Broken Tile Mosaic Counter




Introduction: Broken Tile Mosaic Counter

About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

This tile job improved the appearance and cleanliness of my old cement kitchen counter.    It was made with free discarded tiles from friends and the local hardware store.   The darker grout looks good with the lighter tiles, and the color helps camouflage the mold that   invariably grows on damp surfaces around here.  

Step 1: Bust Up Some Tiles

Tiles are made of fired clay with a thin layer of colored glass on the surface.  You have to be a little careful of cuts when handling them.  It is wise to sand the edges of all the pieces you are going to use.  I did that after laying out the pieces on the counter, so I didn't end up sanding lots more pieces than needed.  

This is not rocket science.  It's probably a good idea to wear eye protection, although I didn't notice many fragments flying around as I broke the pieces.  

Step 2: Lay Out the Tiles

I had a limited number of patterned tiles to work with, along with some white and cream colored tiles.   To make sure I didn't run out of any of the tile types before reaching the end of the project, I spread them out in a random pattern over the whole surface before starting to glue things down.     

Step 3: Glue Them Down With Grout

There is a non-shrinking, sticky grout that is used for sticking the tiles down.  We call it "pega" here.  Another grout, "lechada", which is colored with powdered pigments, is used later to fill in the lines.  I used a painter's palette knife as a small putty knife to work the glue grout into place.  I was generous with the amount of grout used, which gave me a thick enough layer to accommodate irregularities in the counter surface.  Any that oozed up through the cracks was removed with the palette knife.  

Since the plan was to have dark grout lines, I then used the pointed tip of the palette knife to dig out the grout some to make channels for the darker grout.  

The grout comes as a dry powder.  Just mix it to a thick, pasty consistency and go for it.  

Clean off the top surfaces with a damp sponge.  It usually takes several passes, as the grout hardens up.  It's much easier to get the grout off before it hardens up, so don't let your gluing self get too far ahead of your cleaning self, or cleaning will be more difficult.  . 

Step 4: Grout the Lines.

After the tiles are set in place, come back and fill the grout channels between the tiles with the colored grout.  Again, use a damp sponge to keep the top tile surface cleaned up as you go along.  Since these tiles have relatively sharp, angular edges, I brought the grout right up to the top surface, instead of making recessed grout lines.  No sharp edges protrude from the counter surface.  

After it has a few days to harden up and dry out, I plan to paint the grout lines with a watery silicone sealer, in hope that it will help prevent mold from growing on it as much, and facilitate cleaning in the future.  



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    35 Discussions

    Check out my website, There are photos of the house and a Text file on nylon-cement that should interest you. It is similar to ferro-cement (iron and cement), except I use nylon fishnet instead of iron chicken wire to support the cement until it hardens.

    I tile for a living, and just wanted to add a few notes to your sweet project. Here in the US, the 'glue' that holds the tile down is called thin-set mortar. It is completely different than the stuff used to fill between the tiles, which is called grout. As mentioned in your last step, the grout must be sealed, and resealed often.

    Another option would be to use epoxy grout. Not as easy to work with, and a bit more expensive, but you'll never have to seal it, or worry about mold, or what to clean with.

    4 replies

    Thanks for the useful information. It's a pity about having to reseal often. I was hoping the silicone sealer would be permanent. Guess I'll just have to wait and see.

    Test it by seeing if clean water absorbs or beads up. When it beads up, you have enough sealer. If it absorbs, put more sealer on.

    Once you get it saturated, does it ever need resealing in the future? I doubt the surface will abrade down much over time.

    Yes. How often you need to seal will depend on how you clean it. And re-sealing is a pretty easy job, much easier than removing mold.

    I just would like to know where the rest of the pictures of the house are?!? I mean I've been lurking on the site for years, I've never seen anything that makes me start looking around for a place to do it in! Thank you so much for the time to write this, and I hope you share more to come.

    1 reply

    If you take a look through Thinkenstein's 95 existing 'ibles, you'll see lots of pictures of his home. For significantly more, visit his website. I've pretty much pored over & archived for later everything about his home in my quest for alternative architecture ideas.

    Nice rustic look to your project! Discarded/leftover tiles are a dime a dozen, so this makes for an inexpensive project.

    I did a project like this years ago and swore I'd never do it again! I used all different kinds of broken plates and mugs, marbles, beads, plastic turtles & old coins & cutlery, etc for patio tables for our restaurant. They were all different thicknesses, so grouting was a nightmare and I ended up with an uneven surface(should have anticipated that, hindsight ya know). Clear epoxy saved the day and they have withstood the elements on the sidewalk outside for 7 summers. Only problem now is the epoxy is starting to yellow a bit and turn sticky. Not just sure what to do about that.

    3 replies

    Could happen because of inexact ratio base/hardener too.
    I would consider a sheet of glass or Lexan for a new surface table surface secured over the old one. Also glue and fix with screws a new (plastic or metallic) rim band around the edges.

    Another thin layer of epoxy might take care of it. Try just one table and see how it works out.

    If the little buried jems are still visible, although the surface is sticky, could you put on a little more clear epoxy, or casting resin, and eliminate the stickiness?

    Beautiful job! And I love the lines of your home! The organic lines seem so soothing. I look forward to checking out your other instructables. Keep up the great work!