Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DIY solar lighted stepping stones

How to make solar lighted stepping stones.

[note:  The glass used in this project is not safety glass and can break under certain conditions. If rocks or other objects strike the glass with sufficient force it is possible for the glass to break creating sharp edges and unsafe conditions. The author of this blog is not responsible for misuse or persons not taking do care and it's information is intended for conceptual purposes only. A plexiglass version is described at the end of this blog if you are concerned about glass breakage]
To make your mold  cut off the bottom of a 5 gallon plastic bucket. (note: do not throw away the upper half as it can be used to be used to protect plants and other things, but that is for another blog.) Using a ruler or tri-square cut 3 inches off the bottom of the bucket. This should give you a mold that is 2 1/2 inches to 3 inches deep. Steppingstones need to be at least 2 inches thick in order to support your weight. Be sure and spray a mold release such as vegetable oil on the inside of your mold.(note; do not spray the glass jar as you want the cement stick to the jar. you may even want to sand the outside edges to make the cement stick better, but do not sand the bottom.) Be sure and select jars that are wide-mouth and large enough and deep enough to fit your solar light inside of before you pour the cement.
 Once your cement is poured (mortar mix works best - NO ROCKS ) be sure and tap the edges to remove air bubbles. Wipe any cement sticking to the edges of the lid, as you'll want to remove the lid later. Let your cement set overnight to cure and your stones should be easily removed from the mold. Be sure and take care as the cement will not be completely cured as yet and the stones are still fragile. If it does not easily remove from the mold, then allow the cement to cure a little longer. Once they are out of the mold set them in a tub of water or keep damp inside a plastic bag for at least 5 to 6 days to finish curing. The slower cement cures (dries), the stronger the cement.

I used these glass ball solar lights. The LED is mounted on top of the solar cell, which makes them perfect for this project. Using gloves, safety glasses and a screwdriver I carefully pry off the glass ball. Work the screwdriver down the edges loosening any glue and then twisting the screwdriver to pry the glass ball loose. Discard or save for another project the glass ball and tube stand.
                                         Remove your lid from the glass jar. Using a Styrofoam ball I cut off the bottom of the ball to create a flat surface and cut a hole in the center of the ball to mount the solar light in. (Any piece of Styrofoam will work as long as it holds the solar light up right.) I used a low temp hot glue gun as I wanted to be able to remove the solar light if I needed to make repairs. I glue the flat bottom to the inside of the jar lid and tack the solar light to the Styrofoam ball to hold it in place while it is being assembled.            
Once you have your stone assembled, you are ready to set the stone in the ground. Select a site that is free of rocks and other debris. Rocks and other debris could score the glass causing it to break or cause uneven pressure on the stone itself and break the steppingstone. Digg a depression large enough for the stone itself (about a 1/2 inch deep) and a small depression slightly smaller than the diameter of the jar and slightly deeper than the depth of your jar in the center to accommodate the glass jar. Be sure and do not set the stone too deep as you do not want the stone to become buried. Move the stone around slightly and tamp the soil firmly making sure the stone is set firmly and does not rock back and forth. Uneven pressure on the stone could cause it to break, so it is very important that the stone is set firmly before you put your full weight on the stone.
So there you have it, solar lighted steppingstones to light your path or just add accent to your garden or landscaping.
If solar lights are not your thing or you just want to add color to your stones then a low voltage system may be what you want. The diagram below shows how you might use wine bottles cut in half to make your lighted stepping stones.

You could also use a light set like this and clear bottles to get colored lights. ( note: make sure lights are rated for being buried or exposed to moisture ) or you could paint transparent paint,, nail polish or colored marker on your solar LED.

All in all each solar steppingstone costs about $2-$3 to make as opposed to buying a similar solar lighted stone costing $50 or more. 
     In addition, you could make one using 1/4 inch plexiglass and PVC pipe if you're concerned about glass breakage and still not cost more than five dollars each. Simply cut circles out of your plexiglass the same diameter as the pipe being used. Use a threaded pipe cap on one end and glue your plexiglass circle on the other end.