DIY Concrete Planter and Book Ends

Now that Christmas is truly over and all of the last parties and dinners and gifting is done, I can finally share with you a project that I’m rather proud of, if I do say so myself. I love the creative challenge of small budgets with big impact and this one is a real winner. Inspired by these geometric planters on Shelterness, I made a set of my own for under five bucks (plus an extra five for the succulent) and over 60 tea light candles for thirty cents a piece (…my husband’s extended family is rather large…). Now to those lucky ones who were given either of these for Christmas from my hubby and I, please don’t think us as cheapskates – a lot more love went into your gift than had we gone to the shops and bought you something. Actually, sweat and blood also went into your gift, so consider yourself very loved.

For a detailed step-by-step guide, see Studio Gray House. I used their free template as a beginning point and let creativity take me from there.

I’ve never worked with concrete before (bar watching my dad do the landscaping for our house when I was a kid) so I did a lot of research beforehand. The project seemed fairly straightforward, albeit scary:

  1. Mix concrete with water.
  2. Get over your fear of getting dirty and having concrete dry to your skin.
  3. Pour concrete in mold and leave to set.
  4. Remove concrete from mold.

What I found, however, is that concrete is a little more temperamental than I’d anticipated.

TIP #1: Don’t use flimsy cardboard

You can see on the lefthand face of this test planter how the cardboard warped, setting the concrete in an unwelcome shape. Needless to say we’re now using this one as a pseudo brick in the backyard but thankfully my later versions turned out without too much warping. Try using the type of cardboard that has a flat layer on the outsides and corrugation on the inside. I was too lazy to cut through three layers of cardboard and had to deal with the consequences of the water soaking through my thin cardboard and making the shape bow. As a result, the lines aren’t as clean and the surfaces aren’t as flat as I would have liked.

TIP #2: Coat mold surfaces in oil

Before sticking the plastic containers on top for where the tea lights would later go, I dipped the plastic containers in some vegetable oil. Sure enough, when removing them from the set concrete 24 hours later, they slipped right out and left a nice smooth surface behind. If only I could say the same for the outside of the tea lights, which leads me to tip #3…

TIP #3: Don’t use tin containers

As you can see, the tea lights were all bubbly and crumbly when first removed from the molds. It took a lot of work sanding these back with an electric sander before they looked nice and smooth. The reason this happened is because the folds of the tin container trapped air when the concrete was poured and the air tried to escape whilst the concrete was setting, hence the bubbles. It didn’t matter how much I jiggled them to get the air out before it set, the bubbles kept coming. I even tried putting them on the washing machine during a spin cycle to vibrate the bubbles out but it didn’t help either. After a lot of sanding, they did turn out okay – not slick and even like I’d hoped, but I’m still fairly happy with the result.

TIP #4: Make sure you have an electric sander handy

I can’t imagine tackling this project again without an electric sander. It was an absolute God-send. Especially given my little bubble problem. I ended up spending the best part of 10 hours sanding. I don’t even want to begin imagining how long it would have taken if I’d had to do it all by hand.

I think the only downside of this project is that I gave them away! I will definitely be working with concrete again in the future but with a few adjustments as per my tips above. I’m thinking ring holders…. vases…. lamp shades…. You can count on seeing more concrete projects within the year.

I hope this project might inspire in you the compulsion to create. I’d love to see where it takes you. Share your finished concrete projects in the comments section!

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2 thoughts on “DIY Concrete Planter and Book Ends

  1. What lucky family members! This is such a great project, Michaela. I love that you shared the challenges you were faced with (and how you overcame them 🙂 ) too. They turned out really well!

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