Have you ever done a project and later you just kicked yourself that you didn’t take pictures of the whole process? Well this happens to me all the time!
I think part of me just loves doing the project whatever it happens to be and I get so caught up in it I totally forget to try and record it. The one time I really wanted to do a tutorial, I just lost it. I completely got into it and did not even think of the photos. I am here today to remedy that. But before I go any farther I need to warn you. This is a long post. It is one with as many steps and details as I can remember. Instructions can be boring. I usually have to go take a nap while trying to read instructions on how to make something. If you are not planning to make a huge cement rhubarb leaf only read as far as the next 3 short paragraphs. Then you can scroll down to look at the pictures and call it a day. This post is for the diehard people who want to make this cool project.
Here is a photograph of the leaf casting I made two years ago. Ever since I made it I have been wanting to do another one.
Last year though the deer got into the rhubarb patch and I could not even get one leaf. I thought of trolling through the back alleyways, looking over the neighbors fences, to sneak into their yard and grab a rhubarb leaf. But the thought of being attacked buy some guard dog or sitting in a cold jail cell for trespassing just did not bode well with me.
This year though, I got out the trusted Irish Spring and my rhubarb patch is huge already. If you would like to read about the Irish Spring deer repellent, I wrote a post on it called Bambi Is A Butt-Head.
Even though it is a fairly simple project there are quite a few steps to it, but this time I was ready with the camera.
First get everything ready. Get all your supplies and get a work table set up. You will want to set it up in the most shady area you have. Concrete needs to cure and preferably out of the sun.
You will need a bucket of water to add to the cement mixture.
A pair of rubber gloves is a must!
I cut three large garbage bags open to make three flat big sheets of plastic.
Also needed is hardware mesh or some places call it hardware cloth. It is kinda like chicken wire but stronger. I used the 1/4″ X 1/4″ size.
You need to get yourself a bag of play sand.
I used the Rubbermaid bin to put the sand into. The reason being is you need to get the sand wet. You need it wet so it will form a little hill and a little trench area along the edges. It is easier to add the water to the sand that is in a container or a bucket, rather than to try mixing it on your work space. Now if you ever went to the beach when you were young be prepared for the smell of that beach as soon as you add water to the sand. It was an instant smile for me as my parents rented a cottage every summer at a place called Wasaga Beach, Ontario!
On my first leaf 2 years ago, I used Quikrete Concrete. It was the kind that sets up quickly. Well it set up too fast and I didn’t make enough concrete, so while making a second batch, the concrete on the leaf was already setting up. Plus it had way too many big rocks or agate in it.
This time I went with straight Portland cement. It is very fine and should settle into the grooves and give even more detail. At least that is my theory. You will also need a bin or a bucket to mix the cement in, plus something to mix the cement with. I used one of those garden trowels or fork looking thingys. It’s like a miniature little garden hoe. Also needed is some sort of scoop to get the cement from the bin to the table.
First you will want to lay a piece of plastic on your table. This will protect it from any cement that will inevitably drop on it. You will then dump your moistened sand onto the center of your table. See all those dirty water drops on the table. I didn’t have the sand moist enough, so I just used the hose and sprayed a light mist over it and mixed it up some more. But this is how you want it to look.
Move the sand around so you have a hill in the center and a bit of a trough around the outside and pile the edges up a bit higher. If you do this it will help keep your cement from slowly spreading out too far past the edge of the leaf.
Lay another piece of plastic over the sand. You don’t want sand getting into your cement.
See how the edges of the leaf dip down and then come back up in the area that you made the little trough. I did have to lift the plastic up and add more sand to the outer edges once the leaf was in place. Also I cut the fat stem off the leaf and underneath I used another smaller leaf to fill in the gap where the stem used to be. Also if you see any rips or holes in the big leaf, you will want to slide patches of small leaves underneath.
Now is a good time to cut that wire mesh into the same shape as your leaf. Make it a couple inches smaller all the way around. Use some tin snips to do this. Wire cutters work but you will be there all day snipping one piece of wire at a time.
Now is the time for your cement. When I bought the cement it was in 88 pound bags and once I got it home I split it in half and dumped each half into separate bins. There is no way I can lift 88 pounds by myself, so this made it much more convenient for me. Knowing I was going to take photos of the whole process I saved the label of the bag it came in so I could take a photo of it. But what I forgot to do was save the instructions on the back side of the bag. Yes I am an idiot with a memory problem!
This is how it looks when the cement is all mixed up.
Mixing the cement was really no problem other than it is hard work. I just kept adding small amounts of water to the cement and just kept mixing. I started by adding about a liter at a time. Then once it started to get worked in I was adding just a couple cups at a time. You don’t want to make this stuff too wet or it will just run all over the place. All total I probably added 3 to 4 liters of water to 44 lbs of cement. Make sure you get right down to the bottom to get any of the dry cement mixed in. You have gloves on, so just get in there with your hands and squish all the clumps and lumps out. Once you have got it to a thick cookie dough consistency you are now ready to scoop it up and place it on the leaf.
Cover your leaf with about an inch of the cement adding more at the top to get the area where the stem was. Then add your wire mesh and add more cement on top of that.
See the area where the cement is trying to creep over and slide down the edges. I just lifted the plastic and shoved in some more of the damp sand. I then smoothed it all out. But this is the back side and mine will be laying on the ground so I didn’t make a big fuss of it.
Next I lifted all the corners of the plastic that is under the sand and laid it over the cement leaf. Kinda like wrapping a big ugly present to give to someone you don’t like very much!
Cover with another final piece of plastic and weigh it down with some rocks or whatever you have on hand as this now is going to be outside for 3 days. Three days is a long time to wait but if you don’t wait and try to turn it over too early, it will break and all that hard work will be for nothing.
Now would be a good time to talk about additives to your cement. I really didn’t do any research on the difference of cement and concrete. I really should have. To make cement stronger some people add sand to the mix or even pre-made stuff that looks like white glue. I actually had a bottle of white glue and added about 2 cups to mine as I recalled something of that effect a couple years ago when I did the first one. You can google all kinds of info on it if you decide to make one of these. Since I added the wire mesh I am hoping this will strengthen it enough and not fall apart at the time of flipping it over. It is going to be one heavy sucker! I might just call my neighbor over to give me a hand. She is good that way, but her hubby has a bad back so I will most likely torture her.
Also you can add color to your cement. I added about 2 cups of Rust-Oleum silver metallic paint. I still wanted the cement color but I wanted to see if any of the metallic particles would show through. The store bought color comes in a powder form.
OK I waited three days and today was the big unveiling of the cement rhubarb leaf. I have mixed feelings on the cement. It is so much lighter than the concrete one, which I like! I didn’t even have to call my neighbor over. It also seems plenty strong enough. The problem I have with it is even though I mixed it thick enough it really crept over the edges. I have a ton of extra cement I am now going to have to chisel off. It isn’t hard to do at this stage as the cement has not completely cured. That will take another couple of weeks. But it just seems that it did not show as much detail as the concrete one. The next time I do one I think I will add about 6 cups of sand to it. that should solve the problem of how runny it gets while sitting during the first couple hours.
Here is how it looks upon taking off the plastic and you can clearly see how it kept spreading out even with all the sand I piled up around it.
My other problem was I have two spots where the top smooth cement peeled off as I was trying to pull some of the leaf off. I can repair that with some more cement but I was not too happy to see that I had more work to do.
The next shot is after I chiseled all the extra concrete away. It is starting to look better. Now I need to go make a quick slurry of cement and add it to the areas that need patching and let it set up overnight. Plus I need to get it back into the shade. The longer you let it cure in a shady spot the stronger this is going to be.
See all the bits of leaf that are still in the cracks of the leaf. Once it has had time to dry out some more, it is much easier to clean all that out. If you do it too early it is a real pain in the butt.
In the photo below I have left it alone to cure for 2 weeks and cleaned all the veins of the leaf. There is no green stringy rhubarb left.
Next step was to give it a coat of silver metalic paint. I have decided to give this one to my neighbor as she is doing some landscaping on her front yard and is adding a dry river bed. I did not want this to just blend in with the other rocks and disappear.. The silver should make it pop a bit more but not be too obtrusive.
I lost a bit of the detail in the veining but I still plan to give it a watered down black paint wash before I seal it all up. Since I did not seal this with a cement sealer before painting the cement absorbed quite a bit of the paint. I gave it another coat of silver and it absorbed even more but once the second coat dried I quite liked the effect that was left. It gave it a more aged look and not so shiny. I then gave it 2 coats of sealer.
Here is the final cement rhubarb leaf.
Here it is in it’s final home in my neighbors yard.
My neighbor just loves her Rhubarb Leaf. She is the kind of neighbor you just love doing stuff for. Her husband though is probably having nightmares. He is a minimalist and when you live beside someone that collects and makes stuff out of junk you just know stuff is going to slowly creep over on to the other side of the driveway.
I hope you found these instructions helpful and if you attempt to try one and need help please feel free to ask me any questions. I would be more than happy to try and help.