Stepping stones can be a fun, decorative, and very useful part of your garden. Whether you use them to line paths in your front/back yard (like I do), or as decorative elements in a flower bed, or as a quirky accent to a balcony, a stepping stone can enhance your garden design and let your personality shine. Buying pre-made stepping stones can be expensive – at least the good quality ones that last are. But making a stepping stone is extremely easy, once you know a few basic rules.
(Hint: If buying stepping stones, stay away from plaster or other composite type stepping stones if you want to put them outside. A couple rainy/snowy nights and those stones will begin to disintegrate pretty quickly. Stick to cement if you want something that will last.)
First, you need a stepping stone mold. You can buy basic shapes (square, circle, etc.) at most craft stores. Or, you can order more intricate designs online. Then you’ll need the cement. You can buy individual boxes of cement* which will make approximately one 12” stone. They will cost anywhere between $7 and $20, depending on where you buy it. Or, you can buy a 50 lb. bag of cement at your home center for $5-$7 if you want to make several stones at once. Since I have a large backyard with stepping stone paths winding through it, and I give them away as gifts, I save money in the long run by making several at once. A 50 lb. bag will make about four 12″-15″ stones. Here’s how I do it.
First, prep your stepping stone mold(s). If you’ve used the mold before, scrape out any leftover bits of cement. Then spray the inside of the mold with a light coat of cheap cooking spray, or brush it with vegetable oil. (No need to get the good stuff here, just get the cheap kind from your local dollar store.) Make sure you don’t have puddles of oil in the mold – just a light coat will help the cement release easily. (Also – please ignore my sad nails that are badly in need of a manicure.)
Next, it’s time to mix your cement. Since I’m using a 50 lb. bag, I mix it in my wheelbarrow. If you’re using the single-stone variety, you can mix it in a medium sized bucket. I like to use Quikrete Fast-Setting mix, because, as it suggests, it sets up fast – and I’m a girl who likes instant gratification. But there are a whole bunch of varieties that are slower to set (which gives you more time to work) or have other properties. Don’t be afraid of the hardware store. Take your time, read the labels, and talk to a home center employee to see which type is best for you. (And you can even have them help load the bag(s) into your car.)
Put on a mask (cement dust has some nasty stuff you don’t want to get in your lungs, but it’s easily stopped by wearing an inexpensive mask) and empty the contents of the bag into your container. You may want to start with half the bag at first so it’s easier to mix.
Now’s the time for water. The back of the bag/box will have directions of how much water you should use. But I’ve long-abandoned measuring and now go by look/feel. Here’s where I have to include a disclaimer that I am not a contractor, nor am I a professional builder. I am simply a homeowner who has made a whole bunch of stepping stones as art, so I’m showing you how I make them, and my cement instructions/advice are not to be used for structural building purposes. OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s keep going.
Add water a little at a time. Mixing cement is a bit like mixing powdered sugar frosting. A little water goes a long way, and you can easily overdo it. And once you add too much water, you have to ditch it and start over. But don’t let it scare you – it’s not super precise, and it’s easy to master.
Mix the cement using a sturdy object like a shovel, hoe, or trowel. Keep adding a little water at a time (a cup or two, if you’re measuring), and mixing in between additions. You want the mix to get the consistency of brownie batter – pourable but not soupy.
Here are some things to remember about mixing cement.
- If you’re using fast-setting cement, it will begin to set up in 20-40 minutes, so you have to work kinda fast.
- It may help to empty half the bag at first (even if you’re using the single-stone variety), mix a little water, and then add more cement mix and more water – kinda like the dry/wet/dry/wet method of making a cake. This makes it easier to make sure you don’t leave any dry pockets of cement mix at the bottom of your bucket or barrow.
- Be sure you look for lumps and scrape up all the mix from the bottom. You don’t want any dry pockets of cement mix.
- Wear gloves if you’re new to this so you don’t get cement mix on your skin. Not only is it extremely drying (it’ll suck the moisture out of your skin so quickly you’ll need to bath in hand lotion to remedy it), but the same stuff you don’t want in your lungs, you don’t want on your skin either.
- If you want to make multiple stones at once, you must have enough empty molds. Once you add water to the cement, you cannot save it to use later – you must put it in a mold or discard it before it sets up.
- If the cement starts to harden in your container, do NOT add more water to try to bring it back to life. Once it starts to harden, or “go off,” it’s done, and you simply need to scrape it out of your bucket and discard it.
Make sure your mold is on a flat surface. Then shovel or trowel your wet cement into your mold.
Use a trowel to make sure the mix gets into every corner and any design detail of your mold. Then spread it out (again, like brownies in a pan) to make sure the top is even.
You’ll want to make sure you get rid of any large air pockets, or voids, in your cement, which could weaken its structure. To do this, simply lift the corners of your mold and bang them softly back into the ground several times. This will allow any large air bubbles to surface.
Now you just have to wait. But while you do, it’s important to clean your tools. Do NOT wash them in a sink or bathtub. The cement mix will settle in the drain trap and harden. Always clean your tools outside.
Let your stone(s) sit until they are completely set. The package directions should tell you how long this will take. When they are firm, you can carefully unmold them. I like to use the flipping-a-cake method. I place a piece of wood over the mold, then flip the wood and mold as one unit, so if the stone releases mid-flip, it won’t crash to the ground and shatter.
Set the flipped wood-mold combo back on the ground.
Carefully remove the mold – easing it away from each corner and then toward the middle. And voila! Your finished stepping stone will emerge!
But don’t get too eager to step on it. Your cement stone will still need 24-48 hours to fully cure. (Again, check the packaging for your brand’s requirements.) I usually keep it on the board for a couple days to fully dry/cure before painting it and putting it in my yard.
*This is an affiliate link, which means if you click it and buy the product, I may make a few pennies.