Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Tape Out Flagstone Overlays Like a Pro

Stamped concrete is on the rise. Why? Well, those rubber stamps are pretty easy to use and can rapidly push patterns across a large surface area. But lots of guys do stamped concrete simply because it IS easier. The result? A lot of surfaces that look... well... kinda the same.

To survive in today's marketplace you need to stand out. You need to offer the same trusted and popular systems but with your own style infused. And that's something you're just not going to achieve with a stamp.

No one wants a cookie-cutter surface. And unless you invest in lots and lots of different stamps, that's what you're going to get. That's why purists in the field of decorative concrete overlays still rely on good ol' silver cloth tape to create those really wild designs, the kinds that no one else has. But how can strips of what essentially looks like duct tape really turn a floor into something truly unique?

Take a look at it this way. The key to really good flagstone lies in two factors: stones and grout lines.

Grow Some Stones

When you think of traditional flagstones you probably think of stones. At least you should. But setting real flagstones is tedious, backbreaking work. And there's no guarantee the stones will keep from shifting or coming loose, or cracking, or chipping, or discoloring or fading... blah, blah blah.

Okay, enough of the overlay selling points. We all know the benefits of a good overlay. But why the emphasis on the word 'stone'?

The answer is easy to see but very, very easy to forget. Especially when you are the guy down on your hands and knees taping out the floor. It's tedious, you're tired, and you just want to get the tape down so that you can move on to the texture. But THIS step, this very step right here, is the key component, the magic bullet that can make or break your floor.

Flagstones are stones. Duh, right? But how easy is that to forget? If you just start at one end of the floor and start slapping down tape all over the place, creating all kinds of pointed intersections, or swervy lines, or places where three to four tape-ends join, then your floor is going to look like... well, I'm not going to use the first word that comes to mind. Let's just say it's not going to look very professional.

Stones, baby. Stones.

Stop what you are doing. Take a minute (or two) to REALLY take a good look at the entire surface. Is it a big square? Chances are it isn't. What are the entry points? Is there anything in the middle of the surface that breaks it up (like a fountain or planter)? Are there expansion joints? Do steps come into play?


If you were a stone, what would you look like? Would you be perfectly square? Maybe. But if you are then all of your neighbors should be too. And then you really won't be flagstone anymore. You'd be more like slate, or a cobble. That's cool. But we're talking about flagstones here.

Flagstones are generally shaped like four- to five-sided polygons. For those of us who had to take geometry several times, polygon is a fancy name for a shape made from varying line segments joined together to form a closed shape. And when you are talking about flagstones, four to five sides are about all you need. Any fewer sides and you got a triangle, too many and you got... well, you just get a sloppy mess!

Now, draw a cool stone in you mind. Got it? Cool. Now carry that stone (and a good roll of 1/2” silver cloth tape and a fresh razor knife) over to one of your entry points. Why start there? Why not? I mean, that's where people are going to be walking, right? And if you were going to step out onto a flagstone surface wouldn't you want your first step to be on a really cool stone?

Okay, now see the stone in your mind. Set your first line. Doesn't have to be straight, just make sure you don't lay it wavy. Worried about too straight a line? Fret not, grasshopper. We'll take care of that later. A good tip: lay the tape out still on the roll. By that I mean don't cut it and then lay it down. That's what the razor knife is for. When you have it stretched out to where you want it, just hold the razor knife firmly down across the tape and pull up. Don't slice. The blade will make the cut for you and you won't disturb the tape or get your fingers all over the sticky side, which can make the tape curl up or come off the surface.

Keep going. Get that first, cool stone down. And don't forget to leave plenty of extra tape near the edges of the slab so that you can pull it later.

There. Your first stone. Stop. Stand up. Is it cool? Cool. Keep going.

Stone by stone...

Sounds tedious, and to a certain extent it is. But if you take EACH AND EVERY stone into consideration and progress across the floor in this manner, taking into consideration all the unique curves and angles of the floor as you go, you will achieve a much more realistic looking pattern.

Size it Up

So what about the size of each stone? Should you use the same size stone across the whole floor? Should you mix in all different sizes? Should you make some pointy?

Believe it or not I can sum this up in once sentence. [Deep breath] Here goes...

Establish the size for a LARGE stone. The exact size of a large stone depends entirely on you AND your client. Got that? Not just you. Take the client out there and have them look at the stone, the one ACTUALLY on the slab. Trust me on this one. Come into agreement on what the biggest stones in your pattern will look like. This will save you LOTS of problems.

The rest is easy. Because once you have that large stone agreed upon, you just need to make (in your head) two more versions of that stone: a MEDIUM and a SMALL. Oh yeah... and throw in a cluster of MINIS every now and then.

Okay, not one sentence. Sorry.

Rough Up the Edges

If you take the time to follow this method you will find that your floor actually does look like you laid stones. Because you really kinda did! But most people stop right there. And why not? At this point your pattern probably looks pretty cool! But now is the time to take it to the next level, to the max, to pump up your pattern, to...

Okay, enough 80s clich├ęs...

That razor knife in your hand offers a simple solution. Remember those straight edges? Just use your razor knife to take little slices off of each side of the tape. Careful, I mean LITTLE slices. You don't want to cut though the width of the tape. And don't swerve your knife as you cut. Trust me, you'll remember this when you are about half way across the surface, and you are tired, and just swerving that knife seems so, so tempting. Take little cuts. It doesn't take much. And make sure to gather up all those snipped pieces, you don't want those stuck on the finished surface.

And BAM! Now your flagstone pattern is complete! And with a little time (and lots of patience) you've now given your client a surface that no one else has!

Parting Tips

  • Avoid making intersections where more than three lengths of tape join. This will create pointy stones.

  • Make absolutely sure each and every length of tape overlaps the next. This way when you pull the tape it will all come free as one pattern and you won't have pieces stuck in the floor.

  • Before you apply your texture coat, mix up some loose mud. Pour it in a cup and walk across the entire surface with the cup in one hand and a chip brush in the other. This way you can 'paint' all of the tape lines down, which will help keep them in place when you trowel the texture.

  • Don't pull your tape too tight or this will 'bend' the pattern and pull it off of the surface.

  • Do a final check to make sure EACH AND EVERY piece of tape is actually sticking to the surface.

Was this information helpful? I certainly hope so. You can learn all about decorative concrete overlays and more in The Book of Decorative Concrete Coatings.

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