An excellent friend of mine asked me recently if I could cast a concrete birdbath that she could install in her cat memorial garden. Although we met many years ago through work, we realized early on that we're both cat people. She has a particular area in her yard where, over the years, she has laid their bodies to rest when it's time for them to go on to the next kitty life. Her cats (unlike mine) have never been hunters, so as part of the memorial garden, she wanted a birdbath. Kind of ironic...and very cool... birds bathing and chilling out in the midst of cats, both past and present.
This birdbath will sit on the ground, so while not huge, it is a bigger project than what I've been doing recently and called for a different kind of mold. It was more difficult that I expected to identify what to use for a round mold, about 2 feet in diameter. My first thought was to build a mold with a wood circle and metal flashing for the sides. That would have worked, no doubt, as a mold, but I didn't want the shape to be that sharp. I wanted more of a rounded bottom rim and slightly flared sides. After a walk around Home Depot, my basement, and the art reuse store--SmART, that I have mentioned before--I was still without a good idea.
Good ideas can emerge from the most unexpected places and this time it happened when I was taking vegetable scraps from the kitchen to the compost bin in my back yard. Really, you say?? Yep. I use large plastic garbage cans with lids for my compost. It was the lid that spoke to me. The lid on my particular garbage can wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it put me on the right track. A short time spent on Amazon, perusing garbage can lids (yes, you can buy only a lid), resulted in what turned out to be a great mold.
So, three weeks ago I poured the bird bath. The process involved minor modifications to the lid, mixing and pouring the concrete and finally setting in a plastic covered wooden circle to create the bowl part of the birdbath. I covered it with plastic so it would stay wet and walked away for a few days. All good. Well, maybe. The first time I cast something, I have no idea if it will work...seems like there's always potential for a lesson to be learned. This time was no exception.
After a few days, the concrete was set well enough to have the interior mold removed. Long story short, removing it resulted in cracking the rim in three places. Sigh. Execution errors became apparent, however impatience on my part was the main one. I had failed to notice that the wood circle had a slight curvature at the rim, making it impossible to lift straight out of the concrete. When it didn't lift easily out by pulling on the plastic that it was wrapped in, I tapped a nail into the wood and pulled on it with a little more force. It came out...but only after cracking the rim. Lesson learned!
Time to re-cast. I made a few more modifications to the lid/mold, re-wrapped the wood circle in plastic to use again as the interior mold, mix concrete (3 parts sand to one part portland cement), fill the mold with cement, set the interior mold, add more concrete to create the elevated sides, cover, and walk away.
When it was time to unmold, I made sure I was feeling very patient. I knew that this time I needed to excavate the edge around the interior mold until I could lift it straight out. Armed with an old wood chisel that is perfect for scraping concrete and an electric rotary tool, I worked around the plastic covered wood disc until I had a completely clear edge. I mostly used the chisel, but when I ran into tiny pebbles from the sand, I wanted to clear those more gently, so I used the rotary tool. Success!
After some additional shaping and sanding, this is where it is now. It may not look significantly different in the photos, but a good bit of edge cleaning and surface smoothing was accomplished. Now a couple more weeks of curing and it'll be time for acid etch coloring...can't wait!
Once the color is applied, it will look a bit more like stone. I think. A big part of the joy of creating is discovering what the final work will be...I'm convinced that art is the result of artist intent plus the influence of the components themselves. I don't know exactly how all of that unfolds, but I know it's an adventure that I love every time.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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