It only takes one trip to the store or a look around online at tile prices and you might easily find yourself wondering how to make your own porcelain tiles instead. And though it sounds rather ambitious at first, remember that the first person who ever made porcelain did it all by themselves and that anyone can learn how to make porcelain at home...so why not you?
You don't need to be an expert DIYer or even have a whole lot of materials and workspace to make your own porcelain tiles, actually. With some fairly basic equipment and tools and common materials, anyone can make their own pottery, ceramics, and porcelain, and that includes making your own tiles, too.
DIY Tile Options
In fact, porcelain tiles aren't the only ones you can make for yourself. You can also make ceramic tiles at home, too.
Porcelain is the slightly stronger and less porous option. This is why porcelain tiles usually cost more than ceramic, but you can make them much more affordable by simply doing it yourself.
Another difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles is their water-absorption ability. Porcelain has a low absorption rate of less than half of one percent.
Compare the two options and decide which you want to make, though remember that porcelain is considered to be the high-quality choice and these tiles do still cost more than ceramic when you’re buying them in a store.
If you prefer the strength and durability of porcelain tile over ceramic but you don't want to pay the higher price, make your own porcelain tile at home. To make porcelain tile, you will need access to a kiln, which gets much hotter than a conventional kitchen oven.
The kiln is the trickiest part of the endeavor, but you don't necessarily have to purchase your own to make this DIY project happen. A pottery studio or community college can be contacted for the possibility of using their kiln oven.
When you start looking around, you will probably find several kiln options in your local area that will allow you to use their kiln for free or charge you only a small fee.
Porcelain is more expensive than ceramic tiles because the materials slightly differ. Porcelain takes more ingredients, which gives it that extra strength and makes it cost extra money.
Porcelain tile uses a combination of quartz or silica rock, clay, and feldspar or flint. The main component of porcelain is kaolinite, a clay mineral.
Ceramic tiles are chiefly made with clay, talc, sand, and other minerals that help make the tiles harden.
How To Make Porcelain Tiles
Porcelain and all ceramics have ancient roots. The material dates back to at least 20,000 B.C.E. when the oldest pottery to be discovered (so far) was first made in China.
The word porcelain itself was first used by Marco Polo, who discovered porcelain on his famous voyage to China. The material found its way to Europe eventually, where the process of making porcelain and standardized and manufactured for a wide building audience as early as the 1700s.
To make your own porcelain, you need a recipe and a place to "bake" the porcelain. You can also use a porcelain clay mix rather than mixing up all the ingredients yourself, which is still cheaper than buying tiles at the store.
Mix the Porcelain
In home design, the most common types of porcelain are cone 10 and cone 6, which refer to different hardness levels. There are many recipes available for porcelain, all with some slight differences but in the main, you will need about 40 percent feldspar, 40 percent white kaolin, and about 20 percent silica.
You can find more specific recipes and you can also go by what looks and feels right to you, as long as you don’t stray too far from these basic components at close to these levels. Test your recipe by firing a single test tile before you create the entire batch, because you would rather be altered to problems sooner than later.
Pour It Into Molds
When you have your mix, you will need to be able to do something with it. You need molds to pour the wet porcelain into or all your work in making the porcelain mix was wasted.
If you are really serious about DIY, you can make your own molds. This can be done using metal if you’re skilled at welding, or even using a 3D printer if you let technology lead the way.
However, tiles are also available online at relatively affordable prices. There’s a huge variety of molds out there that allow you to change up the shape and design of tiles completely at will.
You can get as fancy as you like with your molds and choose interesting shapes and designs, if you like, or go with more simplistic shapes.
You don't have to buy a mold for every tile you plan to make and you definitely shouldn't. It will take more time but you can make just a few tiles at a time.
After all, porcelain tiles have no shelf life. You can make them and use them years and years later.
You don’t need to buy up a bunch of molds to make a lot of tiles at once, because you’re already limited by the amount of kiln space you have and remember when you’re done making tiles, you will be left with a bunch of molds.
Bake Tiles In A Kiln
Now it's time to place the molds into the kiln. The initial firing of the kiln heats the molds up and bonds the pieces together.
Porcelain is fired between 2381 and 2455 degrees F. This first firing is technically known as bisque firing.
If you’re not familiar with working with a kiln, be sure to ask for help. Kilns get extremely hot, much more so than any food-making oven you have ever seen, and you need to stay safe and respectful around it at all times.
Seek out an expert who works with the kiln often to help you fire your tiles and you will end up with a much better finished result. Once you get used to working with the kiln more, you won’t need to seek out help.
After the initial firing, remove the tiles from the kiln and allow them to cool. When the tiles are cool to the touch, apply a glaze to the tiles.
Always use proper tools and wear safety equipment when adding or removing tiles from the kiln.
Glaze is painted right onto the tiles in a thin, even coat. This glaze helps to seal the tiles to make them more wear- and water-resistant and gives them a shinier, smoother finish.
Glazing tiles makes them smoother and gives them a glossy look, because the clear glaze often has a bit of sheen to it. The glaze also makes it possible for you to add paint and designs to the tile, if you want to take your DIY project up a notch.
Unglazed tiles have a more natural, rustic look and a matte finish. Unglazed porcelain is highly resistant to scratching and wear and these tiles are ideal for wet areas inside the home and in outdoor areas, so you may want to consider skipping the glazing step entirely depending on where your tiles will be placed.
Glazed tiles are more non-porous because they are sealed, so they are more stain-resistant and easier to clean than unglazed tiles. In kitchen environments where the tiles are constantly exposed to sauces and liquids and food particles, unglazed tiles may not be the best option because they aren’t as easy to clean.
Perform the Final Firing
After they've been glazed, place the tiles back into the kiln for a full firing. This process will seal the porcelain tile ingredients with the glaze and make the final bonded tiles.
This process strengthens the tiles and makes them practically impenetrable to water and moisture. The final firing sets the glaze.
When the final firing is completed, remove the tiles from the kiln and allow them to cool before handling them again.
When the porcelain tiles become cool to the touch, you can apply paint or shellac finishes to the tiles. Use your imagination to create whatever look you want with the porcelain tiles.
Try different porcelain tile mixes and experiment with different colors to create your own porcelain tiles with the look you want.
Color porcelain tiles using dyes and tints that will help you create the color you want. You can even get creative and paint on porcelain tiles if you want to create custom designs.
If you want to do a repeating design, use a stamp to quickly transfer paint onto tiles and create the design you want.
Make Your Own Porcelain Tiles
When you make your own porcelain tiles, you truly put a personal stamp on your space. There's a great sense of accomplishment associated with actually mixing and firing your own tiles -- not to mention the fact that you get to brag about it for the rest of your life and show off your tiles to everyone who comes to your home.
You can even get creative and experiment with designs and shapes and colors that will be even more impressive. Who knows what you will end up creating once you get the hang of making tile?
Give this DIY a try and you'll be surprised at how much money you save and how much more personalized you make your tiles. And custom tiles are a big selling point in homes, so you’re increasing your properly value and resell value by saving yourself some remodeling money.
DIY Porcelain Tiles FAQ
Is it cheaper to make your own tiles?
It is much more affordable to make your own porcelain tiles, as opposed to buying them. All of the materials for making tiles will average out to be less than $1 per square foot.
Compare that to $2 to $30 per square foot when you purchase tiles, and you can see the price difference.
However, it will take you extra time and labor in order to make the tiles. Depending on how highly you value your time, the savings of making your own porcelain tile may not equal out to being the more affordable option.
Can I use any tile cement for porcelain tiles?
Not all adhesives can be used with porcelain tiles. When laying porcelain tiles, you can only use powdered adhesives to apply the tiles.
Take the time to place tiles correctly, using the appropriate materials. If you place tiles well the first time, they will last for many years and look nice for a long time to come.
What is the best bonding agent for porcelain?
Epoxy is your best choice when you're filling and repairing porcelain tiles that are cracked or loose. Keep some on hand to quickly repair tiles as needed and keep your porcelain looking much better.
Can you lay porcelain tile without grout lines?
If you don’t like the look of grout lines and you want to achieve a cleaner and possibly more modern look, you can place tiles right up against each other and avoid using grout lines completely.
While it is possible to place tile without using grout lines, it is not recommended. Moisture will get into the cracks between tiles and cause warping and damage and can, in time, make tiles look crooked and not well placed.
There’s a reason that using grout is the standard when placing tile. Using grout results in a cleaner and much more durable design in the end, though it does take longer to place grout when laying tile.
Do you have to use cement board under porcelain tile?
Cement board will give you a much more beautiful finished result if you place this before you lay your tile. This prevents water damage that can cause warping and it creates a level, smooth base for your tile before it is placed.
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