How to Make Handmade Tiles

Making and designing tiles—a great DIY project.

| September/October 1999

  • Using your cutoff wire, slice off a 2”–3” thick chunk of clay.
  • Run two fingers along the wire to remove moist clay.
  • Place your woodstrips on each side of the slab, no farther apart than the length of your rolling pin.
  • Rest the rolling pin on top of the covered strips and start rolling.
  • Run the rolling pin back and forth across the strips until it rides evenly along their full length.
  • Direct carving before firing is one way to decorate a handmade tile.

Tiles have a fascinating history, and the art of making and designing them can give you the satisfaction of working with your hands. Here, we will take you step-by-step through the process of preparing a tile slab. Tools you will need include cutoff wire, two strips of wood, canvas, smooth board or wallboard, a rolling pin, a metric ruler, a straightedge, a pencil, cardboard, pin tool, and clay. Access to a kiln—a special heating chamber—is also important. Standard kitchen ovens don’t get nearly hot enough to harden clay for tile.

You should be extremely conscientious about keeping your tools and equipment clean and your workspace properly ventilated. The air can get quite dusty when you’re making tiles. The kiln also should have proper ventilation. Be sure to protect your eyes with infrared-blocking goggles when you gaze into a hot kiln, and remember that pieces coming out of the kiln are extremely hot.

Once you have the equipment, and have taken the necessary precautions, you’re ready to begin making your own tiles.

The Slab

To make your slab, first wrap a piece of canvas over a flat board. Using the cutoff wire, slice a piece of clay 2' to 3' thick. Immediately put the leftover clay in a bag. If you leave it out, it will get dry and crumble.

Place the piece of clay you cut off on the canvas-covered board and pound it flat with the palm of your hand. Place one wood strip on each side of the slab to help you roll it into uniform thickness. Lay another piece of canvas over the slab and place the rolling pin on top of the strips. Roll until the slab is even in thickness.

Next, transfer your slab to another flat surface for mea­suring, cutting, and drying. To do this, place a piece of wallboard on top of the slab, then carefully flip the slab, which is between the wallboard on top and the canvas-covered board underneath. Transferring your slab this way will keep it from stretching out or losing its shape.

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