Instructables

How to make beautiful "tumbled" mosaic tiles inexpensively...

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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
Tile
Moderate DIY skills

This is what you are after, the finished mosaics are next to the kind of tile they were created from:
 
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Step 1: Create your "story stick".

Picture of Create your
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.

Picture of 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.
RonBot2 years ago
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!
DallasDeckard (author)  RonBot2 years ago
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?
DallasDeckard (author)  RonBot2 years ago
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.
Irecreateit2 years ago
What kind of tile did you use? Porcelain? Ceramic? Does it matter?
Aquiline3 years ago
This is great, but where are the shower corner shelves? I can't find them.
DallasDeckard (author)  Aquiline2 years ago
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
RonBot2 years ago
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.
DallasDeckard (author)  RonBot2 years ago
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.
pattiemelt2 years ago
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.
DallasDeckard (author)  pattiemelt2 years ago
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.
Ninzerbean4 years ago
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.
DallasDeckard (author)  Ninzerbean4 years ago
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.
DallasDeckard (author)  Ninzerbean4 years ago
Yes and adding beans to any meal usually doesn't hurt, either!
canida4 years ago
Wow, nice job! Nice and clear.
cory.smith4 years ago
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...  =/

-Cory
DallasDeckard (author)  cory.smith4 years ago
Thank you.

I wanted the irregular edge, this is why I didn't cut all the way through. I cut from the back so that when i snapped the tiles free they would create the irregular line I was after on the face of the tile. If you don't want this edge, then you just cut all the way through, but I'd cut from the top to create a cleaner line. As I said in the Instructable, if you do so, be careful because those pieces can get in the saw blade and plop in the water below.

As far as the lip interfering, I'm not sure how it would unless you try to put them right next to each other with no grout line. I'm am going with a 1/8" grout line where I'm using them as accents and 3/16ths where I'm using them as a border (the last tiles on the edge) which is plenty of room to keep them from touching. I'll add a photo of them as accents and as a border when it is finished.

With these you'll grout right up to the edge of the lip, so someone can't see under it. If you don't want to do this and you don't care for the irregular edge, then just cut all the way through, tumble and glaze. I hope that answers your question.
Uncle Kudzu4 years ago
Yup, I agree, very nicely done! Makes me wish I owned the kind of tools you're using. Is there a practical way to saw the tiles by hand? What effect would the tumbler have on ceramic glazed tiles?
DallasDeckard (author)  Uncle Kudzu4 years ago
Thank you, and thanks for the good question.

Funny you should ask that, because I began this by experimenting with an inexpensive snap tile cutter. I thought maybe if I scored it lightly I might get some irregular breaks, but it broke pretty straight and clean every time. Since I wanted that irregular edge, I decided on doing it this way. If you don't care about the irregular edge, then you could easily do this with an affordable snap tile cutter. You can grab them at any big hardware store for fifteen or twenty bucks. Anyone can make an inexpensive rock tumbler as well, out of parts from a hardware store or stuff you get off the Internet.

As to the effect on ceramic, glazed tiles, I wrote in the instructable that if you only tumble for twenty-four hours it takes the sheen off, but not the entire glaze. You can brush on a sealer to get the sheen back, which is what I did. They come in a variety of finishes - glossy, semi-gloss and matte. I called a couple local ceramics shops - those places where you can pick out and paint greenware and then they fire it in a kiln for you - to ask if they would be willing to let me re-glaze these mosaics in their kiln. One place said no, because of the risk of my tiles "blowing up" and damaging their customers work and the other place never returned my call. That would be the best option if you have access to such tools or facilities.
Dr. Pepper4 years ago
cool good job!
Nice job on your first Instructable! Great pics and instructions.
DallasDeckard (author)  fungus amungus4 years ago
Coming from you that is high praise indeed. Thank you.
neilh4 years ago
Nicely written and easy to follow. Well done.
DallasDeckard (author)  neilh4 years ago
Thank you, I appreciate that.