Mosaic Path

"Au natural"        Fallen leaves and all.

There was quite a collection of stained glass, broken pottery and commercial tile in my basement workspace for several years.  Some of the pieces were from old projects, family and others were from friends who have since passed away.  For several years I had envisioned creating a pathway in my garden from this collection along with additional donations from friends. One day, I decided it was time to begin!

Fall 2018

1.  My first step was to plan the rough layout using newspaper.

 

Each piece of newspaper was later cut in half along the center fold so that the size of the pavers would be manageable.

Most of the shapes were rectangles but several had one angled side in order to create the curves in the path.  (Note the folded corners.) There were just three different shapes.

3 - Every piece of clay was tested to make sure that it would withstand freezing and thawing.  This meant that it could not be porous.  I simply held the unglazed parts of the clay against my tongue, and if it stuck, that meant it would absorb water.  Several commercially made dishes were rejected for this reason.

- As I went along, I broke up dishes and other larger clay pieces, I first placed them in a box and put on my goggles.  A hammer worked really well.  Glaze samples from the studio were cut with a tile saw.

5 - Once I had my basic design, I measured and drew the exact paver shapes needed on three different pieces of sheetrock in order to have stable surfaces for the final layout.    I then carefully placed each piece right side up within the drawn shape leaving 1/2 inch of space on each of the four sides.

7 - It was possible to lift the entire piece with glass and ceramic pieces attached.  The number of each paver unit was written on the face of the contact paper and on the back of some of the ceramic pieces as well. 

9 - The frames were made with scrap wood and 2 x 4's that were attached with brackets and screws at the corners.

Brackets were screwed into the base plywood to help hold the frames in place when I filled them with concrete. 

Back-boards and frames were labelled to make it easier to find the ones that fit together while I was working.

11 - The contact paper units were each placed onto a back board sticky-side up and the wood strips were removed by peeling or cutting the contact paper. 

 

It was necessary for the contact to extend beyond the lines drawn on the base board so that the cement would not seep beneath it.    If it didn't, then 2" wide clear packaging tape was added, thus extending the sides.  This too was placed sticky side up.

13 - In the case of gaps between the frame pieces and the back board*, I used water soluble natural clay to fill them being careful not to push so hard that the gap was made larger.   As long as the clay was wet, it was not effected by the concrete, and could easily be removed once the concrete had cured.

* To avoid this, use frame pieces with sharp right-angled edges and  plywood that won't warp for the backboard.. 

15 - For each paver, I began by mixing concrete that had sand in it.  I added water gradually  to make the concrete mixtures wet enough to stick together, but not at all runny. Too much water would result in fine cracks.  I did no more than 2 gallon-size pails of concrete at a time to make mixing easier. 

17 -  I used high strength concrete to fill the remaining space in each form.  This concrete has small stones in it making it inappropriate for filling in between the ceramic and glass pieces. 

The forms were filled to a depth of 2 1/2 inches. 

 

-  When they were about half full, I added scrap metal mesh or 2 layers of chicken wire. This would hold the concrete together in case it cracks someday.  Then I continued filling the form, packing the concrete as I went along.

19 - Concrete should NOT be dried quickly.*  

After filling the forms, I covered them with plastic.  The following day, I sprayed them with water and then recovered them. 

 

Initial hardening takes place over the course of three to five days with about thirty days necessary for the concrete to be fully cured.

 

*The hardening of concrete takes place through a chemical process called hydration; that is, water causes bonding between molecules of cement.  Time is needed for the process of hydration to occur.  The sand and small stones in the concrete mixtures are called aggregates, and these are bonded together with cement which acts as a paste.

21 - The pavers were also numbered on the sides with permanent marker and then stacked with pieces of wood between them so as not to scratch the surfaces.

23 - My husband Guy and I dug through the topsoil, pea gravel, rocks and clay to a depth of at least four inches.  This would allow for the height of the 2 1/2 inch to three inch pavers as well as the sand that we would be using to set them on.

**Many thanks to Guy!  I think we both worked equally hard but he was much more effective and the deed was done in an afternoon!

25 -   By the time I had finished the pavers, Guy had half of the leveling completed, and he finished the last half the following day.  In the meantime, I did preliminary cleanup on the completed pavers.

Sunday July 14

27 -  As I continued to clean the pavers, Guy carried each one up to the pathway site. Another happy surprise!

29 - Ooooh.  So exciting!

31 - I used a solution of 5 parts water to one part muriatic acid, which is a very strong acid.  All sorts of precautions should be taken when using it, so if you are going to, make sure you do your research first! 

In my case was doing all of my work outdoors.   I kept the jar of acid well away from me at all times, and, because I was sitting on the ground next to my work, I covered my legs with an old plastic shower curtain.

33 - The next challenge was to choose the best sealer for the job, one that would protect my pavers in freeze/thaw conditions.  After doing research, including online, at the local hardware stores and the concrete paver store, I decided on a penetrating silicone sealer that I could only get online.   

35 - After the sealer had dried, I set the pavers as evenly as possible by moving the sand beneath and around them.  The side edges had to match up evenly as well as the surfaces of each paver.  

Winter 2019

2 - I cut heavier weight white paper to match the newspaper shapes so that I would have clean spaces to begin the layout of ceramic and glass. Each paper would be numbered later. 

- Most of the pieces were readily available but I did make small tiles with quotes from friends and family, sayings that reflect who my husband and I are, and others that would indicate the times we live in. These were used throughout the pathway to create a common thread and separate other elements of the design.  They were finished with a gray glaze to keep them subtle.

4 - This picture shows some of the pieces turned upside down.  In the final version, all of the clay and glass was set into the concrete making the pavers flat on top.  The back of individual pieces would not matter, meaning that pieces of varying thickness including chunks like these were of no concern.  Additionally I was able to use some rejects from past projects.

6 - I placed a strip of wood on each long side which enabled me to handle the contact paper by myself.  (It also aided in stacking them later.) Contact paper* was set over the design and wood strips. This was the trickiest part of the whole project!  Wrinkles in the plastic would show up later.

* The contact paper is a heavy-duty type used to cover carpets that can be purchased at a hardware store or online.

- The contact paper was pressed onto the individual pieces to make sure they were secure.  

Spring 2019

8 -  I prepared pieces of plywood with drawings of my paver shapes.  These "back-boards" were placed on a level and sturdy flat surface. At least 3./4 inch plywood works best.

10 - Lines were drawn around the inside of the frames to indicate a depth of 2 1/2 inches*.  This would become the level of the concrete, and thus the thickness of the pavers.

*It had been suggested that I make the pavers three inches thick, but since they would not be installed in a highly trafficked area, I decided to go with slightly thinner pieces.

12 - The frame was then placed over the edges of the contact paper and adjustments were made so that the borders would be even.  If the contact paper stuck out beyond the frame, it could be pulled to aid in making adjustments.

- The number of each paver unit was written on the frame each time, and when that one was finished, the number of the next paver was written on the frame.

14 -  In order to remain healthy(!), I wore a high quality mask when handling the dusty concrete.  It needed to be reasonably comfortable because I was doing 5 to 6 pavers each day, and had to do the mixing in several batches as I went along. I wore the mask for hours at a time.

16 - Good gloves that fit well were so important!!

Beginning in the center, I pressed the concrete mixture between the shapes.  Although gaps could be fixed later,  it was important to take the time to fill in the cracks at this point for the best results.

18 - Because I made 28 units, I was careful to label each one throughout the process to make the organization of setting them easier.

20 - It was fun and motivating to remove the pavers from the forms and see how they turned out.  At this point they received a preliminary cleaning using a wet cloth and plastic brush, and they were kept hydrated.

The pavers were checked for little gaps around the ceramic and glass pieces. The hardened concrete was moistened,  new sanded concrete was pressed into the gaps  and the paver was once again covered with plastic. 

Summer 2019

22 - When over half of the pavers had been formed, it was time to prepare the 28 foot pathway area.  I placed the paper patterns down and held them in place with rocks, and then used a hoe to dig small trenches on either side to mark where the digging would take place.

"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" *

24 -  I worked on the last five pavers and just as I was thinking that I would begin leveling the ground for the pathway when I was finished, my husband walked by and announced that he was about to begin working on that very job!

The five pavers were completed and covered with plastic to cure.

* From "The Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

26 - We covered the leveled ground with one inch of sand.  Apparently "sandbox sand" will not only pack vertically, but will also move horizontally, making leveling easier when the pavers were placed.

28 -  I had set the paper patterns down to indicate approximately where each paver would go.  I wasn't  there for the setting of each one, but I did make sure that I saw the placement of the first.

30 - The pavers needed a good cleaning to remove the cement residue that was dulling the colors.  I began to prepare for this task by trimming my fingernails and putting on two sets of plastic gloves.

32 - To remove most of the concrete residue, I dipped  a cotton rag into the H2O-muriatic solution and rubbed the clay and glass, being careful to get as little acid on the concrete as possible.  It was great to see the bright colors come back!   Some of the deeper little spots required a bit more persuasion.

34 - Application was easy. I wiped the sealer off the ceramic and glass pieces.  It was invisible on the concrete when dry.  Cleanup was fast with just soap and water.

Finally, large, medium and small stones were placed to frame the path along the woods, and cranesbill geraniums were planted on the other side. Falling leaves immediately started to obscure the design as we knew they would, so I guess it's just part of the landscape now.  

 

Phew.