Introduction: Mosaic Stairs

Do you want to make your staircase a focal point in your home? Are your basement stairs lacking luster and you don't want to pour money into a new type of wood? Well a cheap and easy solution is to mosaic your stairs! The greatest cost of the project is time! The rest of the cost depends on what you decide to use for materials. I will provide you with some start up directions to give you an idea of the materials and process!

Time: This took me less than a week working in 5-6 hour increments.

Experience: this was my SECOND mosaic project ever. My first was a small step stool. You really don't need experience to do this!

Step 1: Plan Your Art!

I live on the coast, so I knew right away that I wanted to do an ocean scene. I took a black Sharpie and sketched waves on our particle board basement stairs. Don't worry about small details, and don't worry about messing up with the marker; it all gets covered anyway. Think large basic shapes and also take into consideration ideas that can be expanded over an entire staircase. Examples: waves, a river, a waterall, a tree, space (four years after I did these stairs, I mosaiced the back of them in a space theme...check out my instructable for the mosaic space book nook). You could even just do basic squares or choose your favorite colors to intermix if you prefer no theme. The beauty of mosaics is that there are a multitude of options!

Step 2: Materials

Ever heard of Upcycling? Sure you have! Well here is a great way to upcycle glass, tile, or even ceramic plates! Plus it will help you keep your cost down!


-Plastic Safety Glasses (these are a buck or two at the hardware store, but SO important!

-Cheap Ventilation Mask...again, see above

-paint stirrer or thin long piece of scrap wood or even an old wood ruler

-Vinal or latex gloves (not vital for safety, but you will thank me when you get to the grouting)

-Tiling Sponge (look in tile section in hardware store...these are about $3, but you can cut it up into small 2" chunks to make it last!)

-scraps of towel or old cut up t-shirts

-Mastic tile adhesive (just about any will do. I used a generic kind from a local hardware will run you about 10-15 for a bucket and I used a whole bucket)

-a putty knife (or an old butter knife that you plan to throw out...or even one of those dip spreaders that you never will literally be using it to "butter" your tiles!)

-Glass (think colored glass plates, suncatchers, scrap from stained glass artists, those small stone gems, and even glass shapes...I used fish!)

-Tile (I bought a box of dark blue wall tile and a box of light blue wall tile from Lowes for about $30 total. You can find tile at yardsales, ask friends who are renovating for extras, or even check Craigslist) It will depend on your colors and designs how much you will need, but always over estimate slightly because you will use the tile for another me, even though this project takes some time, you will become addicted!

-Ceramic Plates (Try yardsales or Goodwill! Look for colorful and relatively flat ones. Check the boarders on the plates for unique designs!)

-Anything else that is flat enough and thick enough to fit your planned art...I used black rocks and even shells and starfish, although I really do not recommend the latter two...

-Handheld Tile Cutters (will run you about $ can also get glass pinchers for about the same price. I used more tiles on my stairs than glass, but just note that neither model will cut both!)

-Handheld glass/tile file (again about $10, and maybe not vital but nice to have so that pieces are not too sharp. I don't file every piece I cut...just ones that seem like a hazard.)

-A Hammer


-Water and several large containers (remember to recycle, so maybe use cleaned out coffee cannisters. I use those now, but at the time I did this, I used an old large Tupperware that I was going to throw out.)

-Grout (use sanded grout in any color! You will need probably about 50lbs) This and your tiles will be your biggest expense!

-Grout Sealer (about $8)

-rubbing Alcohol

Step 3: Start Smashing and Buttering!

Yes, I have the same picture up again for this step, but it is because I want you to see the 3rd step (the one with the blue).

So you have your materials, and you have an idea of your planned art. Do you like puzzles? Well, you're going to have to if you mosaic because it is like putting together a puzzle!

1. First thing: Place tiles wrapped once in a newspaper and begin smashing with a hammer. Maybe start by smashing 5-6 tiles of the colors you need. NOTE: Wear Safety Glasses! Also Wear shoes, do this on the floor, and be sure to use a shop vac after to pick up dust and shards! I don't wear gloves because I like to be precise, but be smart and are working with SHARP stuff!

2. Carefully pick up smashed fragments and put them in a container to carry to your stairs. I like an array or sizes! While carrying those over to your workspace, grab your tile cutters and file (for trimming and reshaping pieces for a good fit) and also grab your knife and Mastic!

3. Start mosaicing! Do this by buttering the back of a piece of tile with your knife, and stick it to the stairs. You are on your way!

*A few words of wisdom that you will likely learn on your own as well:

-if you mix glass pieces in with your tile pieces, glass is usually thinner, so you may want to build up a layer of mastic to make your pieces all the same height. This will save you a headache when grouting. an easy solution, just use all glass or all tile and don't mix!

-don't use too much mastic. You don't want it to spill up over your tile because ideally the grout should cover it. If it comes up around the tile and sticks out further, you will see if after grouting.

-BUT don't use so little mastic that your pieces fall off! Mastic is great, and should hold your tiles vertical even as it dries, but you need enough for it to stick, so look at my picture of the blue stair. It is okay to see white around your tile as long as the white does not come up and over the tile!

-Since this is a time consuming process, you may want to protect your investment of mastic by scooping some out into a smaller container so that the rest does not dry out as you work.

4. Use tile cutters to shape or make tiles smaller as necessary to fit your pattern.

5. I prefer to place tiles about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, but do what looks most aesthetically pleasing. There are no rules. Just be consistent once you decide.

6. Go back to your newspaper smashing area when you run out of tiles and smash more.

7. I recommend working on stairs 3 at a time so that you gain momentum and consistency in your picture! 3 stairs equals about 3-4 hours for this part of the process.

Step 4: Drying and Grouting

After you place and glue your tiles with the mastic, you WAIT 24 hours for the mastic to dry. Check that they are secure the next day. Then the fun begins. You can either go back to the previous step and keep mosaicing and gluing or you can grout what you have done so that you finish the stairs in sections. Again, there are no rules. Grouting is not my favorite part and doing it all at once sounds like a huge chore, so I like to break it up!

1. Have you waited 24 hours and checked the tiles?

2. Put on your mask and gloves and get your paint mixer, grout, container, water, and sponge ready!

2. Begin mixing the grout in your container according to directions (by adding water), and use your paint stirrer or a gloved hand to mix (do not use a bare hand...grout seriously dries out your skin!). I go for a thick cake batter consistency and let it stand for about 3 minutes after mixing. You don't want it too dry because it will be crumbly when applying, but too wet will seep out onto the stairs, so this is a trial and error type deal for you!

4. Once mixed, you can remove your mask. Take the grout in its container over to the stair you are going to grout, and apply it in the cracks using your sponge. Smoosh it in and smooth it out. Be patient because about half will go in the cracks and half will fall out onto the stairs. The joy of working on a vertical surface! Just keep picking it up and smooshing it back in (oh, and if you have pets, probably better to vacuum the stairs before doing this...yes, our grout has dog hair hardened into it!).

5. Once you get a whole step smeared in grout, try to even out the grout but wiping across your tiles with the sponge. Get a clean container with water, dip your sponge in, and continue wiping and evening things out. Add grout into crevices that do not look filled or even. You will slowly see your tiles again, but they will be hazy.

6. At this point, when things are pretty smooth between the tiles and you can see most tiles...albeit hazy, move on to the next step and repeat the process.

7. Once you have done 3 stairs, go back the the first one. The haze will be drying well, but the grout is by no means completely dry. At this point, take your rinsed out sponge and start wiping the haze off with clean water. Another method is to instead use a dry cloth (cut up t shirt or towel) to wipe the haze and not use water. I like both methods equally, but the benefit to just cloth is that things will dry quicker.

8. Repeat with all 3 stairs that you have done. This process will take about 3-4 hours.

Note: If you grout all of your stairs at once, you should still probably work in Sections of 3 steps due to how the grout dries. Plus, you are probably crazy and should schedule an appointment.

Step 5: More Drying, Sealing, and Polishing

After grouting and the initial haze cleaning, wait 24 hours before sealing.

1. Put on your mask!

2. Spray sealer according to directions on 3 finished steps at a time. One coat is plenty.

3. Use a clean dry cloth to wipe sealer off of tiles. This also helps to shine them. This will take about 10 minutes per stair.

4. To get off any remaining haze or to further shine the tiles, put rubbing alcohol on a cloth and individually shine the tiles. This is time consuming, but it sure does make your mosaic sparkle! It will take as much time as you are willing to put in!

Overall, if you plan on working on finishing 3 steps at a time, repeat the process until your art is done! You could also stagger the process once you get your first 3 steps tiled with mastic. For example, the next day grout those 3 then tile the next 3; then the next day, seal the first three, grout the next three then tile and mastic the next 3 and so forth. It all depends on your time schedule. I am a teacher and used my first week of summer vacation to do this, so time was not an issue for me.

If you are done, Congratulations! You will cherish these for years to come, and so will those who come to visit! I never thought 4 years ago that my now 2 year old daughter would learn the word "Fish" from these stairs and touch each glass fish on her journey up the stairs each time!

Step 6: Finishing Touches!

After my mosaic was complete, I washed the walls and repainted some areas where I got messy with my grout. I then sanded the wood steps and used a high gloss white paint to accent my scene. I nailed in stair treads so that the steps would not be slippery from the glossy paint. 4 years later, I am still loving these!

Special note: Your back is probably sore now that you are done. I didn't warn you about that ahead of time. Happy recovery, but it is worth it!

Step 7: Variations on Mosaicing!

Once you get the hang of mosaics (which you certainly will if your first or second project is an entire staircase), you can experiment with other bases. Some of my favorites bases are from upcycling such as guitars (see my first pic), old cupboard doors (see my 4th pic), picture frames from yardsales (see my 2nd and 6th pics), and jewelry boxes from thrift stores (see my 5th pic).

You essentially follow steps 1-6 for any of these projects, but with slight variations. For example, I did all of these with glass as opposed to tile, so I used Weldbond Glue as opposed to mastic. I also used a glass cutter rather than hammering the glass or using a tile cutter.

You can mosaic onto wood or glass. If mosaicing wood, lightly sand it first, and don't go overboard on your water in the grout or the wood can warp! If you mosaic onto glass, use the Weldbond glue, which will allow you to put your piece in a window after it is done for a stained glass effect (see my town in the 2nd and 6th picture...that is the same piece!) Just remember to let the glue dry completely before grouting. This may take a couple days if you used a lot of glue, or plan ahead to go light on the glue (I always make the mistake of using too much and having a long drying time! Putting it in front of a dehumidifier works to speed the process!)

You can also mosaic on a mirror! I like to use clear glass on a mirror for backgrounds for a really neat effect (see my cardinals in the 3rd picture). Like mosaicing on glass, allow extra drying time after glueing with Weldbond Glue.

Finally, if you are not satisfied with smaller projects...go bigger! After mosaicing the front of my basement stairs, I went after the back as well a few years later to make a book nook for my girls (See my 7th pic). This time I mixed glass and tile, so see my Instructable for Mosaic Space for tips on that!

Step 8: What to Do With What You Make and Epilog Challenge Write Up

I am always giving my mosaics away as gifts, donating them to auctions or special causes (the picture above contains a large metal "O" from an old sign on the school building that was on the school that I work for. When the name changed, I used the letter to represent the first letter of the new school name and a compass for the new school image), entering them into contests (everyone loves a good competition!) or just using them to decorate my home through installations or accent pieces.

At one point, I had pieces in a downtown gallery for sale, but unfortunately the owners of the gallery moved and closed it up. I have resorted to doing some custom work and private sales, but it is still mainly just a fun hobby. Craft fairs might be a good avenue for sales, but I have not tried them.

Epilog Contest

I would, however, love to experiment even more with my craft, and the Epilog Challenge has made me think about how I might put a laser to good use! I would love to etch glass then use it for custom mosaics as well as tiles, stones, and metal! I think I could expand my hobby into more of a customizable business with that type of a tool!

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Epilog Challenge VI

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Epilog Challenge VI