt for glass, shell, tile, rock, or something that can withstand the sun and weather.  Some kits come with decorations and they are also sold separately.
      Tip:  These materials can get pricey.  I scored some at a garage sale and have found cheaper versions in the floral section of the craft stores meant for filling vases than I’ve seen with the stepping stone kits.
    5. A drawing utensil.  The kits often come with a popsicle stick, I prefer a skewer.
    6. A clean, large bucket, I prefer a 5-gallon bucket.
    7. A painters stick or similar to mix the cement.
    8. 2-4 cups of water.
      Tip:  I use two liquid measuring cups filled with 2 cups of water each.
    9. Papertowels & wipes
  3. Take everything outside.  It’s a messy project.  We’ve always done ours on the porch where we are shaded, away from falling debris, and out of the direct elements.  The garage would work as well.  It’s best to do this in nice weather.  Too hot and your stone could dry too quickly and crack.  Too cold and you’ll be miserable with all of the wait time.
  4. Pour the mix into the bucket.
  5. Pour 2 cups of water into the bucket and mix, mix, mix, mix, mix.  Mix as best you can, it will still be a bit powdery.
  6. IMG_3583.JPGAdd more water slowly, about a tablespoon at a time and mix, mix, mix, mix, mix.  You don’t want to add too much water or your design could ruin as the water seeps up for the drying process.  For the mixes that make two 9″ round stones, it usually takes 4 cups of water added slowly.  I use a single, larger mold and not all of the mix.  The directions say something about the consistency of sour cream, but it never gets there before it’s soupy for me.  The photo to the right is who it should be:  Mixed well, clumping together, no visible powder.  If you have small pockets of powder, keep mixing to see if you can incorporate it before adding more water.
  7. Pour the cement into the mold, don’t overfill. Wiggle the mold slightly to even out the surface & remove bubbles, then scrap excess off so the mold isn’t over-filled.
  8. Walk away for a bit.  Clean the bucket, lay out the decorations.
    Tip:  You’ll get the best results after the cement sits for 20-30 min.
  9. Do any handprints or footprints first.  Kids are unpredictable and it’s best to get this part done first, then design around it.  Don’t wiggle the mold after this step or the handprints could vanish!
    Tip:  Press down HARD.  It may look too deep, but some of the details will disappear as the stone dries.  Hand/footprints need to be deep enough to last through this and the decorating process.
  10. Stamp words, letters, and numbers by pressing down slowly.  You may need to wiggle them slightly, but be gentle.
  11. Add and drawn-on decorations.
  12. IMG_3584.JPGApply mosaics or other decorations (promise, our next stone doesn’t involve mosaics!) and press them in firmly.  They will need to stick down a bit to get great adhesion.
  13. While drying, water will seep up.  If it looks like it may collapse a design, I gently lay a paper towel over it to wick up the water.  Don’t press down or you could wind up with a paper towel stamp, just let the paper towel do the work.  You’ll especially see this if you use way too much water (like I did on the heart stone).
  14. Leave the project to dry overnight.  Try not to peek!  You don’t want to bother the design while it’s drying.  It always looks a little funky to me while drying, but turns out great!
  15. After 24-48 hours, it’s safe to carefully remove the stone from the mold.  I sent it upside-down gently and pull up on the mold.  That one mold has lasted us for 4 designs now!

We are actually planning to do a 5th stone (3rd this year) shortly to commemorate our first family trip to the beach so follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and here on the blog to see how it turns out when we try to take this project to the next level!

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2 Comments

  1. nicole dziedzic

    March 20, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Wow what a great job, love how colorful these are, the hands one and heart one is my favorite. So pretty to put in the yard, can’t wait to start gardening.

  2. Are We Raising Adults-In-Training or Sensitive Children – remodelicious

    March 23, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    […] with my kids.  We make the most of every day.  As much as we love to create artwork together, create stepping stones, read, work on math skills, or just wind-down with some snuggle time, we are all humans and also […]

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