Making you own boulders is very easy and inexpensive. Don't let the sites that have magic formulas confuse you. It's simply a structure made from anything you have, be it a smashed cardboard box, Styrofoam boxes or even a trash bag filled with leaves or packing material. Just cover it in what ever wire wrap you have, which can be chicken wire, stucco lath or hard ware cloth, trust me after the cement is on it will be plenty strong.
I have used Styrofoam shipping boxes for this project and wrapped them with hardware cloth, it's what I had on hand. I could of tilted the boxes for a better effect, but I have a sun dial that I am mounting on the top and I need a flat surface for it.
Any time you are working with concrete you will have to mist down your project with water for 4 days starting the next day to keep it drying even and not cracking. Don't leave this part out or you can run into some real problems. Really soak them down with a fine mist.
If you give some thought to placement of your boulders they can be functional as well. I wanted to stop people from walking this narrow strip between the pond and the lotus, but really didn't want to put up a fence or large plant so this worked out great. They can also be placed for sitting, or something to stand on where you usually take a chair or something else to use. They are very strong, so don't even worry about jumping from one to another.
Here you can see the boxes with the wire wrap, the wire is mostly so the cement has something to grab onto and it also will add strength. Put on gloves when working with the wire wrap, lots of sharp edges. Don't worry about getting this smooth or even to the shape you have in mind, the cement will be at least 2" thick and probably a lot more. On a foam box you can just use roofing nails like stick pins to hold the wire in place, on other things just tie it together with string. After the first coat of concrete it's not going anywhere.
I mix my own concrete from portland cement, comes in white or gray, very cheap and yard sand, I don't have a shortage of sand after all the holes I've dug in the yard. 3 parts sand 1 part cement, leave the mix a little on the dry side so it will stay on the sides better. Just use a trowel, wide puddy knife or whatever you have to put on the first coat, trying to cover the wire wrap. Use the left over cement to make small rocks, no bigger than you can lift, for fill in use later. You could also use stucco, nothing to add but water, cheaper than sand mix concrete, with finer grain and comes in white or gray. Always wear a face mask when mixing cement of any kind, this stuff will do a number on your lungs.
The next day wet down the whole project and add a second coat, this is where your project will start to take shape. I add the second coat by hand, make sure you wear rubber gloves, the lime in the cement will destroy your skin. Just pile it on to get the shape you want, if round and smooth is your choice keep it even, if lumpy is what you're after add it in sections to build up areas, it's just like working with clay. There are no set rules, rocks come in all different shapes and textures. Try patting it with different things for different pattern, like sea sponges or waded up paper or whatever, you'll be covering this with the final color coat, but this is a good time to practice on what you want for the final appearance. If it's not to your liking, just add more the next day, wetting down the project first.
If at a much later date you want to change the final look you'll have to use a cement bonding agent before adding more cement (Lowe's or Home Depot). With the final color coat, which is the same mixture of cement to sand or with stucco, you add color. I use the dry powder color (Home Depot) and that way you can also sprinkle on additional colors when you are doing the final finish to give light and dark spots. If you are going to press something into the concrete that will have to move or turn as is the case with this sun dial you'll have to coat it with a releasing agent, I just used spray cooking oil on the sun dial (Pam) before I push it in, then I removed it a couple hours later. Everyone is going to be impressed with your faux bolders, really! Just don't tell how easy it really was to do.
Here are the finished boulders, they will be lighter in color when they finish drying. You may choose to use a sealer over them, I don't. This whole project was under $25, there isn't much you can do for that price anymore. Give it a try, it really is easier than it looks. By the way, make sure you build these where you want them to stay, they may be hollow, but they are very heavy and are not going to be easy to move, more like impossible to move! I'm not sure what it would take to remove one of these, at the very least a sledge hammer. Some of mine have a number of years on them and they look even better aged, no touch ups or anything, ever.
Here are some other projects I have done with cement and coloring. The water fall was done a little different. First I built a frame work out of 1" PVC and then use sheet Styrofoam insulation and covered that with wire lath. I didn't use a liner in the water run as most do, but after it was dry I coated the bottom where the water runs with polyester coating, the kind you use with fiber glass, very cheap, about $40 a gallon and it's clear. I have my doubts about doing it this way where you will get a deep freeze, you might end up recoating every spring.
I even made the pavers for the patio by making 4x8" forms and setting them up, took some time, there are 1800 for 300 square feet of covering, but cost less than $200 compared to $1200 for store pavers.
The easiest of all projects are the stepping stones, no prep work at all, at the most I leveled a few low spots and just put the concrete directly on the ground, right over grass and all, no wire at all, very strong and stable.
Give all this some thought and I'm sure you can come up with a lot of ideas to use cement and sand. Not only is it very inexpensive, but you get a one of a kind look.
Here is a really easy project that will make a large impact. That flag stone patio was a 10' X 10' slab from a removed shed, cracks, stains and just looking bad. Always use muratic acid on an old concrete slab to remove any sealer that may of been used. I just use full strength pool acid for this and broom it on, then rinse in about a half hour, skip this and you can have some real problems in the future. Then I put down some concrete bonding agent, mixed portland white cement with sand (1 to 3) added yellow dye, put on about an inch deep, patted it with a waded up plastic bag and cut the groves with my finger. Very inexpensive, under $50 complete. This would be a great project for a concrete slab patio or walk way. One of the easier project on this page and a 1 day project since the slab is already in. I extended the slab so that it has edges that look like the stones are hanging over, but that just took a little wire and a couple hours the day before the faux flag stone. Installed you can count on $20+ a square foot. Do it yourself, easy and cheap. A super cover for concrete. No problems in over 3 years. I had thought about coloring the grout lines, but trust me, in a short time they will get darker from dirt and weathering and look great. Take a look at this when you stop by, It's a mess in this picture, I had just finished the pond at the edge and is what this picture was for.
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