Hypertufa Toes for a Troll Head Garden Art Display

What’s the Best Way to Make Large Toes
to Complete a Mossy Troll Head?

I received an email from Tracy S. asking me:

I am new to hypertufa projects and came across your website and thought this might be the solution I was looking for to help me with a project I started and am now stuck on.

I have made a troll head out of dirt complete with moss face, grassy hair, and cement ears. Looks like he is peeking out from under the ground. Turned out pretty cute. My dilemma is that I would like to make some concrete or maybe hypertufa giant toes for him also coming out of the earth.

Example of garden art - huge toesI’m kinda stuck on how to make the molds for each toe. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks for your time and I love your site.:) Tracy S.

P.S. I live in Wisconsin so they would have to withstand the winters. Also I was thinking the biggest toe would be about 12″ to 15″ wide and 12″ to 15″ tall.

~~~

My reply:

Hi Tracy:

Sounds like a fun garden art project. A hypertufa or concrete recipe will work for the toes, but remember ‘tufa will get little nooks and holes in it over time, due to the peat moss decomposing – but that’s what is supposed to happen. So, which type of recipe you use is up to how you ultimately want the toes to look like. Perhaps hypertufa will be better suited to this project as it will look more like rock and less like concrete toes.

Probably your best bet to do what you want is to form the toes with the hypertufa recipe mixture by placing and shaping toe-shaped mounds of the ‘tufa directly onto the soil. You should make deep depressions down into the soil to help keep the toes stable and upright. I will also suggest you add a fortifier of some sort into your recipe to make it even more durable and long-lasting, again based on the needs of this project and your Wisconsin climate.

You could also include an internal wire support for each toe, then mound and shape the damp recipe around it. This might be a good idea since they’ll be sticking up in the air — like the above photo example. You could use rebar or make a chicken wire “cage” frame. There are a few different ways you can do this hypertufa project … some will be a little easier than others. Just think it through. 🙂

Then, when the ‘tufa is still damp but starting to cure, you can sculpt the exact shape of each toe, add in the toenails, etc. This will be the best way, as I see it, to get each “mound” to resemble a real toe.

This is a very doable concrete or hypertufa project, but again, think it through and I’d suggest you experiment by making only one toe in the size you want to make sure everything is OK, your recipe cures properly, etc. Better to fail on one toe than the whole project. Or find out after doing just one there is another way that dawns on you that’s even better.

Photo: blog.modernica.net

Comments

  1. Tracy Schaaf says:

    Thanks so much for the reply..I think your idea of using chicken wire as a frame sounds doable for me as a beginner..Like the idea of carving out the detailed toe before it sets completely. I actully tried to do the same thing by pouring sand into a large tree pot and carfully digging out a toe shape in the wet sand. I then pored the wet cement in very carfully and let it set untill almost dry. After cutting away the pot and cleaning off the sand I tried to started carving a toe. Trouble was it was pretty dificult judging the toe size upside down in the pot of sand. My toe was smaller than I wanted it and their was a lot of extra after shaping that was needed and the whole project was pretty messy. I like your idea of shapeing a toe upright with a chicken wire frame much better and working right side up…I’ll keep tring till I get it right..Thanks again Tracy

  2. Claudia says:

    Great – glad I had some ideas to help you.

    Yes – sculpting in a still-damp object is MUCH easier than trying to chisel or scrape away cured ‘tufa or ‘crete! You can get finer details in something that’s still damp too.

    About the chicken wire frame – it’s going to be hollow inside and obviously without internal support may collapse or sag under the weight of the wet recipe. So, I’d also suggest you construct an inner wooden support to help “hold up” the frame. Doesn’t have to be fancy or good looking as it’ll be inside each toe.

    This is just one idea to get you thinking. For smaller chicken wire frames, I do suggest stuffing them with something like wadded up plastic bags. But your toes are going to be rather tall and wide. I don’t want you to start applying the wet mixture and all of a sudden … sagging of the frame starts to happen!!

    I hope this tip is useful for you (and others thinking of doing larger/taller projects) too! 🙂

  3. John Laser says:

    These are wonderful. I’ve reached that age where I have more time to try projects like this. I think my grandchildren would get a kick out of helping me make the toes. Great idea. TY

  4. Claudia says:

    Hi John:
    Just make sure your grandkids will be wearing their safety gear when helping you – safety goggles, dust masks, and rubber or latex gloves to protect them from the caustic wet cement. Double check my safety guideline article here: Concrete Safety Guidelines Have fun!

  5. George E. says:

    This is an interesting project. Never thought of making sculpted, upright hypertufa objects. This gets me to thinking about a kind of broken looking column I have a place for my a corner of my shade garden. Thanks for posting that emailed question.

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