How to make stepping stones with whiskey barrel rings–part one

How to make stepping stones with whiskey barrel rings–part one

For part two of this article, click here

There’s a story behind this picture, read on

Amanda likes to make a good impression wherever she goes

Amanda likes to make a good impression wherever she goes

Halves of whiskey barrels make great planters but the barrels don’t last forever. Years ago, I realized that one of my recurring duties as a landscaper was to remove rotten barrel planters and replace them with new ones. I realized that the oaken staves, though partly rotten, would make good kindling and I shared them with my friends. I kept looking at the left over rings which held the barrels together and thought that I might, someday, find a use for them, so I began saving the rings. People who saw my growing stack of whiskey barrel rings often questioned my sanity. I didn’t care, though, because I knew I would find a use for them some day.

Then, one day, it dawned on me that the rings would make great forms for pouring stepping stones. I tried it out and made a few mistakes before I figured out a good way to make unique stepping stones that wouldn’t wiggle and which had lots of character. The process developed over the years. I finally got the concept of stepping stones that looked as if they were slabs cut from a petrified log full of fossils.

 We were working on a long (100 foot) narrow side yard on the north side of a house. The drainage is critical and a normal walkway just won’t do. We had built a long rock garden at the bottom of a retaining wall and were looking for a sustainable walkway, so we decided to use poured stepping stones surrounded with a pea gravel mulch. Here is the first part, step by step:

We dig out a circle to set the form so that will be level and rise to the proper elevation. The stepping stone will be poured in place and therefore won’t wiggle when finished. The barrel ring is slanted and we make sure that the side of the ring with the smaller diameter faces up so that we will be able to remove it from the finished stepping stone without lifting it.

Be sure to get the ring level, with the narrow diameter facing up

Be sure to get the ring level, with the narrow diameter facing up

We line the ring with plastic which will make it easy to remove the ring when the cement is dry. Then we start filling it with cement. I used Sakrete concrete mix for strength and durability. Be sure to use a concrete mix, because mortar or sand mixes will not set up strong enough for a stepping stone.

Lay plastic over the ring, shape it to the corners, and add cement

Lay plastic over the ring, shape it to the corners, and add cement

With the plastic folded back, we smooth out the cement to the top of the stepping stone.

Smooth out the cement to the top of the barrel ring

Smooth out the cement to the top of the barrel ring

There is almost no limit to the choices for an image in the stepping stone. I chose a fern for this one which will come out looking like a fossil. The fern frond was placed in just the right place and smoothed in with a trowel. You will need to experiment to find just the right stage of curing to wait for before troweling the inset into the cement.

The fern will look like a fossil in the finished stepping stone

The fern will look like a fossil in the finished stepping stone

Gently pull the plastic toward the center to make sure that there is no overhang of cement. This will also give a nicely finished wrinkled effect to the edge of the stepping stone.

Pull the plastic toward the center to form a finished edge

Pull the plastic toward the center to form a finished edge

Fold the plastic over the stepping stone. I like to gently mash the wrinkles of the plastic into the cement to create random lines of interest.

Mash the plastic wrinkles gently into the stepping stones to create a neat texture

Mash the plastic wrinkles gently into the stepping stones to create a neat texture

Gently place a rock or two on the plastic so that the wind won’t blow it around and walk away from the project until the next day.

allow the stepping stone to cure for a day or so

allow the stepping stone to cure for a day or so

After the project had dried for a day or two, the barrel rings may be removed. At this point, we trim the plastic at the bottom of the stepping stone, leaving the circle of plastic under the cement alone. If you are careful, the stepping stone will not be disturbed and will not wiggle when walked on.

pull the barrel ring from the dry stepping stone

pull the barrel ring from the dry stepping stone

Feel free to be creative with the images left in the cement, too. In the picture below, we used hydrangea leaves and parts of artificial flowers that we got from the dollar tree. The materials used to make the images will be removed, leaving their impressions in the finished product.

Flowers in a stepping stone

Flowers in a stepping stone

That’s it for the first stage. Be careful to allow the cement to set up well before allowing any traffic on them. In a week or so, these stones will have cured enough for me to stain them. Part two of this series will deal with staining and finishing the stepping stones as well as with mulching and finishing the total project. Stay tuned!

To see part two of this series, click here

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If you like this article on stepping stones, you may wish to see “Building Rock Steps,” parts one and two.

Would you like a consultation with johntheplantman in your yard? Contact John Schulz BY EMAIL

 These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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