You can tile just about
any surface if you have the time and patience. Because
I have experience in cutting and working with stained
glass, I choose complex patterns and use different
types of glass and tiles, but a new crafter could
make a random mosaic using tiles made from a few broken
cups and plates, a towel, and a hammer. Get creative
with this project and you may even be able to recycle
something old and make it new again!
adhesive (Weld-Bond or E-6000 work well)
grout or colored grout powder (available at art and
hardware stores) and a plastic bowl
(can be stained glass, globs (half marbles), broken
plates, ceramic tile, or any item with a flat back
that you wish to incorporate into the design.
and bucket of clean water
t-shirt (or some other non-terry cloth rag)
cutter (a good glass cutter and breaking pliers are
needed for stained glass)
float or squeegee
semi-flat surface that you want to tile
You can tile almost any flat or rounded surface.
If the surface is not flat, it will take much
longer to complete the project as there is a
drying time in between rows of glass to prevent
the pieces from sliding. Because mosaics are
durable, they lend themselves well to the outdoors.
Decorative mosaic address plaques and stepping
stones are popular items to make and/or buy.
Figure 1 illustrates some tiled elements used
in exterior landscaping.
1: This concrete edging (on left) and flower
pots have a decorative mosaic border. As always,
the hound is optional.
I prefer to tile functional items,
such as a table top, a flower pot, a wooden
bench or shelf, a bowl, a picture or mirror
frame, a serving tray, and more. For a peek
at My Broken Art gallery, click here.
For the purpose of this tutorial,
I have chosen to tile the hearth of a fireplace.
This is a permanent fixture and may not be suitable
for a first time project, but it is large and
illustrates the steps involved well. I recommend
getting starting with this craft by tiling a
pot or frame. While I laid the tile on top of
the existing tile hearth, you may opt to create
the design on plywood, so that it can be removed
easily later if you move or redecorate. See
Plywood Base instructions below, if needed.
Figure 3 illustrates the fireplace surround
and hearth prior to this project.
2: My Surface, a Lackluster Fireplace
Choosing a pattern is the fun part of this
project. Pick a pattern that represents your
interests, the environment, or a theme that
you would like to see represented in glass.
In this project, I chose a floral pattern that
matched my area rug and had an interesting Celtic
knot pattern at the base of the center design
as illustrated in Figure 3. Once I found the
center pattern and decided on a border for the
outside edge of the hearth, I improvised with
the rest of the pattern incorporating Brown-eyed
Susans and vines in with more red "glob"
clusters which also represented flowers.
3: Decide on a Focal Point for the Design
Ensure that the surface of the piece being
tiled is clean and dry. For a dirty area like
a fireplace, use an abrasive cleanser and rinse
thoroughly. Since I am using stained glass that
may let the background color show through, I
chose to paint all of the outdated rust tile
with a white semi-gloss finished paint. Always
tape off any edges (e.g., carpet) that you do
not want paint or grout on as part of the surface
preparation. Using a drop cloth under your chair
and project are always a good idea, too. Figure
4 illustrates a clean and prepped tiling surfaceit's
already a huge improvement over the previous
4: Prepare the Fireplace by Painting White
Many surfaces can be tiled. Concrete,
wood, metal, and even plastic are good surfaces
to cover with this decorative technique.
Choosing a Color Scheme
Now that the pattern is ready, the next step
is choosing a color scheme. Since this tile
is being set in grout (which is a cement) it
is a permanent decision. So choose your colors
well. Look for inspiration at the environment
that the finished project will be in or what
color the object being rendered in tile would
be in naturally. Of course, creativity is encouraged
and colors that are totally unrealistic to the
item are great, too. This is your art and you
should use colors that please you.
I choose to use the precious gem colors of
ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Since the surround
remains white and the carpet is gray, I decided
to fill in the background of my piece with stained
glass that is white with gray veiningit
looks like Italian marble. I also found a dark
green glass that had various shades of green
veining that looks like green marble. I used
this glass in a think border around the edge
of the hearth. In between the thick bands of
green "marbled" glass, I used polished
green and blue glass globs (also called gems
or nuggets). These little cabochons are flat
on one side with the top rounded and are readily
available at craft and home stores. They reflect
light well and are available in almost every
color imaginable. Best of all, they require
no cutting. So my design made use of the green,
blue, red globs in the border and red, marbled
blue, and brown globs for the flowers.
Transferring the Design To the Surface Object
The design pattern can be transferred to the
surface object by tracing or freeform drawing
the pattern onto the surface in a pencil or
chalk that does not contrast greatly with the
surface background. When using glass, think
about how the color used to draw the pattern
may show through from the surface. If the tiles
are glazed tiles or found objects like metal
jewelry, tin toys or other solid objects are
used, do not need to worry about the color in
which the pattern is drawn.
If symmetry is important to the design, I recommend
that you find the center point and draw a graph
out on the entire surface. In the case of my
hearth, the previous tiles provided a graph
that made it easy for me to create one side
of the design and then follow the exact placement
in each of the graph squares (painted tiles)
on the opposite side.
Cutting and Breaking Shards
Now that the pattern is ready, the color scheme
is decided, and the surface is prepared, the
next step is filling in the design with small
pieces of glass called shards. Most of
this fireplace was done with stained glass that
was bought in large sheets and cut down in to
1/4-inch and 1/2-inch squares as shown in Figure
5: Stained Glass Shards
These shapes are made using glass
cutters to score the glass and special designed
pliers that apply pressure to the sides of the
score to crack the glass along the desired point.
Tile nippers are used to break medium-sized
shards into small shards by simply "nipping"
off a piece of the shard. This technique is
also used to round straight edges, but can damage
the edge of a glazed piece, so care should be
used not to apply too much pressure.
There is a growing trend of recycling
broken plates, cups, saucers, and more. I've
even found odd lots of plates at the store that
were heavily discounted and perfect for breaking
and tiling. Figure 2 illustrates how I lined
the edge of a wooden shelf with the decorative
rim from broken plates. By making the shards
smaller, you can strategically place them to
form a border for another object. The top and
skirt of this shelf were tiled using this technique.
Craft stores also have gems and tiles that are
prepackaged for use in mosaic crafts. You can
find these small tiles in the shape of hearts,
flowers, letters, etc. Sea glass (with rounded
edges), seashells, coins, and pebbles can also
be used for tiling.
When using found objects or even
glazed tiles from the store that must be broken
into shards for the mosaic, always wear safety
glasses and gloves as the glass can splinter
into micro-fine pieces. Always break the pieces
on a hard surface like the basement or garage
floor. Wrap the item in a towel and smash it
with a hammer. Once the object is broken into
smaller pieces, the tile nippers can be used
to shape the pieces and remove any sharp points
that may cause trouble later when applying the
It helps to keep each type or
color of glass in its own container. That way,
everything is organized when filling in the
design, it is easy to see when a certain type
of glass is running low and to store left over
pieces for the next project.
Laying the Tiles
Start with the intricate part of the design
first. On the fireplace, I laid the border pattern
down by applying the glass adhesive (mastic
also works well) to the back of the glass and
then placing the piece down on the surface.
Twist each piece while the adhesive is still
moist to ensure that the shard is pressed down
and firmly seated on the surface. There should
be a small gap between each of the tiles. That
is where the grout (or cement binding the design
together) will go later. I laid a green marbled
rectangle down, and then spaced in 3 glass globs
(2 green gems with a blue gem in the middle)
to the right side and rotated this combination
around the edge of the hearth. I filled in the
corners with a cluster of red globs for accent.
Then, I used red globs in the center to form
the petals of each of the three flowers and
used blue marbled globs in the center of each
flower. I used the green marbled glass again
to make long, thin rectangular shapes for the
stem and roots of the center design. I also
cut leaf shapes out of the green glass and placed
them coming out of the stem to be consistent
with the pattern design in Figure 4. I knew
I wanted more red in the design, so I formed
clover shapes using red glass globs and placed
them throughout the surface as illustrated in
6: Lay the Border and Center Tiles
Then, the fun began! I used the
smaller green tiles that were used in the stem
and roots of the center design to form curling
vines on one side of the surface. I used brown
glass globs and a butterscotch-colored glass
cut into petals to make brown-eyed Susan flowers
that blended into the vine design. I sporadically
placed green glass leaves coming off of the
scrolling vine. Once one side of the design
was done, I got too curious and started filling
in the white marbled tiles to see how it would
look. Figure 7 illustrates the partially laid
tile. Filling in this background of small white
rectangles into lines felt like I was straightening
a series of big buck teeth. :^D
7: Adhere the Background Mosaic Shards
Once one side on the design is
complete, it is easy to reproduce it on the
opposite side using the surface tiles as a grid
for accurate placement. After all of the background
tiles are in place, let the project set for
24 hours before continuing with the messy part.
Applying the Grout
Now that the tiles are set, remove any dirt
or dust that may have settled into the cracks
of the project. Then, mix up the powdered grout
in a plastic bowl or stir the premixed grout.
There are so many types and colors of grout.
Some people want a neutral gray or white grout,
while others opt for black or some other dramatic
color. For this project, I chose a white sanded
grout that came premixed in a plastic bucket
from the hardware store as illustrated in Figure
8. The sand was gray, so the grout matched the
marbled background tile well. Most tiling projects
use the unsanded grout in a complimentary color.
Prepared grout should be thicker than cake batter.
If it is too soupy, add more powder. Applying
watery grout could cause the tiles to become
loose during polishing.
8: Apply the Grout to Set Tiles.
As always, the hound is optional.
Spread the grout on to the tile
as if you were frosting a cakebe generous
with the grout as all the cracks and crevices
between the tiles must be filled to the top.
I like to wear rubber gloves and massage it
in to the tile with my fingers, but this can
be dangerous if there are uneven edges. I've
ended up with painful microcuts all over my
hands at the end of this phase. There's nothing
like 100 paper cuts on your fingers when you
go to wash up after the project to teach you
a lesson about working with glass! I also use
a wet sponge to smooth out the seams.
For larger projects work on a
section at a time, so that the grout doesn't
dry out too much. I divided the hearth into
three sections. I filled in the tiles in the
center and then scraped the grout away (next
step) just to see how it looked. Then, I applied
the grout and scraped the two sides of the design.
Always let the grout sit for 30 minutes to an
hour before scraping back to the tile. It comes
up in bigger pieces if it has a little drying
time. If it dries too much, water and a sanding
block may be necessary.
Scraping Back the Surface
Once the grout has been generously applied
to the tiled surface, use a rubber grout float
(available at any hardware store), a squeegee,
or the cleaned up putty knife to scrap back
to the glass. Be very careful not to pry up
the tiles when scraping off the grout.
After most of the tile surface is free of the
grout, go over the entire area with a wet sponge
to remove the haze left from the grout by polishing
in a circular motion. Some areas become caked
with drying grout and it is better to use a
sanding block to sand down to the tile for a
smooth finish. I used 3 buckets of water to
clean up this hearth. Once the water becomes
cloudy from the grout residue on the sponge,
keep rinsing the sponge and getting a fresh
supply of water. Dumping the grout in the sink
can cause a clog in the pipes. I always dump
the water outside and let the ground filter
out the grout, which I then collect into a bag
and throw away. This is my least favorite part
of the project. But, when you are organized,
it can go quickly. Finish the polishing by buffing
with a clean, dry cloth. I waited a day before
putting the new screen in place and setting
other items on the new tiled surface as illustrated
in Figure 9.
9: The Polished Mosaic Tiled Project
Now that I have demonstrated how I completed my project,
here is a summary of the steps involved in mosaic
tiling an object. Give it a try and let me know the
To Mosaic Tile An Object:
- Choose a surface for your tiling project.
- Pick a pattern for your tiling project.
- Choose a color scheme for the design.
- Clean and prepare the surface that will be covered
- Transfer the design on to the surface.
- Collect tiles, glass, and other objects with a
flat back to use on the project.
- Break or cut the glass/tiles into small pieces.
- Adhere the tiles to the surface using a glass
adhesive or mastic.
- Let dry for at least 24 hours. NOTE:
Applying grout too soon may cause some of the shards
to lift or shift and could ruin the design.
- Remove and dust or dirt that may have gotten in
to the cracks of the mosaic while it was drying.
- Mix the powdered grout according to directions
or stir the premixed grout.
- Spread the grout onto the tiled surface with a
putty knife as if frosting a cake. Ensure that the
grout is in all the crevices and there are no air
- Scrape the grout flat to the tile using a rubber
float or clean putty knife.
- Smooth down all the grout seams with a clean,
- Let stand for 1 hour.
- Using a damp sponge and begin polishing the tiles
in a circular motion to remove the grout haze.
- Continually rinse the sponge while polishing the
tile. This may require one or two fresh buckets
of water during this clean up part of the project.
- Lightly sand any grout that will not lift up with
- Finish the polishing by buffing with a clean,
- Stand back and admire your work. :^)
To Create a Plywood Base:
- Tape together sheets of newspaper and trim to
form a pattern, or template, of the existing surface.
- Cut out the pattern from the paper and trace it
on to the plywood.
- Use a jigsaw or circular saw to trim the plywood
- Sand all edges of the new base.
- Paint the edges to match any other trim, if desired.
- Lay the board down and proceed with the mosaic
- Once the tile is polished and has dried, frame
out the area with some decorative molding using
a miter saw, so that the raw edge of the new hearth
is not exposed.
Pictures and text used
in this tutorial are © 2001 The Fifth Choir Designs
by Melanie Parker unless otherwise noted. All rights
contact me if you would like to reproduce parts of
this tutorial or need advice on your tiling project.