Garden (stepping) Stones

 

The Garden stepping stones I make are 16" hexagons, made from stained glass, which I cut to match a pattern, and are embedded in the top of a concrete slab. The process is similar to a pineapple upside down cake.

I do not sell the stones I make, so if you want your own, you can either learn to make them yourself (if I can do it, anyone can), or buy from someone else. I don't sell for the simple reason that no one could afford what I would want to charge: patterned glass can be very expensive and it can easily take 15 hours to make one stone.

For those of you who do not have ready access to the standard 16" hexagon form or patterns for it, I recommend The Glass Workbench as your source: 318 South Main Street, St. Charles, MO 63301 (314) 946-2002. No, I do not get any commission, but they are the ones who invented this process and have always sold the necessary supplies.

They do engage in mail order business, and I have attached an order form from them. This is good because you'll need one of their 16" hexagon plastic forms (unless you want to make your own out of wood). Of course, you can make any size/shape of stone you want, and they do offer forms of different sizes and shapes. But make sure you get patterns that match forms!

Sometimes I will take a pattern of a central subject that is not in an available hexagon pattern. I will either enlarge or reduce it to the appropriate size, and then make my own 16" pattern with the adjusted central figure and background/borders from one of my other purchased 16" patterns.

A word of caution about making stones. Cutting glass can be dangerous. Besides the risk of getting small flakes of glass into your eyes and splinters into your fingers, it is very easy to cut yourself seriously on the edge of glass sheets. Getting minor wounds is inevitable. Safety precautions will minimize incidents. The edges of large, newly cut glass sheets pose the greatest risk. When not in use, keep them out of the way.

Always wear a face shield when cutting or grinding glass. (I use disposable ones that last a long time and are reasonably priced.)

Frequent brushing/vacuuming of the work top area and floor is also imperative. Not only does it minimize glass splinters and tracking glass through the house, it keeps glass grit from impeding your cutting.

Cutting glass will produce some glass chips and splinters, but using the grinder will produce even more flakes that fly everywhere.

When I leave the work area, I also vacuum the bench, the floor, and even myself!

SUPPLIES YOU MIGHT NEED

FROM a STAINED GLASS SUPPLY STORE:

  • Grinder (not mandatory but makes for much better finish, $100+
  • Glass cutter (up to $50)
  • Cutting Oil
  • 'Running' Pliers (up to $40) to help break glass once cut
  • 'Grozier' (chipping) Pliers - where running pliers are too big
  • Concrete FORM - purchased plastic or homemade wooden
  • Glass - to suit need. Prices vary tremendously.
  • White Pen - to outline pattern pieces on glass before cutting
  • Patterns - buy or make (with difficulty) yourself.

OTHER SUPPLIES:

  • Face Mask - to protect eyes from flakes of glass
  • Contact paper - clear
  • Fence wire (cut to fit form - used to reinforce concrete)
  • Masonite board - cut to just fit inside form, with 1/2 inch margin
  • Paper Towels - lots, to dry glass after grinding
  • Scissors - to cut copy of pattern into individual pieces
  • Brush - for cleaning off cutting board
  • Vacuum cleaner - better than brush for vacuuming glass
  • Vaseline
  • Concrete - regular, with small rocks
  • Concrete - 'topping' mix, with no rock
  • Plastic Mixing container - large, about 2' x 3'
  • Coffee Can, large size (2 lbs)
  • Coffee Can, medium
  • 'Pouring' Board - using during pouring to support form
  • Trowel - to slop mixed concrete into form
  • Plastic gloves - to keep cement and concrete off hands
  • Inside Work area - to cut, grind, and assemble glass
  • Outside Work area - to pout concrete on assembled form
  • Music - to soothe and relax when glass breaks wrong
  • Patience!

THE PATTERN

When I prepare a pattern, I do so with the intent of being able to use it over and over. The following instructions assume that. Some people use a pattern only once, and therefore do things differently, such as gluing the pattern to the glass and using the actual pattern while cutting the glass (they cut through the paper as they cut the glass).

After you buy a pattern, make two copies of it. I don't use paper (because it is not durable enough); instead I use something like poster board. It's not thick like cardboard, but is stiffer than regular paper.

Put the original away for safekeeping.

Take one copy and cut it out. These pieces will be placed on your uncut glass so that you can trace around them (on the glass) with a special paint pen. (It's special in that it washes off with water; not real easily but easy enough.)

Take the second copy and use two sheets of your contact paper to encase it in a waterproof protection. This second sheet will be used as a pattern on which to assemble your cut glass.

I do not assemble the cut glass until after I have cut it all out. As I cut the individual pieces, I do not use the grinder except to take the dangerous edge off the glass. After I cut each piece I just gently run all its edges across the grinder (wipe off the water) and then set aside.

After all the pieces are cut, I begin assembly. I take the second, waterproofed pattern and begin fitting the cut pieces on top. I start at the top of the form and work down. I found that if you try to do otherwise ends up in more grinding. For example, if you assemble all pieces of the same color (or some other factor) at the same time, you'll end up later trying to fit pieces that are surrounded on all sides with pieces already in place. Then, not only might you have to grind carefully on all sides to fit, you will also run into a situation where the remaining piece is cut too thin in one spot and there will a large gap you can't fill. Here's how I do it instead:

I lay out the topmost pieces on the form, grinding just enough to fit them snug against the top line of the pattern and reasonably fit in the pattern outline for that piece. I then work down the pattern, finding the next piece that the pattern is looking for, having to focus major grinding only (mainly) on the top of the pieces I'm adding. That's because the top of the new pieces only have to fit the bottom of the pieces already on the pattern. I hope this makes sense; I'm having a hard time describing it. What I'm really doing is making each piece fit the pieces already laid down instead of fitting the pattern. I do not ignore the pattern entirely, but having a piece fit the piece next to it is more important that fitting the pattern.

After you get done assembling the entire work, gently lay a sheet of contact paper on top to fix all pieces together during the cementing phase. Because you can't physically lay the sheet on the glass at once, I use a gently rolling motion. I take the contact paper and start at one edge of the glass, rolling from front (bottom) to back (top) in a quick but very careful motion. If you're good and lucky, the contact paper will not stick together, lump, etc. I've never had to totally redo laying down a contact paper, but afterwards I have had to adjust one or two individual pieces of glass. Once you're satisfied that the paper is in proper position, press down on the paper to make the bond firm with the glass. I'll press with my fingers, or circle over the entire thing with a rag or brush while pressing down.

I've found the following to be the best way to get the assembled glass into the form. Take a piece of Masonite that has been cut to fit inside the form.

Slide the glass (face up with contact paper on top) onto the Masonite; conversely, slide the Masonite underneath the assembled glass.

Turn the empty form upside down and place it over the glass, which is on the Masonite.

While holding the Masonite on the bottom with your hand, turn the entire package over. You should now have the form right-side up, with the contact paper and glass inside. The contact paper will be on the bottom, with the glass on top (but the glass will be face down.)

Don't forget to first smear Vaseline in form. This will prevent glass from sliding while you pour the concrete and allow you to more easily remove the form after concrete is set.

CUTTING TIPS

You really should first take a one-night class or watch someone cut glass. You cannot adequately learn how to do this from these simple instructions. This discussion is not intended to teach the basics of glass cutting. Having said that:

For simple cuts when there is sufficient glass on both sides of cut, you can either break by hand (pushing up underneath scored line while pushing down on the outside of the glass.

Or you can use the Running pliers to break the glass. The Running pliers are really the workhorse; I use them for 85% of my breaks (with 10% by hand* and 5% with Grozier pliers). Again, you must first see a demonstration of Running pliers to understand how they work.

*'By hand' means that I can simply tap, typically a larger piece of glass, from underneath, along the cut line I made with my glass cutter. I tap along the line with the rubber-tipped end of my Running pliers.

For cuts where there is little glass on one side of the score, use the Grozier pliers. The technique is totally different. And don't chip with 'Grozier' pliers, as it is often demonstrated. Instead, pull (straight) away from big piece, wiggling up & down. Need to wiggle along entire length of cut before pulling. Will seem like it doesn't want to pull; then often will suddenly will almost fall off without effort.

Cut inside the white-painted outlines. You will need gap between glass pieces of about 1/8 inches. The official instructions require the use of special scissors, which cut a broad gap between the pattern pieces. Although I have used these scissors, it is too hard to cut an intricate pattern. So I just use regular scissors but then compensate when cutting the glass by cutting inside the pen outlines more than I otherwise would. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal in a finished product is a consistent gap between glass pieces of about 3/16 or 1/4 inches.

Wash uncut glass with Windex or equivalent. Clean glass cuts easier.

Clean off cutting board frequently, for safety and effectiveness. Otherwise, glass chips will get under glass while you're trying to cut and/or your hand will get glass splinters while leaning on cutting board.

POURING INSTRUCTIONS

Mixing concrete is outdoor work. There's simply too much cement dust to attempt indoors. I don't even like to do it in a garage (trying to keep warm in winter).

Resist temptation to make mixture too wet. Unfortunately, moisture content is critical. Too little and you'll end up with a lot of gaps (air pockets) between glass pieces after concrete dries. (However, you always have to 'finish' your stone after you remove it from the form; so this is not necessarily a big problem.)

If you use too much water, you can end up with a mess and the end product will not be as strong.

I take my forms inside for drying. I've dripped cement water all over myself in the process when I once made a soupy mix. Before moving a poured form, first absorb any leftover water that rises to the top during shaking with paper towels.

After the form is poured, you must somehow agitate the form gently to remove air pockets around the glass. If you agitate too hard, you risk having the glass slide and the stone will be ruined (never yet happened to me). The most common method is taking a hammer and beating the bottle of the form, after you've placed it on a board. You want the form to gently bounce up and down, but not sideways. Keep gently tapping the bottom of the board until you see no more air bubbles rising to the surface. I have even used a vibrator in place of the hammer, trying to get a faster, better result.

FINISHED !

Let the form dry for about three days. Turn it over, remove the form, and remove the contact paper. Do not be surprised to find small holes in the concrete between the stone pieces. These are formed from the air pockets you missed. Simply mix a small amount of topping cement and swirl in circles over the entire top. This fill gradually fill in the holes.

Let dry for an hour or so and clean the top.
Stand back to savor your masterpiece !

 

picture of form
16" plastic form in which concrete is poured (on top of backside of cut glass).

picture of glass grinder
grinder that I use to finish glass pieced I have cut

picture of stone
My own pattern, from a picture inside St. Chappelle Church in Paris.

 

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