Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Securing Manzanita Branches with Plaster... continued

If you are creating manzanita centerpieces, there's a good chance that you'll want set the branches in plaster, particularly if you are planning on using a relatively low and wide container for the centerpiece. Doing so will make the centerpiece much more secure and stable than if you only set the branches in stones or other filler material. One option is to pour the plaster directly into the container you will be displaying the manzanita branches in, as we did in an earlier post.  This works well, but means that you have to sacrifice the container, and are locked into your choice of container.  

Another option is to create free-standing plaster bases for your manzanita centerpieces, which will give you a great deal of flexibility as you work towards creating your final display. Doing so will allow you to use any container that will fit the base for the display, or not use a container at all. 

You will need a flexible plastic container, such as one of those food storage containers available in many shapes and sizes at the grocery store, or a somewhat flimsy bucket. The idea is that once the plaster sets, you can simply pull the sides of the container away from the plaster base, push up on the bottom of the container to break any bond between the plaster and the container, and slide the centerpiece out.

The basic materials are the plastic container, the branches (in this case 18-24" Sandblasted Manzanita Branches), and the plaster. In addition, you'll want a rubber band and some tape.

1. If you are using more than one branch, arrange the branches as you'd like, and then secure the arrangement at the base with a rubber band, so rather than having multiple pieces to juggle, you pretty much just have one.

2. Mix the plaster according to the directions and pour into your container. 

3. Place the container near a wall that you can prop up the branches against and tape the branches to.

4. Put branches into the container with the plaster, make any final adjustments, prop up the branches against the wall and secure them to the wall with some tape.

5. Now you need to wait for the plaster to set, which takes about half an hour or so. At this point you can start cleaning up the mess you've made. If you used a flexible container to mix the plaster, just let it harden - once the plaster sets you can just squeeze the sides and the bottom and the dry plaster will pop right out. 

6. Once the plaster has set, pull the sides of the container away from the plaster (avoid putting pressure on the branches though, just in case they haven't completely set), push up on the base of the container, and then slide the plaster base with branches embedded in it out. 

At this point, the chemical reaction that causes plaster to harden has occurred, but all the water you mixed in is still in the base, and it will take at least a few days to dry out. To avoid mold or mildew problems, set the manzanita centerpieces on something that will allow air to circulate underneath the bases such as a baking rack or stones, and let them dry.   If you have a wedding or other event within a day or two and need to make the centerpieces ASAP, you can go ahead and create them - just make sure you disassemble them quickly after the event to allow the bases to dry out.

While the plaster is wet, it is still soft enough to cut with a knife or work with other tools - the hardness and texture is like frozen butter. If you think you'd like to shape or sculpt the base, or just pare it down to fit into your container, now is your chance! 

Here's my attempt at getting artistic with the base - I don't think my old high school art teacher would be impressed! 

For the branch centerpiece shown above, we set the base in a clear glass cube, poured pea gravel around it, then topped the gravel with Reindeer Moss. Something that isn't conveyed in the picture is how stable the manzanita centerpiece is - the plaster base creates a heavy "root" on the manzanita branch that does a fantastic job of anchoring the branch. Below are the manzanita branches we set in plaster earlier on in the post. 


Karina said...

Thanks for the article.

Do you have any suggestions on using decorative branches as wall art, i.e. how they can be secured to the wall?

Justin said...

You can hang branches like Manzanita like you hang a picture (in fact picture hangers work fantastic for the purpose).

blissfully caffeinated said...

Thanks for this! I am sort of copying the centerpiece you made in the glass container for an event next weekend and I was trying to use a pin frog but it just isn't working out. This helps.

Cincy said...

Love this post & the use of manzanita branches. I linked to this from my blog. Thanks, Karen

Kathy C. said...

Oh goodness! I'm absolutely loving your blog right now, lol. My guest room is FULL of manzanita branches right now, as I prepare to put together centerpieces for my son and his Fiance's wedding.
I have been wondering how I could make these "secure" in tall glass vases. They will have hanging votives on them and we, of course, want them stable!
What do you think about setting them in a quick set cement in plastic drink cups? (much like you did with the leftover containers), then slipping them out and setting in sea glass in a glass cylinder? Would you think these would be stable enough? Any suggestions? I can share photos of what we are thinking of using if that would help. :)

Thank you for such detailed posts!
Kathy C.

Justin said...

HI there - Glad you like the blog! This post is all about putting them in a tall vase - http://nettletonhollow.blogspot.com/2008/06/manzanita-branches-in-tall-and-narrow.html

The most secure display would be one with a relatively low and wide base, in which case setting them in plaster first, and then putting sea glass around them would work great.

A tall and narrow vase is much less stable - if you are going to use hanging votives, make sure it is well balanced and use LED ones of course. Setting the branches in plaster first, and then putting them in a tall vase actually might make it more top heavy and likely to tip over, so I'd suggest sticking with the method described in the other post.

Hope this helps!

Maria Donnelly said...

Hi, I love your centrepiece with the glass cube. Would you mind telling me the dimensions of the cube, even a rough idea. Thanks :)

Justin said...

Glad you like it and thanks for letting us know! That cube is roughly 6 inches square.

Kristina Gulino said...

Beautiful!! We had manzanita branches at our wedding and I'm so happy with the way they turned out. Such a great piece!

Nook & Sea

Sylvia said...

My wedding is coming up in two weeks and I have been using the great tips and tricks you posted on your blog (which I absolutely love!) in making my manzanita centerpieces. I was hoping you could give me some much needed advice on combining branches together. I have large 36" branches and smaller 24" ones that I want to use to make a more symmetrical piece. What is the best way to "attach" the pieces together so that they look cohesive? I'm having a bit of difficulty because the 24" branches are shorter than the larger ones.

Really hope you can help! Thanks so much!

Justin said...

Congratulations on the wedding! I'm glad you find the blog and tips useful! As Manzanita is hard and brittle, your best bet would be to secure them together with some cable ties, and perhaps some hot glue or epoxy as well. Hope this helps!

Sylvia said...

Thank you for your suggestions, Justin! Would I be able to hang pomander balls from the branches if I attached them together with hot glue/epoxy? The flowers are made of crepe paper and the balls are styrofoam.

Thank you!


Justin said...

You're welcome! Whether or not you'll be able to hang them all depends on the strength of the bond, but because the objects are probably quite light you probably can.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I followed this method, but I noticed, 1 day after, the plaster started cracking. while the base still stands fine. the branches absorbed the water in the plaster looks like. have you seen this happen? Thanks!

Justin said...

I haven't seen that happen, but certainly seems possible. You probably should wait a few days until the moisture evaporates before putting the base in a container. You might want to put it on something like a cookie rack so that air flows under the base as well. Hope this helps!

Grace said...

thanks Justin! i accidentally destroyed one of the plaster base branches but despite drying for a few days, it still develop mold problems. help!


Justin said...

Hi Grace - You should wipe off the mold and then perhaps increase the speed of drying by increasing the air circulation by raising the base and directing a fan for it, or by putting it in a drier place such as near a heater or in a sunny window. Hope this helps!