Making A Hypertufa Table & Tuffets

A couple of people wrote to me after last issue’s article about hypertufa asking for instructions on making the children’s table and tuffets that were pictured. Your children (or grandchildren) will love you for this. Here’s how to make them: 1. These instructions are not an exact recipe. They are to be used as a guideline to help you build a table in any size you want. Exact amounts will depend on the size of the table and pedestal you decide to make. You will need to have on hand: 1 bag of Portland cement, a bale of peat moss and about three standard bags of perlite. At the end of your project, you will have some of each left (especially the peat moss) which you can use to make additional pieces, faux rocks or anything else your imagination comes up with. If this is your first time making hypertufa, practice first with smaller amounts of the basic mixture and make some pots first—then try the table. Read these directions completely through before beginning, and be sure you have all necessary equipment and supplies. You will also need a tamping tool (an old broom handle works fine), drop cloths, water and two Styrofoam plant protectors. For the second stage of this project, you will need some 3/4 inch plywood (I simply used remnants from the garage), some long bolts and a tube of concrete adhesive. 2. Make a basic dry mixture of three parts perlite, three parts, peat moss, and two parts Portland cement in a large plastic tub or a wheelbarrow. Work with a drop cloth, this is a very messy job; and wear a mask to avoid breathing in harmful cement dust. Use a cut-out 1 gal. plastic jug as a measure and always wear heavy duty rubber gloves. Never handle the mixture with your bare





hands (cement is caustic). Add water to the dry ingredients to form a cement mixture that is the consistency of mud pies. You will be making the pedestal and tabletop parts separately. Work quickly and mix up more as you need it. For the pedestal mold, you can buy (from any garden supply store) Styrofoam plant protectors. You will need two different sizes. I used 1 Standard (12” x 12” x 14” for my inner piece and 1 Super 16” x 16” x 18” for my outer piece. Begin by turning the larger mold upside down, so it will act as a container with the larger open end facing upwards and the closed “top” at the bottom. Spray the inside with vegetable cooking oil for easier removal after curing. Fill the bottom with the cement mixture to a depth of about 3 inches. Tamp down to remove any air pockets with an old broom handle. Then spray the outside of the smaller plant protector with vegetable cooking oil. Place it (top down) inside the larger one, centered so there is about a 2 inch space all around. Using a scoop, quickly fill the space, tamping with the broom handle frequently and smooth the edges when you reach the top. Cover with plastic and set aside to cure for about 24 to 32 hours. The Styrofoam piece in the middle may not come out completely. No matter. If that happens, simply remove any edges that show above the outer shell of the pedestal and leave the rest. It can stay hidden inside the pedestal. Remove the outer Styrofoam mold in one piece if possible, but if it sticks a little, carefully break it away in chunks, working around the piece. Smooth surfaces and edges with a wire brush to help make it look more rustic and natural (and less like the mold it came from). Let cure for at least three weeks before attempting to attach the top. For the top, you will need a drop cloth laid out on a work surface large enough for you to hand shape and mold your table top. I did not use any guides except a tape which I used to cross measure to be sure my piece was round (or very nearly so) and equidistant when measured top to bottom or side to side as I looked down on it. Essentially, you will be making a big mud pie
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about 24 to 30 inches in diameter and 2 to 2-1/2 inches thick. This is all hand work. Add a little here, some there, pat it in, and when you have it how you like it you can decide if you want to leave it plain—or decorate it with broken ceramic tiles as I did in the picture. Many tile stores will give away for the taking, their broken scraps. That is how I got the tiles I used in this project. I placed the tiles randomly around the mud pie and tapped them in using a rubber hammer, all the while patting around the edges to keep the desired thickness since the hammer tapping tends to flatten the soft cement mixture. It’s a “feel” thing. When everything is as perfect as it is going to get, stop. Cover it with plastic and leave it alone for 2 days. After that you can soften the rough edges with a wire brush. Be careful. A thin, flat, uncured piece like this will break easily. Like the pedestal, let it cure for at least three weeks before you try to put the two together. They must be completely dry. 7. Cut a circle out of 3/4 inch plywood just 1/4 inch smaller than the diameter of the table top piece. This will serve as a necessary support (hypertufa breaks more easily than cement). Cut another, smaller piece (can be square or octagonal). Set them on top of each other so you can drill through both pieces in 3 or 4 places (close to the outer edges of the smaller piece of plywood) so you can bolt them together later. (See photo at right.) 8. To make the top removable, we countersunk four bolts through the holes in the plywood circle and inserted bolts that stuck out through the bottom. 9. Using construction adhesive, glue the mosaic hypertufa tabletop to the plywood circle top, sealing in the bolt tops and allow to cure completely. Also, glue the other piece of plywood to the top of the pedestal, centering carefully. When the adhesive has set, bolt the two pieces together by fitting the protruding bolts in the tabletop piece into the pre-drilled holes in the piece attached to the pedestal top. Using a hacksaw, cut off any protruding bolt ends that might cause injury to a child sitting at the table. 10. The base of the tuffets you see in the picture are
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concrete blocks. They are partially buried and as the grass grew around them, not recognizable for what they really were. One of the tuffet tops is also concrete, softened and rounded from years of who knows what—and the larger one is a flat rock. Both were affixed with concrete adhesive. Simple tuffets can be made by using plastic containers. Choose one that makes a nice height and width for a child’s seat, spray the inside of it with cooking oil, fill it with hypertufa mixture, let it set and soften the edges as you did with the pedestal. Plastic 5-gallon buckets might be just right. If you use an inner container to make them hollow, keep the side walls and top about 3 inches thick. Brushing surfaces with a mixture of milk and yogurt will encourage the growth of moss, making everything look right at home in your garden. —Nadia Giordana

Table top assembly

Plywood Support Bolts Plywood Support Pieces


Garden Art