How to Create a Faux Bois Planter

If you’d like to try your hand at making your own piece, start small: with a planting container.

I’m busy making faux bois containers—I cannot resist touching stuff, and besides, I can’t afford the antiques. I prefer the uncolored material in the French style. Sometimes I apply a glaze of diluted acrylic paint: a touch of chartreuse for moss, and grey for age and to highlight carved details.

I fortify my concrete for the New Jersey climate. I start with store-bought “topping-mix” or “sand mix” (if it is fine-textured), or my own mixture of one part Portland cement to three parts construction-grade sand. I add about a tablespoonful of fluffed nylon fibers (a masonry supply) to one quart of dry concrete mix. I also use a liquid polymer additive (ad-mix) following directions on the container. Before adding the next layer of concrete, I spray the first with water, or brush on ad-mix or similar “concrete bonding agent,” which makes the next coat go on more easily. Besides keeping a few pieces for my own gardens, I’ve donated some to charity auctions, and sold others to people who are willing to drive and pick up. Concrete is heavy—shipping is tomorrow’s bridge to cross.

CAUTION: Always wear rubber gloves when touching the highly alkaline cement, which burns skin. Avoid breathing the dust.

Form the Planter

Take a five-gallon plastic plant pot. Place it into a plastic bag and smooth the plastic as tight as possible, using packing tape if necessary to hold the plastic tightly in place. Invert the pot on a surface that will not be damaged by concrete, perhaps a piece of plywood covered with a sheet of plastic. Wearing thick gloves, cut a piece of wire lath to conform to the pot (in this case, in a disc). Place it over the pot, pushing, cutting, and pressing it to conform to the shape of the plastic pot. Cut a small hole in the flat top of the wire lath (which will ultimately be the bottom of the container,) and place a wine-bottle cork in it. The cork will later be removed, and this hole left unsealed for drainage.

Add the Cement

I fold the wet ingredients—admixture and water—into the topping mix to produce a consistency that is soft, but that will hold its shape, somewhat like cake icing. Add more water if the mix is to stiff, and more concrete if it is too runny. Trowel the concrete over the wire lath, first on what will be the bottom of the container, and then onto the sides. This will take a little practice. Let the concrete set for an hour or so, and then cover to keep it moist with damp burlap or plastic. The slower concrete cures (i.e., the longer it stays moist), the harder it will become. (Hoover Dam is still warm and hardening after 75 years.) Depending on the ambient temperature, the concrete should be stiff enough to receive the next layer in a day. (Note: concrete will not set up at temperatures below 50º F.) Slather on more concrete, like icing a cake. Some decoration may be worked with a trowel and wet concrete, but mostly you’ll do that in another 12 to 24 hours, when the concrete is firm enough for carving. Wait too long, however, and it will be too hard to scratch.

After carving, keep the concrete damp for at least three days. Uncover and turn the container over. Carefully slip the plastic covered pot out of the inside, cutting it free if necessary.

Last, coat the exposed mesh on the inside of the container with more concrete, and trowel it smooth, as much as possible. Cover the container to keep it moist. In about a week, your faux bois pot can be allowed to dry, and even be planted.

Tags: | Online Exclusive faux bois gardens Ken Druse OHI January/February 2009 Old-House Interiors

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