Kevin O’Connor meets mason Mark McCullough for a special project: a stone birdbath. Mark shows Kevin how he chooses matching stones for bases and the baths that sit on top before moving on to the heavy lifting.
How To Build a Stone Birdbath
Note: This project requires lifting heavy objects and placing them on top of each other. Use safe lifting practices, and be careful as the stones can be unstable at first. Also, be sure to use eye protection whenever chiseling or cutting stone.
- Start by choosing the right stones. In general, look for a rectangular or cylindrical stone with flat ends for the base and an oval or round stone for the bath itself. It’s best if the stones match each other in color, but starkly contrasting stones might also look nice.
- Place a sandbag on the work surface, and then carefully lift and lower the base stone onto the sandbag. This should mimic the ground (or grade). While the top of the base doesn’t need to be perfectly level, it should be flat and wide enough that a stone placed on top won’t fall off and cause injury. Take note of any imperfections and remove them with the hammer and chisel.
- Dry-fit the bath stone on top of the base stone. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it shouldn’t wobble excessively or dangerously. Carefully look between the stones and take note of the high spots. Remove the bath stone and knock the high spots down with the chisel and hammer. Continue this step until the bath stone sits firmly on top. Once firm, remove the bath stone and place it on a sandbag.
- Use a colored pencil or marker to draw a circle around the bath stone to represent the bath’s edges. There are two options for removing the stone inside the circle: chip away with a hammer and chisel or use a circular saw fitted with a diamond blade. Just be sure to use a HEPA filter and dust mask if the circular saw is the method of choice. Also, be sure to wear eye protection regardless of the method chosen. For chiseling: Start by taping a pointed masonry chisel across the surface of the stone to create depressions. Then, chip away at the material with a flat masonry chisel. For sawing: Be sure to maintain a firm grip on the saw and slowly plunge the running blade into the stone. Make a series of relief cuts starting from one edge of the circle to the other, and then a set of perpendicular relief cuts. Use the flat chisel to remove the stone between the relief cuts.
- Once chiseled to the desired depth, turn the bath stone over and place it top-down on the sandbag. Locate the approximate center of the stone and squeeze a coin-sized dab of caulk onto the center mark. Carefully lift the bath stone and place it on top of the base stone. The wet caulk will transfer to the base stone, detailing the exact location for the mounting pin.
- Separate the bath and base stones. Place the bath stone top-down on the sandbag and use a hammer drill to make a hole for the pin. Also, drill a corresponding hole in the base stone. Mix some epoxy putty in hand and drop it down the holes in the base stone before inserting the pin.
- Take the base and bath stones to the birdbath’s location in the yard. Place the base stone in position before lifting and placing the stone on top. Finish the job by filling the bath stone with water.
Mark and Kevin work together to turn two large stones into a birdbath. Mark explains the base stone should be about 18-20 inches high and that the top stone is usually round, with a circumference of about 12-16 inches.