By Glenn DiNella
About a decade ago I was inspired by a small project I saw in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The article showed how to create garden hose guides out of copper pipe attached to concrete impressions made from hosta leaves.
As I am prone to do, I took their plans and blew them out of proportion. I thought, What if I used a giant elephant ear leaf instead of a hosta? And what if I put three longer, thicker, copper pipes on it and created a table?
After a little experimenting and the creation of some rubble, I made a table that works. Some of my tables are 10 years old now and have only improved with age. The copper legs have taken on a verdigris finish, and the tabletops have acquired a little moss and a relaxed acceptance of time. Here is how to create them:
Step 1. Set up a flat, sturdy work surface large enough to accommodate an elephant ear leaf, plus a tray for mortar and concrete, and a few tools. Cover the entire work surface with a sheet of plastic. You can use a driveway or garage floor, but an elevated worktable is easier on the back and legs.
Step 2. Take moist sand (builder’s sand or play sand) and form it into a heart shape about 2 in high. This is the form that prevents the wet mortar and concrete from oozing everywhere. Place your elephant ear inside the form, and shape the sand to the outline of the elephant ear.
Take another sheet of plastic a little larger than the sand form and lay it on top. Set your elephant ear on the plastic (upside down so the underside veins face up). Finalize the shaping of your sand form snuggly around the leaf.
Step 3. Use a trowel to mix water with mortar (Portland cement and sand) according to directions on the bag. I’ve found a couple of the small (10-pound) Quikrete bags are very convenient and easy on the back. A plastic concrete mixing pan is great, but you can use a wheelbarrow or any clean bucket or tray. The mortar consistency should be jellylike—not too thick or too watery. Trowel the mortar onto the leaf about 1 in thick and shape it to your sand form. You might want to put on rubber gloves and pat the mortar to get a nice fit.
Step 4. Cut strips of fiberglass mesh tape and lay them on the wet mortar to completely cover the leaf. (No tape should stick out the edges. If you see any bits of tape after the project is finished, simply burn them off with a cigarette lighter.) The tape strengthens the table similar to metal rebar or wire in a concrete driveway.
Step 5. Place three ¾-in copper adapters on the mesh in a triangular shape (one adapter near the leaf point, and two near the back lobes). Mix up concrete according to directions and mound it around the adapters and approximately 1 in thick across the rest of the leaf. Angle the adapters out so when the legs are attached, they angle out slightly for better stability. Cover the leaf with another sheet of plastic and let dry for two to three days.
Step 6. After two to three days flip the concrete leaf over and peel off the leaf. Cover the table for another week and allow it to dry and strengthen.
Step 7. To make the table legs use a pipe cutter or hacksaw to cut three sections of ¾-in copper pipe. Select schedule L pipe, which is thicker and stronger than schedule M. I’ve found approximately 27 in long makes for a good table height, but this is a matter of personal preference.
Step 8. Unless you know how to solder copper pipe, mix up copper epoxy according to directions and use a Popsicle stick (usually provided) to smear the epoxy into the adapters. Working quickly, push your copper pipe sections into the adapters, and twist them to get good epoxy coverage and adhesion. To create the feet smear epoxy into three ¾-in copper caps. Push and twist them onto the ends of the three legs.
Step 9. Flip the table over and set your drink on it—your table ready to use! You might want to experiment with some acid washes and concrete stains, but I like the plain-gray concrete just fine.
After a few more weeks of drying time, you may brush on a concrete glossy finish. This helps protect your table from the elements. Or leave out this step if you prefer the natural, mossy look.
For more details, watch my video (below).
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