“What’s hypertufa?” Glad you asked… It’s a blend of Portland Cement, Peat Moss, Perlite and Sand. The result is a lightweight, surprisingly rugged piece of concrete that will withstand all that Mother Nature has to throw at it. What I especially love about it is that you can leave it out in the winter and it won’t crack like terracotta or other ceramic containers would.
I had taken a one day class on hypertufa back in 2009 at a local garden center and have been wanting to create more hypertufa pieces ever since. Wanna know what stopped me? Try the 94 pound bag of Portland Cement! Yeah, that’s the only size they offer at Home Depot and Lowes. I’m not sure what Portland Cement is “normally” used for, but I honestly think I have enough to last a lifetime of hypertufa creations! Not to mention that my arthritic back was in no way capable up hoisting that bad boy into the cart, then into my car trunk and then out of the trunk to its final resting place. Enter Nolan… thank God for him and his sturdy back! (I kindly carried the 16 ounce bag of Perlite!)
So, what was my plan for my first solo hypertufa experiment? Well, this might seem a bit morbid and a touch on the “crazy cat lady” side of things…but I lost two cats in the past year (almost one year apart exactly) and they are buried in their “final resting places” (ie: the side yard), but without any kind of “marker” per say. Now, I didn’t want to get all weird and make headstones or anything, but I wanted something that would mark their respective spots.
After reading this post on another of my favorite blogs, merrypad, I got to thinking that a simple heart for each cat would be tasteful. I used a similar method as Emily did in creating the mold for the hearts, with the exception that I opted to use cardboard rather than newspaper. Luckily for me, we had recently purchased a box fan that came in, well… a box and used pieces of the “box fan box” and masking tape to create the heart molds, as seen here:
Heart Molds made from cardboard
Once the molds were ready, I brought out all the “players”: Sand, Perlite, Peat Moss & the reigning heavy-weight champion…Portland Cement (with Nolan’s help, of course!). I took some safety precautions since the cement is labeled as “caustic”…vinyl gloves, a face mask and eye protection. If you decide to undertake a project using cement, be sure to take the same precautions! I didn’t really follow a set recipe in making the mixture…I just went with equal parts of everything and it seems to have worked (so far). I used an old (but clean) bucket we had lying around and added all the dry ingredients, first mixing them together before adding the water. Adding the water wasn’t an exact science either. I just added water slowly until I had the consistency of oatmeal.
Now the exciting part! Time to add the mixture to the molds! As mentioned previously, I used vinyl gloves and just scooped small amount of the mix and patted it into the mold, occasionally wiggling the larger piece of cardboard the molds were taped to, in order to tap out any air pockets and to get the mix level within the mold. The whole process was quick and easy and it was cool to see the water within the mix rising to the top of the heart. A word of caution though…you must move quickly as this stuff sets up super quick!
Once I had the molds filled, I put the entire piece of cardboard the molds were attached to inside a large contractors sized trash bag to retain a consistent moisture. If the mix dries out too quickly, it will be susceptible to cracks and breakage. This might be the hardest part of the whole project (besides finding someone to lift the monster bag of cement)…the wait…you have to let the mix cure and that takes a while. From what I’ve read online, hypertufa “experts” are unable to reach a consensus on how long is long enough, but for me, I waited about a week before taking my project out of the bag. (Not going to tell you how many times I “peeked” at the project in that week though!)
The mold itself came off the pieces fairly easily, which was a relief. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to pick pieces of cardboard bits off the sides of the hearts. As you can see, they aren’t perfect and that’s fine with me for now. I plan to sand the sides of them to ensure a smooth finish.
For now, they are in my kitchen sink soaking… I read online that cement contains a large portion of lime. If you don’t let your pieces “weather” before using them (this includes planters), they will leech lime into your plants and that’s not good. I’m currently soaking them to speed up the weathering process. I’ve read that if you soak them in water for three days (changing the water at least once per day), you can leech the majority of the lime out of the piece so that it’s safe to use. Since my hearts are not intended to be planters, the lime issue isn’t a huge one, but I do plan to place the hearts on top of an already established flower garden and I didn’t want to run the risk of the lime messing with my plants.
Leeching the lime (Disregard my dirty looking sink! It’s some kind of white plastic (?) from the 1980’s that won’t come clean no matter what I do!)
Stay tuned…I’ll be conducting the “big reveal”, which will include the details of sanding them if I decide to go ahead with that, later this week! Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions or tips! 🙂
PS: In case you’re curious, I estimate this project cost under $25:
$10 Portland Cement
$4 Peat Moss
$4 Play Sand
TOTAL: $22 and enough cement to last me a lifetime! 😉