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By DENISE R. FREELAND
News Leader Staff Writer
Brian Chagnot has worked for the last eight years to perfect his system of creating beautiful and durable concrete statuary, lawn and garden ornaments, and other decorative items, which he sells at his Malvern business, Ornamental Concrete.
For the last 10 years, Chagnot has manufactured the Scrooge clamp at his location at 6159 Alliance Road. He holds the patent on the clamp, which is a carpentry tool used for plumbing walls, squaring up framing, and other functions; however, with the decline of the housing market, demand for carpentry tools fell.
Chagnot, who had been purchasing molds for concrete items, decided they would make a good side business.
"They're something that's not shipped in from China; they're too heavy and delicate, and not worth enough," said Chagnot, who started with simple molds, creating hanging crosses, and pavers and stepping stones embellished with designs or in the shape of butterflies or frogs.
Molds are difficult to find, Chagnot noted, as the last company making them went out of business in the 1970s, and there are only a few individuals currently making new molds. Not trusting his ability to predict what customers would like, Chagnot bought every mold that came up for sale on eBay for three months. Most of these molds are 50 years old or older.
He then decided to learn to make his own molds, a process he mastered after much trial and error, enabling him to create original pieces from real pumpkins, cookie jars, and other items.
Chagnot has also put a lot of time and ingenuity into perfecting the process of mixing and pouring concrete, striving to create pieces that are consistently of high quality and durable, and finding ways to perform most of the heavy lifting with machinery.
He uses what he calls "real concrete" in his statuary, noting that others use eliminate the gravel from the mixture, using sand only, and add extra water, ending up with a final product that will "dissolve in the rain" and flake away.
In order to achieve a consistent ratio of sand, gravel and cement, Chagnot built a large wooden scoop he can manipulate with a forklift to pour sand and gravel into giant wooden measuring cups, which he constructed. Using the forklift, he then pours the sand and gravel into a wooden funnel he also built, which combines them into one vessel. This is then poured into the concrete mixer with the cement and water.
Chagnot fills buckets with the wet concrete, again moving them with a forklift. Molds are filled -- small ones by hand with pitchers and large ones with the forklift -- on a shaking table, which Chagnot built from a deburring machine. The vigorous vibration of the table liquefies the concrete, he said, getting rid of air bubbles and filling small details in the molds.
The time it takes for the concrete to set up varies depending on the temperature - one or two days in the summer and three to five days in the winter. After being removed from the molds, pieces need to cure for two to three weeks.
Chagnot noted that his concrete items are as durable and weatherproof as a concrete sidewalk and can be left outside year round. Concrete continues to harden through the years, he said, reaching full strength in 25 years.
Ornamental Concrete offers a wide selection of items, starting at $3, ranging from birdbaths and rebar-reinforced benches to angels of various sizes and other religious statuary.
Seasonal items are available, including pumpkins, squash and various Halloween decorations, as well as Santas, Christmas trees and snowmen. Also offered are gargoyles, stepping stones, gnomes, and a wide variety of whimsical animals, ranging from frogs and birds to pigs and coyotes.
Chagnot is usually busy in his workshop, so customers should ring the bell for assistance.
Ornamental Concrete can be reached at 330-224-4795, and accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, checks and cash. It is open Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., or by appointment.