The Concrete Network
Tru Pac, Mortar Conversion
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Walt Tools
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Tru Pac conversion kits use a combination of lightweight components, extended-range flow modifiers and proprietary cementitious materials to produce vertical concrete that retains its moisture and workability at overlay applications ranging from thin to thick.

One of most exciting growth markets in decorative concrete is vertical stamping. This new market niche combines many of the aspects of horizontal concrete stamping with new material technology, specialty tools and artistic techniques, permitting contractors to create vertical rock, wood and stone formations that are unique and extremely realistic.

“There are three products required for a successful vertical stamping application,” says Nathan Giffin, owner of Vertical Artisans, Hickory Hills, Ill. Those include specialty vertical concrete mixes, tools for texturing and carving, and colors to make the finished product look realistic.

Of course, some artistic ability also helps. Giffin says that the industry has some distinct application methods. Some installers use a more production-oriented process and imprint the material with vertical stamps. Others prefer freehand carving to produce greater detail and realism. Both are viable options, with each producing a unique look. The current trend, according to Giffin, involves a bit of a hybrid approach, where the base material is textured with rollers, skins or stamps, and then additional detail is carved by hand. No matter what method is used, the final result is unique and often hard to differentiate from real stone, wood or rock.

VERTICAL STAMP MIX

Features to look for
The backbone of any vertical stamp project is the base vertical stamp mix. These materials are highly engineered overlays that are able to be applied in thicknesses ranging from ¼ inch to 5 inches or more and stay pliable for hours to permit stamping and carving.

“The most critical feature when selecting a vertical stamp mix is the workability. I want a mix that is flexible -- something that can be carved, stamped and colored with ease,”says Brain Farnsworth, director of technical services for Bomanite Group International. As someone who has developed and installed vertical stamp mixes, he is looking for specific criteria when working with these types of mixes. “I want to be able to have plenty of time to work with the material. I don't want to worry about shrinkage cracks when stamping, or rapid setting that limits a custom hand carved piece,” he says. Farnsworth also prefers mixes where you just add water, mix well, and the product is ready to go. For better aesthetics, the sand gradation of the mix is also important. “I don't want to see large sand when working with the material. Larger sand in the mix only detracts from the finished piece when hand carving.”

The other key factor Farnsworth looks for is how well the material holds to the wall. It has to exhibit thixotropic properties. “You should be able to throw the product on the wall without it sagging or falling off, but it needs to have plasticity. I want this stuff to be like butter, creamy and easy to carve when you work with it,” he says.

Vertical Stamps
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Walt Tools
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Various types of vertical stamps from Contractors Source.

How to apply
Proper application of the stamp mix is critical to long-term durability and success. The good news is that modern vertical stamp mixes are pretty forgiving and easy to work with. As when applying horizontal decorative overlays, the most important aspect is a stable, clean, and well-prepared subbase. For vertical applications, this usually involves installing some type of metal lath or wire reinforcement for the vertical stamp mix to adhere to. The actual application is pretty straightforward, and involves troweling material onto the subbase at the desired thickness. Once the material has been applied, stamping, texturing or hand carving is performed to make the material look like stone, rock or wood, depending on the look desired. Once the material has set, the coloring takes place. This involves applying different stains, dyes and tints using a sprayer, rag or brush. In most cases, the colors are applied in multiple light applications to achieve the greatest realism.

VERTICAL STAMPS

Not much different in physical appearance from traditional stamps that have been used for decades on flatwork, verticals stamps are made from a durable polyurethane rubber. They are available in a stamp format, with rigid grout lines and multiple pieces that fit together to form a pattern, and a seamless skin format that imprints texture into the surface without a pattern. A third tool that falls under the vertical stamp category is a textured roller. This looks like a paint roller, but has a semi-rigid polyurethane rubber roller head that imparts relief and texture into the surface as the roller moves across the vertical stamp mix. All three of these vertical stamp tools are good for covering large areas quickly and for projects where detail is not as critical. In most cases, however, installers will come back and do some hand carving to provide extra detail.

Vertical Texture Rollers
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Artcrete
Natchitoches, LA Textured Vertical Roller
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Butterfield Color
Aurora, IL Textured rollers from Artcrete. A textured roller from Butterfield Color.

Features to look for
The difference between vertical tools and tools used on flatwork has less to do with the texture and more with the weight and flexibility of the tool. Since vertical stamp tools are being lifted and held in place, weight is important. “A heavy tool will become a burden to use on large jobs,” says Giffin. “You want a tool that is light, but durable.” The other key factor to consider when purchasing vertical stamps is the flexibility of the tool. “You want a tool that can be bent and rolled and is easy to manipulate into tight spaces that are often found on vertical rock and stone faces,” he says. Having an assortment of sizes and textures is also beneficial, because in nature there are no two stones that look alike. Most companies that make vertical stamp mixes also offer vertical stamp tools and seamless skins.

VERTICAL CARVING TOOLS

What sets vertical stamping apart from traditional stamped concrete flatwork is the level of detail that can be achieved when accented by hand carving. Because vertical work is often at eye level, many installers will create intricate textures and detail not found on horizontal stamped concrete. To achieve this level of detail and realism, they often rely on three types of specialty carving tools:

  • Textured hand trowel: This easy-to-handle handheld trowel features a textured back that gives texture to flat surfaces while also carving and cutting into the material.
  • Three-way vertical jointer: Also known as “crow’s feet,” this unique tool is used specifically for vertical carving. Available in many sizes, these Y-shaped tools create realistic intersections where stones and rock come together. Using multiple sizes allows for variation and a nonrepeating pattern that adds to the realistic look of the project.
  • Carving wedge: This tool is used to connect the three-way joints and is available in various sizes and thicknesses, depending on the type of stone or rock being emulated.
Hand Tool
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Walt Tools
, Vertical Jointer
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Butterfield Color
Aurora, IL Hand carving tools like this one from Contractors Source help add realistic detail. This tool from Butterfield Color is great for creating joints on a vertical surface.

Features to look for
Giffin recommends that anyone performing carved vertical overlay work have a complete set of all three of these tools to allow for the most realistic outcome and a high degree of detail. When purchasing these special carving tools, also look for a tool that comes in multiple sizes and variations. The variation of the tools is critical, according to Giffin, because repeating patterns and similar sized stones and grout lines make the project look artificial. “In nature, there are no two stones that look the same and no wall that has the same makeup and layout.” Giffin also stresses the need to blend different sizes of three-way jointers on a wall to create different size stones and patterns. The same is true when purchasing the wedge tools. Different sizes and widths are critical to creating a natural and realistic look.


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