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.