Make Your Own Tiles

Make your own tiles to beautify your garden paths, patio, floors fireplace or counter tops.

| September/October 1979

  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-05-finished-tiles.jpg
    The finished result of a day making your own tiles.
    PHOTO: JOSEPH JANGBU SZALAY
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-03-rolling.jpg
    The "dough" will roll out like a pie crust. 
    JOSEPH JANGBU SZALAY
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-02-kneaded-clay.jpg
    Your kneading work is complete when a center cut through the clay exposes no air bubbles or crevices.
    JOSEPH JANGBU SZALAY
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-04-slicing.jpg
    A white edge provides a cutting guide.
    JOSEPH JANGBU SZALAY
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-01-equipment.jpg
    You probably have the necessary tools for tile-making around your house (and possibly the material, if you have a yard with clay soil.
    JOSEPH JANGBU SZALAY

  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-05-finished-tiles.jpg
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-03-rolling.jpg
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-02-kneaded-clay.jpg
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-04-slicing.jpg
  • 059-make-your-own-tiles-01-equipment.jpg

If you liked to mix mud pies as a kid, and have an eye for art now, I've got a project for you: make your own tiles. It's really fun, and if you have clay and wood on your land the project won't cost you a cent. Even if you have to buy clay, homemade tiles are far less expensive than any you can purchase.

All About Clay

If you have poor drainage on your land, tile making material probably lurks just beneath the topsoil. Dig up a handful of the earth that you suspect might be clay. Does it feel pliable? If not, moisten the material with water. Roll some between your fingers to form a "rope", then bend the strand into a ring. If the loop has only a few cracks around its outer edges, go ahead and dig up about 10 pounds of the same soil. It'll work just fine. However, if the material cracks, crumbles, or is full of sticks and stones, you'll have to look elsewhere or buy your clay.

Refractory companies, brickyards, and building suppliers usually sell dry bonding clay, which is inexpensive (around $2.75 for a 50-pound bag) and an excellent tile material. (This is the clay masons use when laying bricks for fireplace interiors.)

To mix commercial clay, fill a five-gallon pail half full of water. Add the powder to the bucket—slowly—until you can't put any more in without having the "dust" mound above the surface of the water. Put the remainder of your powder away until you want to do another project. Powdered clay will keep for years, but don't let it get wet. Should the material become damp or lumpy, you'll have to pulverize it with a sledgehammer and sift it through a window screen before you start mixing.



(Later, you can prepare large quantities of the substance and make hundreds of tiles, or store the wet clay—ready for use—in plastic bags. But while you're still "learning the ropes," it's best to run through the whole tile-making process on a small scale in order to familiarize yourself with all the steps before you attempt large projects.)

The morning following your first "clay mixing," pour off any water that's standing on the top of the bucket and spread a sheet of plastic or canvas on the ground in full sunlight. Now the fun starts!

Jan _2
3/5/2009 9:44:00 PM

Hey, if you are a novice, check out some potter in your community who can show you how to make the tiles, bisque fire clay and then glaze fire your pieces. This will make this experience a positive one. It take a lot of heat to change the chemical composition of a lump of clay into a permanent clay object. It would be better to use some type of kiln (rent space in one at a local community center; they will have some type of vent to get rid of gases and fumes that are released during the firing process.)


hijinxminx
10/23/2008 11:50:40 AM

the only way to fire these tiles is to use a fire? is there anyway to use an oven (I live in a no burning area)? After firing can these be painted? I am planning to use tiles to decorate my stairs and would like to make the tiles myself.


Mercedes_1
6/25/2008 12:02:15 AM

When you say one inch tiles do you mean one inch cubed? Or do you just mean that the tiles should be one inch thick? I would like to make tiles to go on my kitchen floor, but I would like mine to be an inch thick and about ten inches long by ten inches wide. Can this ever be made to work with this method, or will they break immediately?







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