How Do I Make My Own Ceramic Tiles?

    CRAFTS CLASSES
    TO INSPIRE CREATIVITY
    by Carole Ellis

    About the Author

    Carole Ellis began writing in 2004 for the "UGA Research Magazine." Her work has appeared in Growing Edge, Medscape and Doctors' Guide publications. In addition to medical coverage, Carole publishes a real estate newsletter called REJournalOnline and is the news editor for the Bryan Ellis Real Estate Letter. She has a bachelor's degree in English and graduate work in creative writing and plant biology.

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    Ceramics tiles are canvases for your own designs. They can be as large or small as you’d like and any colors you choose. The problem is that you will need a kiln and glazes to do this, and the initial investment will be significant. However, you’ll be able to get into the world of ceramics and create things that you may have only dreamed of. Look into used kilns that might be for sale on classified advertising or auction sites. If you do invest in a used kiln, use it only for decorative items. Old kilns might contain traces of lead.

    Things You'll Need

    • Clay
    • Glazes
    • Paintbrushes
    • Tile molds or templates
    • A kiln
    • A rolling pin

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    Investigate your options for using a kiln. While you may find out that you enjoy making ceramic tiles so much that it is worthwhile for you to invest in your own kiln, you may want to start out by renting kiln space or time from an art studio, community college or artist in the area. Many school districts own at least one kiln for art programs, so this option is worth investigating.

    Roll out your clay into a sheet. The thickness is up to you, but at least 1/2 inch is best. A very thin tile will warp when fired. If you want to use your tiles for decorating floors or walls, they should not be too thin or it will be easy to break them. However, if they are too thick they may be hard to affix to the wall. Most decorative tiles are 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick after firing.

    Cut out your tiles using a template or a mold. A template can be a cardboard square or firm paper cut to size. A mold might be made from plaster or steel. There are some cookie cutters large enough for this purpose. You can press the mold into the sheet over and over until you have a large number of tiles. Be sure to push all the way through so that there is no part of the tile still connected to the original sheet of clay.

    Peel excess clay away from the tiles. Arrange them on a dry surface -- wood, drywall or canvas works well. Wet a small sponge and smooth the edges. Use water sparingly. If you want to put a hole in the top of the tiles, wait until they are leather-hard. Use a knitting needle or bamboo skewer to make the hole and gently remove any clay that blocks the hole.

    Let the tiles dry overnight in a warm, dry place. They will need at least 24 hours and maybe even several days to set completely. The tiles should be bone-dry before firing.

    Place all of your tiles inside the kiln and set the timer to the instructions on your clay for bisque firing. Usually, bisque firing takes six to eight hours and will raise the temperature to about 1600 degrees. Cooling the fired objects after the kiln goes off takes another six to eight hours. Do not open the kiln until it is under four hundred degrees inside, and wear gloves when you do so. If your kiln does not have a temperature gauge, use a pyrometer to check the temperature.

    Wash the bisque tiles with cool water and let them dry for six hours.

    Glaze the tiles with glazes from the same firing range, such as "low-fire." Glaze is applied just like paint, with a brush. Cover one side of the tile completely. Use a contrasting glaze for your design. Use simple shapes and symbols at first. Let the glaze dry. Use a wet cloth or sponge to remove glaze from the bottom of the tile. Clean off the edges -- any glaze that makes contact with the kiln shelf will adhere to it.

    Place the glazed tiles into the kiln so that they are not touching each other. Fire the kiln according to the temperature specified on your glaze bottle. A glaze firing can reach anywhere from 1960 to 2160 degrees.

    When the kiln has cooled completely, put on thick leather gloves and remove your tiles. Allow them to settle for several hours. You might hear some pinging sounds as the clay particles adjust to the temperature. When they are cool enough to handle, you can use them for decorations or give them as gifts.

    • Buy pre-made bisque tiles from a ceramic supply company to save time and effort.
    • Conduct a practice run with a few tiles to experiment with how the glazes look and how you like working with the clay. After you have determined what type of tiles you like best, then you can create dozens.
    • Never operate a kiln without following equipment-specific instructions and following all safety regulations, such as wearing heavy mitts to remove clay and wearing safety goggles.

    Photo Credits

    • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images