Ideas from Ed: (Tomb)stoned again (Volume 5, Issue 11)
I certainly take on some unusual projects, don’t I? My son’s cat recently passed away, and I felt obliged to make a tombstone for it, just like I had done when a previous pet died. Both are buried in a small “pet cemetery” on his property, so a proper memorial seemed fitting. Mind you, this process could also be used to make yard decorations, Halloween items, or stepping stones.
The first step was to come up with some type of tombstone design that would not be too hard to cast, and a way to personalize it. The personalization was an easy decision, as I wanted this stone’s lettering to match what I used on the previous tombstone. I made a quick trip to the nearest toy store, and for a couple of dollars, picked up several sets of plastic letters and numbers. These had magnets on the back so they can be attached to something like a refrigerator, but I didn’t need that extra feature. I used a sheet of paper and tried several designs/shapes and lettering layouts, before settling on this one (the outer lines):
For the form, I used several layers (glued together) of insulating foamboard. Styrofoam could also be used.
Styrofoam is best cut using an electric carving knife, but when I tried it on this foamboard, the cutting didn’t go well. I ended up using a sabre saw with a coarse blade.
The goal was to end up with a form like this:
I cut two pieces of #4 (1/2-inch) re-bar and stuffed them through the bottom portion of the form. It would be those two bars that will be pushed into the ground to hold the tombstone in place. I worked in my driveway on an old piece of plywood.
With all the lettering in place on my mock-up, I put just a dab of school glue onto each one, and then set a small pane of glass carefully onto them and let everything dry.
That allowed me to pick up the glass and flip it over, with the lettering now in reverse, in perfect alignment (shown on carpeting in my house.)
I ran a very thin bead of latex caulk around the perimeter of the form, and carefully placed it onto the glass, now supported on the plywood I used earlier in my driveway. The caulk was to keep the form from shifting on the glass, but I also placed a few strips of painter’s tape there to hold it all in place. Note that I used scraps of wood under the bottoms of the re-bar so the bars would be held as straight as possible and in the same plane as the form.
For the actual mix, I used the structural mortar that I am so fond of. This particular brand is what I have available to me, and is what I used in many of my projects and “Ideas from Ed” columns. (Note that I am not promoting any particular brands or products in my columns, but simply show you what I use…) Along with the actual mortar, I like to use Flow Control, which is a plasticizer that allows you to make the mortar mix a bit soupier than normal without losing strength.
I added water to the mortar powder, added the flow control, mixed it well, and poured it into the form. I used a trowel to smooth off the surface of what would be the back of the tombstone, and just let it set. The mortar mix I use begins to set in as little as 15 minutes in normal weather, but it was cool outside, so I had time to play with it for a bit. This particular mix sets with a strength of over 5000 PSI, which is stronger than most concrete.
When I peeled the foam form away (the next morning), there were just a few small areas that needed lightly touched up with a fresh dab of mortar. I used a coarse file to smooth the edges just a bit. Here’s how it turned out:
With some extra work, the letters could have been oiled so they could be removed, leaving only their impressions in the stone. Or, they can be painted all the same color if that’s what’s desired. The mix of colors in the lettering matches the effect on the tombstone I made for the other pet cat several years ago:
By the way, with about 2 minutes of work, the glass cleaned right off and showed no ill effects from being used as it was.
I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!
If you’d like to download a PDF of this “Ideas” column, click here: