Overview: Creative pebble stepping stones
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Finished stepping stone
Making a do-it-yourself stepping stone begins with setting attractive stones in a bed of dry mortar.
Alice Medley loves to create works of art from the pebbles she collects.
And she was generous enough to invite us into her garage
workshop to show us how to make these beautiful
pebble mosaic stepping-stones. She uses a “dry-set”
technique that makes it easy to change or adjust the
pattern as you go without having to dig the stones out
of wet mortar.
In addition to showing you how to make these stepping-stones,
we’ve included plans for an ingenious reusable wooden mold that
Alice purchased from a North Woods carpenter. The initial investment
for this project—about $50—gets you the plywood, a bag of
mortar, pigment and muriatic acid. It’s enough material to make
about seven or eight stepping-stones. After that, each one will cost
you less than a dollar.
Meet the Expert: Alice Medley
Alice started out using
more traditional mosaic
materials like tile and glass
for her outdoor art projects.
Then she discovered
she could marry her love of
stones with her love of
mosaics. Alice learned this
dry-mortar technique from Laura Stone, a stone
mosaic artist from Minnesota. Alice has also created
4-ft.-diameter, built-in-place pad for her backyard fire
kettle using the same technique and is waiting to see
how it holds up through harsh Minnesota winters.
Step 1: Start by collecting the stones
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Some of Alice's vast
collection of rocks.
Alice collects her stones on
the north shore of Lake
Superior. You’ll find similar
stones in most parts of the
country. Look for them in river
and creek beds or along lakeshores.
Wherever you find
them, make sure you have
permission and that it’s legal
to collect them. Another possible
source is your local landscape
supplier or wherever
landscaping stone is sold.
Alice likes to sort them by color. She’s got buckets and cans
full of red, gray, white, brown and speckled stones. Keeping
them sorted makes it a lot easier for her to find the right one
as she creates a pattern.
Step 2: Build the stepping stone mold
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Photo 1: Assemble the mold
This plywood mold goes together quickly and comes
apart easily after the mortar hardens. And you can use it
again and again.
A small sheet of 3/4-in. plywood and some 1-1/4-in. screws are
all you’ll need to build the mold. Cut out the pieces according
to the Cutting List. Figure A shows how the parts go together.
When you’re done, brush linseed or vegetable oil on the mold
to protect it from moisture.
Stepping stone mold details
Figure A: Stepping-Stone Mold
This mold designed for 12-in. x 12-in. stepping stones is made from 3/4-in. plywood.
You can download Figure A and enlarge it in “Additional Information” below. Also find a complete Cutting List in “Additional Information” below.
Step 3: How to make the stepping stone
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Photo 2: Spread dry mortar in the form
Fill the plastic-lined form to about 3/4 in. from the
top edge with dry Type S mortar. Level it with your gloved
hand. It doesn't have to be perfectly flat.
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Photo 3: Arrange stones in a pattern
The only rule is to keep the stones close together so
they touch and stand up and are not laid flat.
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Photo 4: Tamp the stones level to the tops
Lay a board across the stones and pound on it with a
rubber mallet to embed the stones in the dry mortar and
set the tops level with each other.
Photos 2 – 4 show the assembly steps. Alice likes to add a little
brown pigment to the dry Type S mortar mix to give the stepping-
stones a mellower look.
You’ll find cement pigments
and Type S mortar at home
centers and masonry suppliers.
Or you can cheat like Alice does
and just mix in a little colored
ceramic tile grout. Make sure to
wear rubber gloves to protect
your skin from the mortar,
which can cause skin burns.
You don’t have to plan your
pattern ahead of time. Alice
says she has a design in mind
and just starts arranging the
stones. It’s easier to start along
the edges or in a corner and
work toward the center, though.
You’ll have less fitting to do as
you fill in the last few stones.
Keep the stones close together
and oriented with the long axis
up and down. While it’s tempting,
Alice cautions against
laying a stone flat. She says it doesn’t look as good as you think
it will and is more likely to pop out later. When you’re done
tamping the stones
into the dry mortar,
inspect the space
between the stones
to see if there are
spots that require
more mortar. They should be buried at
least halfway. Fill sparse areas with
more mortar. Dust any dry mortar off
the stones with a small brush.
Step 4: Wet the mortar
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Photo 5: Sprinkle the stone
Adjust your spray wand or
sprayer to the finest spray setting
and sprinkle water over the
completed stepping-stone to wet the
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Photo 6: Tap on the form
Tap on the form with the mallet to remove air and help the water
penetrate. Continue sprinkling and tapping until is seems like no more
water will be absorbed by the mortar.
The trickiest part of the process is
wetting the mortar (photo 5). We can’t
tell you exactly how much water to
add, but it’s better to sprinkle on several
small doses than to get impatient
and risk adding too much. Alice says
the key is to alternate between wetting
the top and tapping on the mold with
the rubber mallet until it seems like
not all of the water is being absorbed
and bubbles quit appearing (photo 6).
Expect to spend about 45 minutes
sprinkling and tapping.
When the mortar is thoroughly
dampened, set the completed stepping-stone in a shady spot and cover it
with a damp cloth and plastic. Wait at
least 48 hours before removing the
Step 5: Remove the mold
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Photo 7: Pull off the mold
Allow the stepping-stone to harden and cure for at least two days.
Then carefully flip it over and remove the mold. Clean it with water
and then acid if needed.
After you remove the mold from the
stepping-stone (photo 7), brush the
stone off to remove any loose mortar
and rinse it with clear water. If, after
drying, the embedded stones have a film of mortar on them, clean it off with muriatic
acid diluted according to the instructions on the container. Remember, always
add acid to water, not the other way around, and wear rubber gloves and safety
To enhance the color of the stones, coat them with stone sealer. Alice recommends
Sparks Stone Glamor sealer. You can find it online at sparkssw.com for $18
per quart. Other brands will also work. You’ll find stone sealers at home centers;
masonry, landscape and tile suppliers; and online.