You, Me, and Hypertufa
You, Me, and Hypertufa
a funny name, a fantastic material!
Hypertufa is an old material originating in the peat bog regions of England and Ireland. It is a man-made substitute for Tufa rock. It’s a funny word and I get a kick out of the many ways people try to pronounce it, “Hypertooba” , being one of my favorites. Hypertufa roughly translated means “false earth”. Real tufa rock is found in limestone country especially where water has been involved in the wearing and leaching out of the original materials to affect a porous spongy consistency. In many countries throughout the world this natural stone has been hollowed out and carved for tubs and planters. You may find it at a lansdcape store at a handsome price. It is also very limiting in terms of what can be planted in it because it is very alkaline and shallow. It is good for plants that can take dryness and little soil such as sedums and alpines.
One of the obvious advantages of HYPERTUFA is its versatility. It can be used for tubs, pots, troughs, benches, sculptures, seats, and birdbaths. Anything will grow in a hypertufa container. When surface treated, it gives the appearance of great age and ruggedness. Mud-coating is my favorite. It is traditionally made from a mixture of Portland cement, perlite, peat moss and sand. The resulting stone-like material is porous and lighter in weight than pure concrete and is a versatile casting and sculpting medium. It can also be carved. In short, I find it a fantastic material for garden projects.
I have experimented with different combinations of aggregates to develop a greener recipe for hypertufa that replaces the expensive, non-renewable resources; vermiculite, peat moss and perlite, with shredded office copier paper and paper pulp. With rising costs, these are a creative and effective low-cost alternative. You can experiment with other dry additives to add texture and strength to your hypertufa mixture including dried grass, shredded leaves, sawdust, even Styrofoam peanuts! Whatever you add, remember that it must serve the role of an aggregate, helping to bind the mixture together adding necessary structure and strength to the mix.
Hypertufa continues to grow in strength the longer it cures.
The making of hypertufa is a physical activity and can be even more fun as a group activity, one that brings enthusiasts together for a bit of effort and lots of laughter. Many combinations of friends and family take our Hypertufa studios together. Grandparents love to take the studio with their grandchildren. Who’d have thought that “false earth” would offer a chance for people to have fun creating together!
Shredded used office copier paper
Portland Cement - large white/blue/black 92lb bags
All-purpose Sand 40 lb bags
Sand Topping Concrete Mix- yellow/black/red 60lb bags
Assorted plastic cups and buckets
Wheel barrow or concrete mixing tub
Mud Gloves or other protective gloves
Assorted paint brushes
Various Items to serve as molds and Casting Forms
-oiled wooden box molds
-molds made from builder’s insulation foam
-corrugated brown paper boxes lined with plastic bags or not
- plastic containers, planters, snow saucers, etc.
-plastic covered hump molds
-layer over something old, i.e., a sink or tub, an old container
-a chicken wire or hardware-cloth covered armature or framework
-free-form sculpture balls or heads
1 1/2 parts sand
1 ½ parts plain hot water
1 1/2 parts Portland cement (more if faster setting is desired)
Use a concrete-mixing tub, a child’s plastic wading pool or a wheelbarrow for mixing your hypertufa. A garden hoe and your gloved hands are perfect tools for mixing the ingredients. 5-gallon plastic buckets work very well for measuring and holding ingredients. Any large plastic container serves nicely as your measuring cup. This container completely full equals 1 “part” in this hypertufa recipe.
1. Place 3 parts shredded paper into mixing container.
2. Add all of the sand and half of the water. Mix into the shredded paper with your gloved hands. Add more water as you mix and the pulp becomes too dry.
3. Massage and rub the wet paper and sand into a chunky pulp. If possible allow to sit overnight. This added step results in a smoother more plastic tufa mixture.
4. Now add the Portland cement by sprinkling it carefully over the surface of the pulp mixture. Do this slowly to keep dust at a minimum. You may choose to wear a dust mask.
5. Mix the cement into the pulp thoroughly. The texture will resemble hamburger that’s ready to be made into patties for the grill. The mixture needs to be moist and plastic with no sign of seeping water and dry enough to pack and build upon itself. Mixing hypertufa is similar to the making of bread - the quantity of water depends on the day you are mixing. If your mix is “weepy” add additional Portland cement and shredded paper in small amounts until it reaches the proper consistency.
The hypertufa is now ready to be used. You have at least three hours to work with this material. As long and you continue to agitate the mix it will not set. When you have finished working wash all tools and equipment with water. Cover your finished work with plastic and allow to set out of the sun for 24 hours. After this time, the hypertufa will be “green” but not cured. It can now be trimmed, carved, decorated and then allowed to cure for at least a week out of the sun.