Where to start...... I wish I had started writing a manual when I started doing pavers, I would still be adding chapters. It is a continuing learning experience. I will try to help.

I use the Hartco 310S for stenciling all my pavers. It is a good balance between cost and ease of use. It is 10 mil plus 2 mil of adhesive which is enough for pavers. It is also very easy to grout through this material. I use the 24" rolls and cut them on a Summagraphics T-750. This machine has a tangential knife so it picks the knife up at the corners before turning. However, I used a Summa D610 for years which used a drag knife and that worked fine. We have other reasons for switching to the T model.

I use Cadlinks Signlab for layout. It lets me import tab delimited text files into a badge function. This lets me lay out the text into a page of pavers with each one having the correct text. You can download a demo version at http://www.cadlink.com. It just has the save function disabled. There is probably other software you can use, but this is what I use. I receive my orders as an excel file, 1 row per paver, one column per line. This is later exported into a tab-delimited text file. Pick a nice san-serif font with large centers and good width. The badge function lets me set up one paver and then use that as a badge. I can then run page after page of stencils without having to enter the text on each paver. 

There are two basic types of pavers, concrete and brick. The concrete pavers are pressure molded and are quite hard and dense. Brick pavers are cooked in a kiln. I work on both types. Concrete pavers are thicker and heavier. The pavers I use are manufactured locally and I have a working relationship with the manufacturer. I do both etch/grout and etch/paint. I prefer the painted ones but some customers want the grout filled ones. You need to charge more for doing the grouting as it takes extra time and materials. Prepping pavers for stenciling is the same for both types, but the concrete ones take more attention. You need to have clean and dry pavers. I have indoor storage where I can stack a couple of thousand pavers in open stacks to dry. Sometimes I need to put heat or a fan on them if time is short. When I bring in a pallet of pavers I stack them in an open fashion so air can circulate and put a fan on them. It takes quite a while to get all the moisture out of the concrete. Once they are dry, if they need to be in storage for some time I will re-stack them to save room.

Lets assume you are using concrete pavers like this- http://urlsnip.com/002843
Notice that these have a smooth surface. Different manufacturers have different offerings, but most should have a smooth version. YOU WANT SMOOTH! So you have your pavers dried out and your stencils cut (hard enough to weed easy, light enough to not need transfer tape, a delicate balance but better to err on the side of needing transfer tape). Unless it is summer I warm up the pavers before stenciling using a radiant heater, rotating pavers into and out of that stack as I use them. So you take the paver onto your bench at a comfortable working height (I use a platform on the bench built at an angle for ease of use). Lightly sand, with 100 grit paper or an abrasive sponge, while holding the shop vac hose to catch the dust. I made a pvc pipe extension out of 1.5" white pvc pipe for the end of the hose, with the end cut at an angle, this wears down from rubbing on the paver. I added a hole in the side so the extension won't stick to the paver. After sanding I run the extension flat on the surface to pull up all loose dust. Now the surface should feel smooth to the palm, not like sandpaper. Next I lift off a stencil from the sheet and align the top edge and stick it on lightly. If it looks good I then roll it with a vinyl roller http://tinyurl.com/9s5g6 or http://tinyurl.com/afmhx to get good adhesion. The stencils are cut slightly smaller than the paver to make it easier to align. Next I use cheap electrical tape (buy the 10 pack) and wrap the edge, overlapping the stencil and the edge. Note: When wrapping the edge of pavers with electrical tape- stretch out the tape for a side, then allow it to relax BEFORE sticking it on, otherwise the tape will pull itself off.  Where I start and end with the tape, I leave a tab for easy removal later. Don't use masking tape, it is a bear to remove as it tears too easy. The tape serves two functions, protecting the paver, and protecting your hands. Now you weed, taking care to avoid lifting the parts staying behind. Roll one more time and it is ready to blast. You need to keep track of the pavers as you make them. I print out an excel file with a number column. I put this number on the face of each stencil with a sharpie and also on the edge of the paver with a yellow lumber crayon. Check off each paver as you stencil them and again when they are done. Sometimes the pavers have to be kept in a specific order and this helps with that as well.

 I usually stencil a whole order and then start blasting. Blasting I do at 50 psi with 100 mesh silicon carbide. Aluminum oxide would work too, but forget anything else. Not too close, you will melt the stencil. Not to far away, then it is too slow. A right touch is developed after many pavers of practice. I use a 3/32 nozzle and pretty much do one letter at a time, as if writing. If painting, not deep, maybe 1/8", and consistent. If grouting, deeper is ok, but not shallower, and consistency is less important. Next the pavers go to the painting/grouting bench. I lay out 50 at a time for grouting, 80 if painting. Grout or paint through the stencil.

So you now have a table full of your pavers. At this point take your shopvac and vacuum all the dust out of the etched letters. If you are going to grout- I use Laticrete Latapoxy SP-100 which is a latex epoxy grout with a long pot life. Get a pack of cellulose sponges and 2 five gallon buckets. You will use one sponge per batch and throw it away when done. Fill the 2 buckets with hot water and throw the sponge into one. Next, mix the grout in a plastic tub. Small square Tupperware or disposables work well. You want something comfortable to hold in your hand while grouting and it should be shallow. You will be able to clean this container if you wish to reuse it. The grout comes in pre-measured components which are way too large for this job. I measure out my own batch, using a 2 part resin to 1 part hardener ratio. For 50 pavers you need to end up with about a half cup of resin/hardener mix. Mix well and then add the powdered color. Add enough powder to make a fairly stiff mix that looks granulated. Next I set this mixtures container into the warm water and let it warm up (don't get water in the mix!). This softens the mix, makes it easier to spread, and helps it kick off quicker. In hot weather you could skip this step. Next I use a paint stick and a grout float (they make special ones for epoxy grouts) and put a glob onto a paver and float it into the letters, pressing the grout in firmly. Then use the edge of the float to scrape off the excess and drop that back in the container. Repeat for all the pavers. Now you switch to the sponge and water. Using plenty of water, wash the top of the stencil. You are trying to get the grout down to the bottom of the stencil (I use Hartco 310S, a 10 mil vinyl). After all the pavers are cleaned you strip the stencils. Peel slowly so the stencil is less likely to tear, which would create more work. Next use a razor blade and lift off all the letter centers. The pavers will look a little messy at this point. Now take the second bucket of water. Holding the sponge flat, clean off all excess grout until the paver is clean. Remember to rinse out that sponge after every paver. Don't be afraid to use a lot of water, the grout is sticky and won't come out of the letters. If your sponge starts to shred bad, grab a new one. Go back and look over the letters and be sure they are all filled, (you saved the container of grout so it is easy to add a little more grout). Next clean your tools and go away. I always put some of the grout into a paper cup so I can check the cure later on. After a few hours you will be able to put the pavers on edge to speed up the water evaporation. If your mix did not have enough powder in it, the letters will be glossy. If you notice this while the stencil is still on, you can sprinkle powder onto the grouted letters and force it in with the float.

Letís say you have a load of pavers that need the lettering painted. As before, lay them out and vacuum. Get your paint gun set up with black Lithichrome. I use a HVLP gun for this step; it gives me lots of control with very little overspray. Now, you are not trying to do the paint all in one coat. The pavers absorb paint, so if you do too heavy a coat it will bleed under the stencil. So I do 5 light coats. First is straight down, then from the left angle, then from the right angle, from the top angle, then last from the bottom angle. Allow time between coats, usually if I am doing 50+ pavers, by the time I get from one end of the table to the other it is ok to go back to the other end and start the next coat. You will be able to start stripping stencils within 5 minutes of the last coat. Pull the tape off the edge first, then slowly pull the stencil, finally remove the centers and any other bits left behind. One more time over with the vacuum and you are done.

Pavers are not easy money. There is a lot of work in doing sales, stencil setup, hauling pavers, moving pavers, stenciling, blasting, grouting/painting, stripping, cleanup, and delivery. It is not something for you to do unless you like hard work. There are a lot of companies already doing this work, including mine. Look for local markets and learn the trade, in time you will fail or prosper. Take pride in your work, it will be on public display, Attention to detail is very important, if you blow out the center of an Ďaí, do that paver over. If the paver has a flaw, donít use it. Learn how to install pavers and soon you could be doing pathway construction and running your own landscaping company as well.

For every tip I have put here, there are 3 or 4 I left out. You will discover your own methods; this is just an outline of how I do them. Donít get discouraged, practice takes time.

DISCLAIMER: The methods presented here are for informational purposes only. The author bears no responsibility for any problems experienced by persons using this advice.


Shane Jewell

Reflections Custom Etching


This essay may not be copied or distributed for profit without the express written consent of the author. You can contact me by e-mail. shanemj@hotmail.com








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