Stepping stones meandering through a garden or winding to your front door call to mind an old English cottage or an eccentric artist's lair.
Any existing paving stone, such as those sold at garden centers, can be used as a base for a mosaic stepping stone, using the method mosaic artists call the "direct" method. This means that you will be adhering the tile pieces directly to the top of the base. For the safest walking conditions in your yard, choose stepping stones that are equal in height.
"Patio stones" are an inexpensive base for your custom stepping stones. They are about 12 inches square. You will also need some latex-modified thinset, sanded grout in a color of your choice, a trowel, a grout float, a grout sponge, some rags, tile nippers, some craft sticks, vinyl disposable gloves, spray grout sealer, and a collection of broken tile pieces. For a more intricate design, use pieces of stained glass or glass tiles.
If you have broken pieces from a previous tile project in your home, you can use those. Or purchase new tiles in the colors you want and break them into smaller pieces. An easy -- and safe -- way to do this is to place the tiles onto a tarp and cover with an old towel, then break the tiles with a hammer. Sometimes you can get inexpensive odd lots of ceramic tiles from a building supply resale outlet or from garage sales.
To further shape the tile pieces, use tile nippers. This tool is sold at home improvement stores. Simply grip the side of the tile piece in the jaws of the tool and squeeze to break the tile into the shape that you want. Always wear safety goggles when cutting tile.
Lay out the design that you want to make on a piece of newspaper, or just work freehand and create the design as you stick on the tiles. Start by mixing a batch of the thinset according to package directions. "Butter" the back of one tile piece with a craft stick or a plastic knife and lay it on the patio stone according to your design. Press it down firmly. It doesn't matter if some of the thinset oozes out the sides; grout will cover it. However, if you apply the thinset too thickly, and there isn't enough space for grout around the tile, remove some of it with the craft stick.
Continue buttering and laying the tile pieces until you are happy with your design. Let the stepping stone sit for at least 24 hours before grouting.
To grout your stepping stone, mix up some sanded grout according to package directions, then use the grout float to push it into all the spaces between and around the tiles. Put on the disposable gloves and use your fingers to smooth out all around the outside border of the stone. Let the grout sit for about a half hour, then wring out a grout sponge in a bucket of water. Get as much water out as you can – otherwise it will dissolve too much of the grout. Wipe the sponge across the stone to remove excess grout. This part is a little tricky; you don't want to press down so hard that you remove grout from between the tiles, but you do want to press hard enough to remove grout from the tops of the tile pieces. For best results, wipe the sponge across in one direction, then put it back in the bucket of water and wring out again, and repeat. Finish with one last pass with clean water in the bucket.
Let the grout dry for a couple of hours, then use some clean rags to buff the tops of the tile pieces to remove any grout haze. Let the stepping stone fully cure for three or four days before setting into your garden. The final step is to spray a sealer on the stepping stone.
When it's time to set out your stepping stones, dig a depression as deep as the stone is tall and the same shape, then press the stepping stone into the depression. Wiggle it around a little to make sure it is level with the top of the soil so that no one will trip on it.