Whether your Valentine’s Day consisted of a romantic evening with your loved one or an evening alone with your pain, it very likely involved a box of chocolates.
Even if you make an effort to avoid frivolous expenditures and excessive packaging, that heart-shaped box of chocolates is hard to avoid. No matter your best intentions, you likely found yourself on February 15 with an empty box larger than your head, made from bleached cardboard, with a non-recyclable plastic tray (topped with another non-recyclable piece of corrugated cardboard) inside, and non-recyclable paper wrappers inside that.
I don’t have a ton of help for the paper and the plastic, but that heart-shaped cardboard box? I know exactly what you should do with that!
You are going to make yourself a concrete mosaic for your garden or yard. Here’s how you’re going to do it!
Empty Valentine Boxes. The heart-shaped Valentine boxes automatically make awesomely adorable molds, but any sturdy cardboard box will work. Be warned that a box made of flimsy cardboard will bend and bow and likely give way under the weight of wet cement, so stick to super sturdy cardboard.
Portland Cement Or Another Comparable Brand. I like Portland cement because its conveniently available on Amazon, and I know exactly what ratios I like best with it, but you’re welcome to use your own favorite brand of cement. Even better, hit up your local Freecycle and find someone’s half-used bag of cement that they’re giving away for free–that can become YOUR favorite brand!
Playground Sand. You don’t necessarily have to mix your cement with sand if your mosaic will be decorative only, but you should mix in two to three parts sand when making a mosaic stepping stone.
Chicken Wire (optional). I did not use chicken wire for the concrete mosaics in this tutorial, but if I’m making a larger stepping stone, I will put a layer of chicken wire on the bottom of my mold, then pour the cement onto it. It makes a stepping stone just that little bit stronger.
Tesserae. These are the little doohickeys that you embed in the cement to make your mosaic, and you can use anything! In this tutorial, my kids and I are using a combination of store-bought glass tiles and a bunch of multi-sided dice from my homeschool stash. You can also see a broken plate in a couple of the pics; every time my kids break a piece of my Fiesta Ware (sigh…), I set it aside for a future mosaic. I didn’t go for it this time, but at the rate my kids are going, I’m going to be able to mosaic a full-on Roman bath by the end of this summer.
1. Mix and pour the cement. Mix your cement according to the directions on the package. My Portland cement calls for sand in a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio with the cement; I used a 1:2 ratio for this project.
2. Place the tesserae. This is time-sensitive, in that you can only place the tesserae while the cement is wet enough to place them, but you don’t have to move as quickly as you do with plaster of Paris, say. Unlike with plaster of Paris, however, here you do have to make sure that you’ve embedded each tile well enough for the cement to grip it; give each one a wiggle and make sure it’s worked in well.
3. Let cure. This takes quite a well, depending on your weather. When we made these particular stepping stones, it was the one nice day before another string of cold, wet days, and so it took these stepping stones two full weeks to cure, even though they were kept indoors.
Be wary, as the stepping stones will get more fragile before they strengthen–try to unmold them from their candy boxes too soon, and you’ll be bummed when they break apart in your hands.
5. Unmold the stepping stones. By the time your cement is mostly cured, you can safely peel the wet cardboard away from the sides of the mold, and then remove the bottom of the candy box when the cement is fully dry. Buff any dry cement off of the tiles and shine them up, and your stepping stone is ready!
If you want your stepping stone to last indefinitely outdoors, you’ll want to seal it, but even without that added measure, your mosaic should happily endure for several seasons.