How to Make Beautiful "tumbled" Mosaic Tiles Inexpensively...





Introduction: How to Make Beautiful "tumbled" Mosaic Tiles Inexpensively...

This is my first instructable. :-)

Are you remodeling a bathroom or a kitchen or anywhere you need mosaic tiles? Do you want accents in your tile design that don't exist?I am remodeling my guest bathroom and I wanted some mosaic pieces that matched the tile I was installing. However, there were no mosaic pieces in the tile I was using. There was an expensive "strip" of mosaics in a variety of colors in the style I was using, which was $10 for one strip. So, I decided to create my own.

To do this you will need:

Tile saw with an adjustable depth setting
Rock tumbler and some coarse grit
Tape Measure
Framing square, a try square or a T-ruler
China marker or permanent marker
Flat blade screwdriver
Moderate DIY skills

This is what you are after, the finished mosaics are next to the kind of tile they were created from:

Step 1: Create Your "story Stick".

The first thing to do is determine what size and shape of mosaic tiles you want. When you have determined that, mark the width of the mosaics you want onto a "story pole" or "story stick". Be sure to include the width of the cut of your tile saw on your stick.

A good idea is to adjust the width of the layout so the entire tile is used and there is no waste.

Step 2: Lay Out Your Lines.

Next transfer the lines from your story stick to two sides of the back of the tile. If your tile saw is true (square and aligned) then you only need make the marks on two sides of the tile.

Step 3: Set the Depth of Your Saw.

Set the depth of the tile saw blade so that the saw cuts most of the way through the tile, but leaves about 1/16th of an inch. The object is to later break the tiles apart and give them a irregular shaped edge. This also makes cutting much easier. If you cut all the way though, you'll generate lots of mosaic tiles that get in the way of cutting. If you want a straight edge for your mosaics, then go ahead and cut all the way though, but take care of all the small pieces you generate that can get in the way of your blade, or lost in the water below.

Step 4: Cut the Tiles.

Now just go ahead and make your cuts. The saw I'm using won't allow me to cut the 12" tile all the way through on the first two cuts (it hits the housing after a few inches), so I skip those and get them when I flip the tile. That way I don't have to worry about matching the cuts up with ones I've already made (that are only a few inches long).

Take your time, don't rush your saw. I needed only four 12" tiles to make the number of mosaic tiles I needed, but if you cut five or more 12" tiles this way (in one go) it might be a good idea to change out your water to give your pump a break from all the slurry being generated. The first thing that usually goes on a tile saw is the water pump. I have learned from experience that changing out your water - just once during the day - can increase the life of your pump exponentially.

As an aside, you can see in this photo a little of the plastic housing I made for my MK Diamond tile saw. In another instructable I'll show you how to make one with a few pieces of wire, a little brazing and 3 mil garbage bags. MK makes a housing for this saw, but it costs about the same as the saw itself. This simple housing captures most of the water spitting out of the saw and doesn't interfere with your cuts for any size tile except 16"ers.

Step 5: After the Cut.

What you are seeing here is the tile edge after the cuts. You can see that the blade cut through most of the tile, but left just a little (a 1/16th or so) to keep the tile together. This depth is just about right to get an easy break, and yet still create a nice, irregular edge.

Step 6: Snap the Tiles Loose.

Get your newly cut tiles on a flat surface, your workbench preferably, and then use a large, flat blade screwdriver to wedge in the cut and gently tilt the blade to snap them loose. Just keep doing this until you've broken them all free.

Step 7: The Mosaics Before Tumbling.

This is what the tiles will look like if you've done everything correctly. The mosaic pieces will have irregular, sharp, jagged edges.

Step 8: Load Your Tumbler Barrel.

Load up your tumbler barrel about 5/8ths the way full of your mosaic pieces. Put in about a 1/4 cup of coarse grit and fill the barrel with water to the level of the pieces. I add about an 1/8th of a cup of prepolish to shine them up a bit. I've tumbled the tiles with only coarse grit and with coarse grit and some prepolish and they come out shinier with both. You don't need to use both, but I think it makes them look nicer.

Step 9: Tumble Away.

Next just plug in your tumbler and let it do its thing. I found that 24 hours is perfect. It softens the edges really well, but doesn't remove any of the detail from the tile surface.

Step 10: Clean, Compare and Install.

On the left is a mosaic before it's tumbled, and on the right is another that is the finished product. You can see the rounded, soft edges. If you tumble for 24 hours or less, the baked-on glaze remains, but you lose the shine. So I brushed on a finishing glaze that lasts for five years.

These aren't the same tiles before and after, I'm just showing you what one looks like before and after. The tile doesn't lose any of it's surface detail if you only tumble for 24 hours.

There are all kinds of things you can do if you get creative with your tile and tile saw. Don't limit yourself to the tile accents the store stocks. With a little imagination and DIY skills you can make many nice pieces.

Next I'll show you have to make your own shower corner shelves for just a few dollars that will match the tile you're installing and look beautiful.



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    I think you misunderstood my comment. I wasn't saying to cut your tiles in an open bin, so no dust all over your entertainment area. The tip I shared was from a mosaic site, where the woman was cutting plates and small tiles using hand nippers (not power saw!). She covered the top of the box with clear plastic and did something to the sides to kind of seal in the gloves. Or maybe the holes were just big enough that her arms created the seal. She said she could then sit and watch TV and get all her small pieces cut. It could work if you had a bunch of pre grooved tiles to snap. Kind of like shelling peas!

    3 replies

    Oh, I see. Sounds good to me. Seems like she is doing the tile work more for art or decorative work, rather than to tile a bathroom. For the project I did, a nipper wouldn't work, because I wanted that irregular edge and not the kind of straight edge you get from a nipper or a scoring tile cutter. However, if you didn't care about having an irregular edge, you can cut the tile any way you want. I tumbled the tiles because I wanted it to have a soft, professional, finished look and that would work with any small tiles pieces.

    Just sharing one more tip. Have you ever heard of anyone using an ice cream maker to tumble tile or glass? I read an instruction somewhere once but can't find it. I do remember something confusing about removing the dashers and using sand and water and tilting the thing at an angle. The no dasher part was confusing because what would tumble the pieces?

    No, I haven't seen anything like that. A tumbler is such a simple device, though. We're talking a small motor, a belt, a couple of rods with rubber tubing and a watertight tub. They can be purchased so cheaply (new for under $40 or used for much less) that it makes sense to just get a real one, or make it yourself. I purchased a nicer one, but even that was under $100.

    All you need is something that is watertight that turns slowly and reliably. Anything that fits that bill, works. Good luck.

    What kind of tile did you use? Porcelain? Ceramic? Does it matter?

    This is great, but where are the shower corner shelves? I can't find them.

    1 reply

    I never finished the instructable for those. However, here is a picture of the corner shelves before and after they were installed. You can also see the mosaic tiles I made (from this instructable) after they were installed in the bathroom.

    Shower Corner 1.jpgShower Corner 2.jpg5966317094_f674ea930f.jpg

    I know it's been a while since the last comment but, hey, I found it! I was wondering if it would also work to cut from the face, going down almost all the way so the pieces stay together just like you did here? That would take care of the issue of 'lost' pieces in the water and floating around the cutting table. You could snap them apart inside a tote bin to avoid losing them.
    I saw a suggestion online, years ago where a woman used a clear organizer bin to cut tiles without making a mess (while watching TV!). She cut holes in the sides for gloves- put the tiles and tools inside and slid her hands into the gloves from outside- like the nuclear fuel handling table on the Siimpsons. She put clear plastic sheeting on top so she could see what she was doing. I thought the clear plastic lid might be good enough.

    1 reply

    That is certainly worth a try, but you should know that the tiles tend to break *much easier* when you cut in this way. I'm not sure why, perhaps the glazed area makes the face much harder and difficult to break. When I was cutting other pieces for a different project, I used the method you mentioned, and the tiles kept breaking apart just from the vibration of the saw. I solved it, somewhat, by cutting the lines more shallow, leaving more of the tile under the cut line. They still broke much easier than doing it the other way (leaving the top uncut) but they did break less often. I found myself cutting lots of smaller sections, because they had broken away from the rest of the tile. This caused problems because the broken area doesn't provide a very straight surface when butted against the cutting table guide. It's doable, but a pain.

    As far as the organizer cutting method, I'm not sure I'm ready to subject my entertainment area to micro-ceramic-dust. Perhaps if I had a TV in my garage, this would rock, but I can't trust that in my entertainment area. ;-) Also, I did this with a tile saw, which you can buy hoods for. They aren't leak proof enough to go cutting in your TV room, but they do cut down on the water spewing everywhere and lots of the ceramic dust. I did all my hand cutting on my bench in the garage, wearing a canister mask and a face shield, with the door open and a huge fan blowing out the dust. I just put on some tunes and cut away. I'm not sure that operating a tile saw, cutting on small pieces held with my hands is something I want to do while watching TV, but that's just me.

    I made two hoods for my saw out of heavy mil plastic and 1/8 wire that I brazed together with my acetylene torch. It worked very well and cost very little. You can see one of the hoods in step four of this instructable.

    You could also use this process (tumbling) with irregular tile pieces for mosaics. Just break up the tile with a hammer instead of using the tile saw. Awesome -ible - gonna use it on my next tile project.

    1 reply

    That is certainly an option, but it would be difficult to use those for the purposes I had. However, if one were laying tile for a counter top, that would be great. I even thought about doing that in the outer bathroom, but we decided on granite instead. I needed regular sized pieces to create the starburst effects I laid around the faucet, soap dish and shower head and the border pieces. As you say, though, any pieces could be tumbled and it would make them look more "finished", which is what I wanted.

    The space that the saw takes up that disappears is called "kerf". I always thought that was a good name for a dog that was shy and disappeared a lot. Great 'ible.

    6 replies

    Thank you. I tried to keep the jargon to a minimum so it would be accessible to more people. Kerf seems like the sound that the shy, disappearing dog would make if he had a head cold and barked. :-) I'm surprised I never met a carpenter with a dog named "Kerf" or "Plumb" or something like that.

    I know an electrician who had a dog named OSHA.

    I met a topographer who's dog was named Map.

    I had two cats, a black and white spotted one called Spot, and his brother, a smaller all black one called Speck.

    Yeah, I know, I have never heard it as a name and always thought it was a natural, maybe it's too short, maybe Kerf Bean would sound better. Adding "bean" to anything sounds better.

    Yes and adding beans to any meal usually doesn't hurt, either!

    Wow, nice job! Nice and clear.

    Great instructable, and very helpful. I have a question though.

    The finished mosaic tiles have a little 'lip' around the top. Obviously, it's because you cut the tile from the back, so I assume you could eliminate this and cut the face of the tile.

    Does this little 'lip' interfere with laying them in? Is there a particular reason you cut the back of the tile, and not the face?

    Curiosity won't let me leave this question alone...  =/