Make This Concrete Wine Chiller
If you’ve known someone for a while, it gets harder and harder to buy them gifts. That’s the case with my in-laws, so instead of heading to the mall for something generic, I much prefer to make something unique, insuring that there’s no way they already have one. And it’s a reflection of the time put in, so there’s no doubt it’s a gift from the heart.
This year, I’ve been experimenting with concrete, so I knew I wanted to use that material to come up with a good sized project to make a statement. They don’t know it yet, but for the holidays, the in-laws are getting a concrete wine bucket.
Step 1 - Choose Your Form
When working with concrete, prep is key. For this project, I knew I needed two vessels, one larger than the other. The big one would make up the total shape, while the smaller would be placed in the poured concrete to create the void where the wine bottle sits.
I searched around and eventually settled on a big plastic jug for protein powder with its top cut off for the total form, and a small bucket from the paint aisle of the home store for the void form. Make sure that whatever forms you use are water tight. Soft plastics from food packaging, Styrofoam, and foil lined paper cartons (like soy milk) are good places to start.
When choosing forms, make sure you don’t create any walls in the final structure that are too thin. They say the concrete is best at about 2 inches thick, but I’ve found for pieces like this, you can still get strong walls at less than that. I wouldn’t push the tolerances too far, so keep your structure from getting no less than 1/2-inch thick.
Step 2 - Mix and Pour
Now that all the form materials were prepped and ready, it was time to get the concrete wet. Because we were mixing a sixty pound bag, we used a large trough and a hoe to mix as water was added from a garden hose.
Rather than using a rigid guide of a water to mix ratio, we went slow, adding water, mixing the concrete, then adding a little more water until we got the consistency we were looking for. Be careful not to over water, so patience is key. The texture I was going for was like a firm oatmeal. Wet, but holding together when compressed.
Concrete contains lye, so you might want to wear gloves for these stages.
Using a shovel to move the bulk of the concrete, I filled the large vessel about 2/3 full. Then I set the smaller bucket in to it, pressing down so as to raise the level of concrete up the sides. The form still wasn’t completely full, so I used a trowel to fill in any gaps.
Step 3 - Knock Out Bubbles and Weight it Down
During this process, it’s important to knock air bubbles out of the wet concrete. For flexible forms like this, it’s easy to rap your knuckles on the sides and even pick up the whole piece and drop it from about a 1/2-inch up. All this helps compact the concrete, so when it cures, it’s strong.
Once the form was full, it was time to weight the small bucket down. By nature, the void is lighter than the wet concrete beneath it, so it will try to rise up. To combat this, I knew I’d need weights, so we found sand and some old barbell plates. I filled it mostly with sand, but it wasn’t enough, so the barbell plates were finally needed to keep it in place.
Step 4 - Cure and Unmold and Cure Again
This was a bigger project, so I let it cure in its form for about 4 days. Your mileage may vary, though, so you can start checking it after the first 24 hours. Once the concrete is set and firm and there’s no more water on the surface, you can unmold.
The first thing I removed was the inner bucket. After taking off the weights and dumping the sand, I bent the rim of the plastic until the whole piece released and revealed the void inside the concrete.
After that it was time to tackle the outer form. This plastic was thicker and proved a challenge. I started with a utility knife, but that wasn’t aggressive enough, so we brought out the oscillating multi-tool. You could also use a rotary tool with appropriate plastic cutting bit for this as well. Cutting and scoring the plastic, I created enough seams that I could pull off the final form.
But the project wasn’t done. Because the concrete had been sitting in non-porous materials, it was still damp where it hadn’t been exposed to air. I left the piece out for another couple days for a second cure that drew all the moisture out.
Step 5 - Final Touches
Once the piece is completely dry, it’s time for a little close detail work. I went over it and checked for any loose aggregate and knocked it off so the final product wouldn’t be dropping pebbles at my in-laws’ house.
Because concrete tends to have a constant dusty texture, I hit the bucket with a spray sealant. Then it was ready for a bottle of wine and gifting. There’s plenty of room in the bucket for wine and ice. Or, if your freezer has enough space, you could put the whole thing in there, then bring it to the table, where it should keep the wine cold for quite some time.
The piece is also a nice blank canvass. People with an artistic eye could paint the exterior with designs or even something personal for the people receiving the present.
Even unadorned, there will be no doubt that thoughtful time and effort went into the gift, making it truly one of a kind.