DIY Boulders

completed DIY boulder

Written by KS

July 8, 2021

Most people find that stonework and boulders create striking scenery.  And if you go on a hike, you can see them spread out, many in differing sizes.  They appeal to our senses.  Maybe because they’re rugged, reminding us of where they began.  Because even in earthly instability and chaos, there’s beauty to be found.  And boulders add dimension and distinction.  So, it’s no wonder landscapers and pool builders alike figure them into their custom designs.  However, with that being said, the cost of adding these natural beauties to your yard can be cost prohibitive.  And because they vary by size and company, you can expect to pay at least ~$500 to $600 for a single large boulder.   And that doesn’t even include the labor costs.  Thus, in today’s post I’m going to cover DIY boulders.  Therefore, if you’re like me and my other half, where you do things yourself, this post is for you.

Now, there are several ways to make your own concrete boulders.  And there are a ton of videos available as well.  I highly recommend checking some out until you’re comfortable with the idea of DIY boulders.  I will explain the process that we used, including pictures.

Plywood and chicken wire frame for DIY boulder

With our first boulder, we neglected to cover it with a plastic bag before adding the concrete. And that made the job more difficult.

Supplies and/or tools for DIY boulders:

  • Chicken wire or similar mesh product
  • Plywood that you’ll cut up to make frames
  • 2x4s; we used scraps
  • Plastic trash bags
  • 3 (50 lb) bags of Quikcrete concrete per 1 boulder
  • Tools for sculpting and adding texture (the main shaping tools we used were our hands and a stick)
  • Rubber gloves

Instructions for DIY boulders:

  • First, build forms for your DIY boulders, using the plywood.  And connect the pieces of plywood with the 2x4s.  Shape the boulders the way you want with the plywood.  But don’t worry if they aren’t perfect.

Some instructions skip this part and go straight to having you make the frame with only the wire and possibly styrofoam.  However, we wanted the strength of the wood.  And by adding the plywood and 2x4s, they increase the rigidity of the DIY boulders.  We live somewhere where it gets exceptionally windy at times.  But if you don’t, you may find that you can skip this part as well.  With that being said, just one of our boulders weighs ~160lbs.  So, it’s not that easy to move.

  • After you’ve made the wooden shells, shape the chicken or mesh wire over the plywood.  If you weren’t able to make shapes or sizes the way you wanted with the plywood, you can do so now with the chicken wire.
  • Once you have boulder structures, cover with plastic trash bags.  This is so, when you add the concrete, it won’t fall through the frameworks.
  • We bought pre-mixed concrete with sand.  And that’s what we recommend getting.  At first, only mix part of a bag of Quikcrete with water, with the intention of creating one boulder at a time.  Because this is a process that takes some time and attention.  So, as you mix the Quikcrete, you want the consistency of dough.  Thus, don’t use quite as much water as is advised in the instructions.

This is a trial and error process with the concrete, getting the right consistency.  Which is why we suggest only mixing part of 1 bag of Quikcrete and water.

Concrete on DIY boulder

  • With gloves on, continue to work the concrete as if it were dough, rolling it into a ball, one handful at a time.  And then flatten the ball with the palms of your hands before applying the concrete to the mesh.
  • Each time you have 5 to 6 concrete balls, that you’ve flattened and placed onto the framing, spray that area with water and smooth with your hands.  Your DIY boulder will have a rough appearance.  But that’s normal.
  • And as you go along, use a stick to place ‘cracks’ in your DIY boulder.  This will be where you think they need them.  Or just want to place them.
  • Depending on the size of the boulders you’re going for, you might be mixing concrete up to 12 times per boulder.  Perhaps more.
  • When your boulder is completely covered, and you’ve smoothed it out and added ‘cracks’ as needed, make a slurry mix out of the Quikcrete, and using a paintbrush (you don’t care about), sling the slurry mix onto the boulder.  This is with the intention of it having a more authentic appearance, since natural boulders are not free of defects.
  • Allow your boulder to dry thoroughly, ~ 3 to 4 days before painting and staining it.

Rough plans for DIY boulders

The image above is a rough outline of the process of building a boulder yourself.  And the sketch at the top of the image is the wooden frame with the plywood connected to the 2x4s.  Just below that is the chicken wire or mesh over the framing.  Next, is adding the Quikcrete, followed by smoothing everything out, and incorporating in cracks.  And the last sketch, in the bottom right hand corner, is basically what you will have if you follow this plan and shape.

Now we’re going to go over the instructions for painting the DIY boulders.  However, first you need some materials that we haven’t covered.

Materials for painting and staining DIY boulders:

  • Light beige or almond exterior house paint (we used Valspar Season Flex exterior paint)
  • Light brown stain (we used Varathane Early American)
  • Dark brown stain (we used Minwax Dark Walnut)
  • Green stain (we used Varathane Vintage Aqua)

Instructions for painting and staining DIY boulders:

  • First, paint the boulder all over with the light beige or almond house paint.  You want to use an exterior house paint for this project so it will hold up to the elements.
  • When the paint has fully dried, you’ll use several overall applications of the light brown stain.  And then wipe off the stain each time.  However, you’ll wipe off less at the bottom than from the top, because you’re going for a gradient.  You only need to let the stain dry for about 10 minutes before re-applications.
  • The dark brown or walnut stain is for detailing crevices and shading.  You’ll also wipe this off after each application, but not as much as the light brown stain.  Additionally, you can start using this one after ~ 10 minutes of the previous stain drying.  And each administration will get consistently darker.
  • Wait until the DIY boulder is completely dry before adding the green stain, which is for effects like lichen and moss.

completed DIY boulder

Now, if you’d like help making a DIY boulder or want Daystar Handyman to make one for you, just give us a call or email us.  We’d be happy to assist you with your landscaping needs.

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