A little DIY concrete project…

We’ve had this kinetic art piece for years. When we added on to our house, we took the piece down to protect it from getting broken during all the construction. It took us a couple of years, but we did finally get it re-installed last year.


The project, however, was not officially completed – until now. Yes, a year later (and a lot of himming and hawing) we’ve got a completed artwork project! It is pretty exciting since our projects seem to be moving at a snail’s pace around here lately.


Our dilemma was stagnant water…

Sitting water in the bottom of the planter where we installed the artwork was an invitation to the mosquitos in the summer and we all know that isn’t good. Also, the freeze and thaw of melted snow (aka sitting water) in the winter would eventually take its toll on the new planter. Simply put, we were wanting to do something to keep the water out of the planter year round.

We debated whether we would do some sort of a table top or a more complex table/plantscape thing.


For a while I liked the idea of a table/plantscape, but I couldn’t really figure out how to make it work and maintain the integrity of the planter.  So, we ended up going with Tad’s original idea of a table top.  I spent June and July running around trying to pay other people to help me get this table top made.  Even with a very specific template in hand, all the stone fabricators I visited looked at me like I was crazy. Nobody shared my vision even though I thought it seemed pretty simple. I couldn’t get anyone to take on the project. I eventually decided we would need to take this on ourselves if I had any hope of ever seeing this thing finished. I decided on concrete. Tad was on board. We headed off to the home improvement store to get our supplies. All we really needed to get started was a bag of countertop concrete mix and some garden edging for our form. And, by the way, this edging was perfect with it’s organic, curved shape. It was exactly what I was looking for. We were feeling lucky!


We already had everything else at home.

We used plywood and a plastic garbage bag for the bottom of our form. We didn’t want to buy the recommended melamine because it seemed like a waste for such a small outdoor project. We utilized a large plastic bag to protect the plywood.

We also had two 2X4s that Tad ripped in half (with a saw) – for the four sides of our form.

We needed a tube type object to create the opening in the center of the table top. We searched the hardware store and our house for an item of the correct size and shape. We found an old water bottle in our kitchen drawer. We were feeling double lucky that day – the perfect edging and then, the perfect sized tube thing for our form!

Unusual mold supplies

We had left over caulking to seal the form corners and bottom edge and prevent the concrete from seeping out of the form.



Finally, I used some vegetable oil as a releasing agent.

Ready to pour

In about an hour, we had our form made, the concrete mixed, and it was poured. We were a little surprised how easy it was. Again, we were feeling pretty lucky. Things seemed to be moving along nicely.

18 hours later, we removed the form and had our table top.  The edge and bottom parts of the form easily fell away from the table top. The center water bottle was another story – even though it had been prepped with the vegetable oil. We ended up having to use a power saw to make a few cuts in the bottle then pry it out of the center hole with some pliers. It wasn’t all that difficult, but I was nervous that we would accidentally crack the concrete. We didn’t. Again, feeling lucky…


We did a dry fit of the table top around the artwork pipe. It was p-e-r-f-e-c-t! I didn’t expect that. Nothing ever works out that perfectly the first time around! We were totally excited (and now feeling really lucky). So far, so good!


The next step was to fill the small holes on the top with a slurry. This is where things started to go a bit wonky – aka, our luck sort of ran out.


I discovered a big gouge from a big glop of caulking that we should have smoothed during the preparation phase. Lesson #1 – be diligent in making sure your caulking is minimal and very smooth before pouring concrete into the mold.


I also wasn’t sure what to slurry with because the information out there is not really all that conclusive.  I think the best option would have been to save a little of our mix for repairs and slurrying – we didn’t think of that ahead of time. Lesson #2 – save a small amount of your mix for repairs. I ended up using what I had left over from other projects – mostly because I didn’t want to go out and buy a huge bag of stuff and have that left over as well. So, I started with left over thinset for my first slurry adventure. It worked pretty well – I think – other than it was a lot lighter in color than the countertop mix, creating a spotted look where the light gray thinset filled the air holes.  I don’t mind the look. It is kind of interesting. It sort of looks like aggregate, but it’s not.  The professionals would likely be horrified. Anyway, after the initial slurrying event, I still had to do something about the big gouge and some indents made by the not so smooth plastic bag at the bottom of the mold. I wouldn’t have had these indents if we had used melamine as recommended.  Lesson #3 – use melamine as recommended for a smooth table top.


I decided to rough sand these indents by hand with a tile block hoping to make them less obvious.


For my next slurry I decided to use some left over mortar (the stuff for brick laying). I patched in the big gouge and slurried the rest of the piece for a second time – with the mortar mix.


It was then time for polishing the piece. I had to track down a specialty concrete shop to get a diamond pad or two for the sander/grinder. We polished the entire thing with our grinder and a 120 then 220 diamond pad. This is a photo of the “good” corner. The whole thing should have looked like this if I had paid attention to details like making sure the plastic bottom and caulking were smooth in the form.


Unfortunately, after slurrying and polishing, the rest of the top still had some obvious imperfections…


So, I decided to do a stain and hope that the imperfections would look better. I am not even going to tell you what I used for stain because it was a bit unconventional and officially untested.  Though, I will say that it is environmentally friendly, legal, and food safe.


Anyway. As you can see, the stain is quite lovely. However, it did not disguise the imperfections.


So. Then. I thought some artwork might be the answer to imperfection disguising.


I was trying to mimic some of the details in our kinetic artwork with my table top art…


It didn’t turn out exactly how I envisioned it. I was going for more of a transparent look than I got. The stain was heavy and definitely not transparent.  It felt a little like preschool art – not that there is anything wrong with preschool art. Plenty of preschool art is art worthy. The problem is that I am not a preschooler. Anyway, back from that tangent – I decided to try to sand/polish some the stain off once it dried.  Then, I put on one more layer of turquoise stain. This business of trying to make the artwork better took nearly a week. At one point, I thought about scrapping the whole thing and starting over because it wasn’t perfect (except for the hole created by the water bottle – that was still perfect). I finally came to my senses and decided perfect wasn’t necessary in this case. I put some concrete sealer on my “artwork”, let it dry for a few days, and called it good. A little rustic? A bit weathered? Kind of artsy?


Tad suggested using some foam weather striping around the top of the planter to create a moldable seal between the planter and the top. It was a good suggestion.


I like it more than I thought I would – despite all the imperfections. It seems to fit in pretty well with the eclectic, bright, and cheery thing we have going on out there.



And, I have officially checked it off my To Do List.

I like that I’ve got somewhere to set my iced tea when I am relaxing (and thinking about my next project)…