How to Stamp Vertical Decorative Concrete

How to Stamp Vertical Decorative Concrete

How to Stamp Vertical Decorative Concrete

By Nathan Giffin of Vertical Artisans

Vertical Stamping is the easiest way to create a simulated rock pattern in vertical decorative concrete.There are many stamps to choose form and color staining is endless.However, without following the proper steps even the most experienced contractor can really botch up a job or at the absolute lease create a lot of extra work for themselves.This is where the unexperienced contractor can have a project look better than an experienced one who cuts corners.Remember it's not practice makes perfect, it's perfect practice makes perfect.

Preparing for the Project

Proper protection on surfaces that need to stay clean is paramount.When working outside be sure to consider the abrupt downpour and wind conditions.You can spend a lot of time preparing and protecting a surface but wind and rain can really cause a major problem.Interior work is much easier to manage but paying attention to detail when protecting surfaces is critical.

Protection is very important but here are a few more things required to make a job really go nicely.Water and waste management is another big issue.Clean out tubs for tools and a healthy supply of mixing buckets or barrels is an absolute necessity.I like to mix material in larger buckets to avoid material flying out and off the paddles when mixing.Keeping an empty 35 gallon trash can on site filled with water makes waiting to fill the appropriate amount of water out of a hose a non-issue. Marking your water bucket when mixing the material is also key and reduces the wait time.

When installing vertical decorative concrete time management is very important because most people wait for mud and loose precious time during the process that could have been spent in the detail phase. It's the little foxes that spoil the vine – a true proverb in life and in working.Even when little things cause delays there is not much of a problem at the time but time is still being wasted and mud on the wall an inch thick is setting up by the minute.Time is of the essence and getting material on the wall and prepped is the most critical step in the process ahead.You need as much time as possible to fine tune the design and patterns before the day is out and it's time to go home.

Preparing the Vertical Mix – Tru-Pac X

If I am going to stamp a wall that has approximately 100 square feet on it I will prepare to produce 100 square feet of mud at a 1" to 1.5" thickness. Remember by adding one pac of Tru-Pac X and one 80lbs bag of Type S mortar this will produce approximately 12 square feet of 1.5" material on the wall.That means I am going to mix up at least 8 to 9 mixes to complete the 100 square feet of wall space at approximately 1.5" of material.

A professional note would be to have several 4 – 6 mixing tubs ready to mix at the same time.Having two people mixing mud as opposed to just one really creates the mud required in a timely fashion so no design time and detail time is wasted waiting for mud to be ready for application.Waiting for mud is by far the biggest time waste.

Mixing Tru-Pac X is not difficult but is can be deceiving for first time users.The amount of water that is required to mix Tru-Pac X is much lower than what you may think.The chemicals used in the add pac allow for less water resulting in a stronger mix.In fact, regular concrete that you park your car on comes in at around 3500 psi whereas this vertical decorative concrete mix registers at 5500 psi.Tru-pac X is one of the strongest vertical mixes in the market place today and for the price is the most economical as well.

Step 1

Place the required amount of water 1.5 gallons in an empty mixing bucket.Then add ½ or 40lbs of the 80lbs type S mortar.Next add the complete bag of Tru-Pac X then begin mixing with a paddle mixer.There are several mixers you can use I have had great success with the ½" Milwaukee Hole Hawg.For larger quantities of mix you can also use mortar mixers, however it may take a little longer for the material to wet out.

Continue mixing the material until it is completely consistent and loose then add the remaining 40lbs of the mortar.The mix will clump up and appear dry but do not add more water until 30 seconds of mixing.Then if you need to add no more that ounces at a time.A few ounces could actually at a certain point be too much.Keep track of the amount of water added and when the mix is perfect note the total amount of water.This way you can mark the water bucket and hold to that amount for the rest of the mixing for the remainder of the project.

A "perfect mix" is a mix that is wet enough to be really sticky yet will not slide down the wall due to excessive water.The mix as it appears in the bucket will move like jello or a thick pancake batter and react the same.You should be able to drag a finger through the mix without the walls your finger created caving in.

The mix is still not ready for application.Move on to the next bucket and when that is completed then go back to the previous bucket mixed and mix it one more time.Chances are the mix will have hydrated out and become a little stiff.Add ounces (1-3 tops) to the mix and give it a spin.Now your mix is completely hydrated and at its optimal for application.

It is inevitable that you or the one mixing will over water the mix.You will have to add more mortar to the mix and thoroughly mix the batch until the proper consistency is reached.

Over watering and over troweling are the some of the most common reasons vertical mixes will get stress cracks.Water weakens concrete and over troweling vertical mixes breaks the surface up.The mix can also be a little too wet and unnoticed by the eye will sag.This will show up as a horizontal crack.This is identified by the surface concrete being perfect but the mix under the surface still mushy.So, avoid over watering if possible.

Application of Vertical Decorative Concrete on the Scratch Coat

If you haven't read the How to Prepare a Scratch Coat post please do so and then resume this posting.

Before applying the vertical decorative concrete make sure you have your stamping tools ready to go.Make sure you have the proper release agent's liquid or powder readily available.

The rougher the scratch coat is the easier it is to apply material however, I use the following method to ensure the least amount of failures.I say this tongue-in-cheek because this is vertical concrete and gravity has a nice way of testing every square inch of your work.Because concrete does not stick to air you must pay attention to these next steps or else you will experience vertical decorative concrete the hard way.Reapplying the same material over and over because you simply didn't pay attention is just stupid.This will also cost you time and add to your frustration.So, pay attention.

When applying Tru-Pac X to a scratch coat you should use a glove that has rubber protection to keep from trashing your hands.Eye protection should also be used when mixing and applying vertical decorative concrete. Take handfuls of mud and with your hand graze over the wall in a quick manner covering the entire area.The wall, because it is so rough, will "eat" the material right off your hand like a cheese grader. The idea is to cover all the areas with mud and eliminate the air pockets that may be created by simply throwing it on.Do not cover the entire wall at once.Only cover 4 to 5 feet at a time then go back and gently lob handfuls of mud onto the newly covered surface.Do not throw or whip the mud on the wall.Gentle release the mud from your hand with a flick motion.Kind of like a gentle slap on the butt LOL.Also, do not follow your hand to the wall.Your hand is sticker than the wall and it's a waste of time.

You will know you're throwing the mud to hard when you see the mud pancake out on the wall.The idea is to release the mud and as it hits the wall it stays thick.If you throw it too hard it will flatten out and you will not get the thickness needed to stamp or carve.Also, if you tag your buddy in the eye with material that shot off the wall when you threw it, you're throwing it too hard.

Follow the above method until the entire wall is completed.It is also a good idea to go back and slick up the wall whenever possible.Trowel smooth the recently applied concrete.Leaving the mud in its rough applied state will dry it out faster as there are many more angles and pockets of concrete exposed to air.Slicking it up as soon as possible reduces the amount of mud exposed to the air trapping the moisture in.You can also use trowel aides like Tru-Slick if the mud seems a little stiff or harder to work.If the mud is too hard to trowel you may be applying it to dry to begin with.The mud should be very, very easy to slick up.In fact, another waste of time is trying to make the concrete too slick or perfectly slicked with no trowel lines.This applies to you perfectionist out there.You need to learn to let go.The stamp and texture phase will cover these "bad" spots in seconds.Remember, there are many ways to lose time during this process so sticking to the game plan is very important.Getting through this application phase is critical and moving onto the stamping phase as soon as possible ensures the most time for reflection on the work, corrections, and details.

Now it's Time to Stamp

When stamping vertical concrete there are a few things to keep in mind.Release the tool very well.If you allow the mud to stick to your stamp, you will be dealing with it every time you stamp and it only gets worse.You will have to wash off the tool completely clean to get the optimal impression.Keep the tool level and pre-plan your stamping in advance.That means you must work out in your mind the plan of attack in dealing with obstacles like doorways, windows, corners, outlets, and water spouts.These obstacles really gum up your progress if you haven't dealt with them in advance.

It's also not a bad idea to pre-texture the wall with texture rollers.Light textures work great and will add value to your stamp job.

One of the biggest problems I see with stamping today is the stampers stamp too long.When you put up that stamp to the wall, apply even pressure and do it quickly then get off the wall.Far too many times I see evidence of guys patting, pounding, and even hitting the stamp to get the texture in the mud.This is a bad practice and causes a lot of problems in the finish.

Pounding or slapping the stamp simply means that each time you hit that tool it is leaving a impression.That would be fine if you were able to keep that mat perfectly in place each time you hit it.But you almost cannot achieve perfect placement each time.Well, this causes a series of lines and patterns in the stamping process.So when you remove the stamp you will see multiple grout lines, design lines, rock edges, or definitive effects telling everyone including your clients what you've done.Press it once thoroughly and get off it.It takes a somewhat gentile touch to master it but when you do it right you progress through the wall rather quickly.

On a professional note, if the mud is too deep in an area, do not press too hard.If you do then you will have mud displacement in the wall and that entire stamp design will "project" over the other areas.This will be an eye sore if discovered.Keep a close eye on how the stamp reacts with the mud.If the mud is too deep ease up on the pressure.Stamping does not remove mud like carving does, it displaces it.So, if you find that you are displacing too much mud then you may be applying too much mud for that stamp design.On the other hand, if there is not enough material then you will be tempted to "pound" or hit the stamp to force the design in limited mud.Please don't do that.Stop, and add some mud to that area first.It only takes a few seconds and if you keep a bucket with you with fresh mud alongside of you as you work, you will overcome this problem efficiently and quickly.Compromise it the fastest way to mediocre work and ultimately mediocre profits.

Attention to Details

When your stamping is completed then you may focus on the details.Look for the obvious areas that need attention first.Then take a step back and get a whole new perspective of your work.It is important to clear your head and look at the entire project not just one area.

Some of the things to look for."Fins" or lines of mud pressed out between the stamps need to be addressed as soon as possible.It is a good idea to have texture rollers, texture trowels, and joint tools to help you refine the look.Also, those random trowel marks, hand and finger prints are completely eliminated at this time.See, I told you we would get to those.

Outside corners and inside corners are particularly difficult at times unless you work out your design ahead of time.For integrating inside corners, you should hand carve the mud to overlap and integrate presenting a wall that has the appearance of an alternative stacked or grouted corner.If you have similar texture tools you can easily texture tough areas to simulate the stamps used. This is a must have when stamping.As most of you know I teach hand carving and feel true stampers would be even better at their craft if they applied some carving techniques in their stamped projects.Truth is, every project offers different challenges and the more knowledge base you have the better success you will achieve.In our business, perceived value IS value and that's what pays the bills people.

Clean up Your Area Completely

First impressions are everything.Don't tarnish your beautiful work with crap everywhere on the job site.Even the most tolerant client will be distracted.With a clean environment, the focus will be on your work not the mess that somebody better clean up.

Remove all non-essential tools, material, garbage and equipment. Trust me on that one.Stay on top of your job site, it's a measure of your work ethic and practice.The client will see that and automatically assume that the same attention to detail and care about his property has been applied to his walls and art work.

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How to Effectively Use Texture Rollers
How to Prepare a Scratch Coat

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