Saturday, July 5, 2014

GARDEN ART - "Birdbath #1"

After working on my last project ("The Hummin' Bird Cafe"), I was still in the mood to continue with the Gardening Theme.  This time...I made a BIRD BATH!  As many of my creations go, I am not quite sure that an idea will work in the "real world". But the fun is in the experimenting!

I went back to a tried and true process though...making "Hypertufa".  I've made pots and planters from this material years ago, so I knew what to expect there.  But the use of wooden branches for the supports to my bird bath falls into the "risky" category.  But nothing ventured nothing gained!

You may have never heard of the term "hypertufa" before.  It is a mixture of Portland Cement (the fine powder...no rocks in it...most hardware stores carry it), Vermiculite (a soil enhancer from the garden center) and Spagnum (or Peat Moss...also from most garden centers).  When this concrete mixture dries, it has the look of old, weathered rock.  And it is 2/3rds lighter than a solid concrete piece.
I started with the "bowl" of the bath first (see above).  I mixed 1/3 of each material into a cat litter box (a new one!) I added enough water so that the mixture is like the consistency of thick wet oatmeal.  If done correctly, you should be able to make a golf-ball sized blob that holds it's shape.

I had taken a couple of classes, and the recommended approach was to build up the shapes with the "golf balls" instead of just big sloppy handfuls of material.  I sprayed it with PAM cooking spray first, to act as a release agent. I was applying the hypertufa mix to an upside-down plastic serving tray. Bit by bit, I covered the tray, so it looked like a giant cow pie.  I let it dry for 24-48 hours...and viola!  A bird bath bowl!

Next I roughed up the surface with a wire brush.  To make the bowl more water-proof, I rubbed in a light layer of Portland Cement, misting it with water, until it blended and made a smooth surface.  I didn't like the results, so I made up a very wet mix of cement to put on top.  But I got it too wet.  So...making lemonade from lemons...I just got a brush and made a swirl pattern in the bowl.  I was working on a "lazy susan", and could turn it like a potter's wheel.
Once the bowl was good and dry, I started on the base.  I had been saving some limbs to use with my birdhouse project.  I picked the thickest branch as my main support.  I drilled a hole in the base, and bolted on a wooden disk.
I then had to cut the angles on the branches to hold the bowl.  Then I cut smaller branches to give more support, and attached them to the larger branch with wood screws and wood glue.  The branches have a long wood screw attaching them to the wooden disk, too.

Now for the very bottom of the base...the "stump".  I had to do a bit of research about sculpting in concrete.  Most of the articles recommended using steel rebar for the inside of a concrete structure.  I have never worked with it, and don't have the heavy duty tools for cutting and welding it.  I am using steel wire mesh to make an under-structure that I would add to later. I added a bit of CEMENT with SAND mixture to the wiring, and let it dry for a day.  Notice the pieces of PVC pipe...that is for the drain holes to my "planter".
Next, I cut the wire into "pie-like" wedges, but didn't cut all the way to the middle.  Like adding icing to a layer cake, I smoothed on more cement, then set the wooden disk onto the "icing".  I then began to fold over the wire mesh and stapled it to the wood.  I would trim off excess wire, and soon made a "fence" of mesh.
Then I made a thicker batch of cement and sand.  I applied the first ring of cement to the "fence", then used a trowel to smooth on the cement.  Eventually...I had put "icing" over the whole "cake".
 After the base had dried for a day...I made up more "hypertufa".  I then sculpted "roots" and covered the whole base, building the walls higher, and forming a "stump".  I had replaced the PVC pipe pieces with longer dowels to protect the drain holes.  Then I let THAT all dry for a couple of days.
Once all the pieces where complete, I gave everything a couple of coats of "Water Sealant" to help it last longer in the rains and to make the bath more water-tight.  The hypertufa is very porous, so the water would just seep out in a few of days.  I may have made an error with the bowl.  When I had made the "swirl" in the surface, I probably did not let it dry completely enough, before I painted on the sealant!!  There looks like moisture trapped in the surface, and it discolors the cement.  Perhaps, over time, that will dry out to a more even gray color.  Oh well...live and learn.
And here is the finished bird bath!  I went to the garden center this morning to add the final touch of flowers in the base.  Hopefully the birds will figure out that this new amenity is available.

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