Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mosaic Christmas Tree Ornaments

Please email us pictures of your Christmas tree ornaments made from our mosaic ornament bases. I would really like to receive a picture of one made to look like a globe of the Earth. I think a globe ornament would look spectacular, especially in mosaic, but I haven’t had the time to make one myself due to all my other art projects.

Remember to order your mosaic ornament bases early because we often get large orders from groups that completely exhaust our supply of hard polystyrene spheres.

mosaic ornaments

Mosaic Christmans tree ornaments made by artist Natalija Moss using our ornament bases.

Each ornament base is only 29 square inches (or 0.2 square feet) of surface area, so it doesn’t take too much tile to cover one. Just one bag of the 12mm Elementile Recycled Glass Mosaic Tile is more than enough to make an ornament. Depending on how you cut and space the tile, you only need between 100 and 125 tiles to cover one ornament, and each bag of 12mm Elementile contains about 185 tiles.

Penny Mosaic Warning

We regularly see questionable information online concerning how to mosaic and how to do other art and craft projects. Mostly this information is questionable because it was written without regard to durability or how the project could have been used as an opportunity to make real art (personal, unique) instead of making clones of something already mass produced. Sometimes we even see instructions that are potentially dangerous or even likely to be dangerous. The recent fad of tiling floors with copper pennies may be an example of this, at least in certain situations.

In micro amounts, copper is a nutrient and is found in all plant and animal life. On the other hand, excessive exposure to copper can be toxic, particularly if a person has a genetic predisposition to a condition called Wilson’s Disease, in which the liver is unable to remove excess copper from the body.

Sure we all handle copper pennies every day, but this is different from lining a living space with them, especially on a floor where foot traffic will abrade the pennies and household cleaners will accelerate the forming of copper oxides and other toxic compounds.

Different websites mention coating the pennies with urethanes and other sealers prior to use. That is probably good in theory, but I’m not confident that the thin layer of sealant will isolate the copper for very long under normal use conditions. Keep in mind that copper is fairly soft and fairly reactive. What is acceptable for a wall or a mosaic sculpture is often inadequate for a floor.

Replacement Springs For Mosaic Glass Cutters

We recently received a shipment of mosaic glass cutters and the factory included some replacement springs in the crate.

replacement spring tile nipper

Mosaic glass cutters and tile nippers tend to lose their springs fairly quickly, so we now have these for sale as replacements.

Fits All Brands?

I’m thinking that the springs fit most all brands of mosaic glass cutters, tile nippers and similar pliers that use this type of spring. In fact, they fit all of them we tried in the studio, which was a pile of various brands of cutters and nippers that we had acquired over a 20 year period, all of which had lost their springs almost immediately. You might need to enlarge or flatten the ends of the springs to get them on some brands, but I doubt it. I merely placed the springs on the knobs and squeezed the handles together, and they snapped right on.

An Alternative To Replacing Springs

I never understood why people complained about the springs coming off because it happened almost immediately with every nipper and cutter I ever bought, and you don’t need to have too much dexterity to use a nipper or cutter without the spring.

Here is a video I made for how to use a mosaic glass cutter that was missing its spring:



How To Cut Marble Small

Recently a customer emailed me asking how to cut a piece of marble mosaic tile into very small pieces. He reported that he could easily cut the marble tile into thirds by making straight cuts, but when he attempted smaller pieces or diagonal cuts, the marble would crumble or break into jagged pieces

The customer verified that he had the correct tool for cutting extremely hard tile, which is a compound nipper, but the problem is in the stone (and the technique to a certain extent) and not the tool. This article explains how to make cuts that take into account natural breaking points in the stone and how to use a marble file to file down extra small pieces instead of cutting.

Homogeneous And Thinly Layered Stone Types Cut Better

Whether or not a piece of stone tile can be easily cut into small pieces depends on the type of stone. Some varieties can be cut into thin sections while other varieties are likely to crumble or break irregularly when cut to any size. This is due to the internal structure of the stone. If a stone is homogeneous or composed of many thin layers, then it probably can be cut into thin pieces without breaking randomly. But other types of stone have veins and globs and swirls, and these types are likely to break along these natural internal structures instead of the intended line between the blades.

Note that some types of stone have natural swirls of color that do NOT act as natural fault planes, so you can’t always assume a stone will be difficult to cut reliably merely from variegated color.

Take Veins, Globs, Swirls And Layers into Account

With practice and experience, you can learn to look at the veins, globs, swirls and layers in the stone and make your cuts in places where the stone is likely to break naturally. Just as an experienced carpenter knows to avoid diving fasteners into knots in wood, an experienced mosaicist knows to make cuts along natural boundaries. Even then, there are still some varieties of stone where scrap has to be generated to get small pieces by cutting. However, there is a way to make small pieces from difficult stone types

File Instead Of Cutting

For problematic varieties of stone, you can use the fine side of a marble file to file a piece down to size instead of cutting it. Of course, you may need to make an initial cut with a tile nipper to get the stone to a manageable starting point before using the file. In fact, you may discover a lot of useful starting pieces in the “useless scrap” created by previous cuts.

Once you get accustomed to using a marble file, you may start to think of rough cuts as just an initial step followed by shaping with a marble file. For really small pieces, you can completely alter the shape of the tesserae with just a few strokes because all of the abrasion is focused on such a small surface area. You should hold the file still and rub the stone on the motionless file for greater control.

Tip: Wear gloves for this task because it is difficult to slide the tiny pieces up and down the file without scratching up your fingertips. If gloves make your hands too clumsy, then use a shop rag over your fingertip instead. As always, use mist from a spray bottle to control dust and wear a dust mask if needed.

Of course, this isn’t a scalable solution, meaning you wouldn’t want to have to do this for very many tesserae, but it is useful for making a limited number of small pieces for fine details in a mosaic mainly made from larger pieces.

Plan Mosaic Designs Starting At The Smallest Detail

Sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is prevention. It doesn’t make sense to start with a mosaic pattern that has details smaller than the smallest piece of tile you can cut, but many novices make this error, which often results in a key focal point of the mosaic being more crudely executed than the background. Instead of assuming that you can always just cut the tile smaller to make the smallest detail of a mosaic, do the exact opposite: Before you begin executing the mosaic, take the smallest detail of your design and try cutting and arranging a few tiles to make that detail. If the tile is too difficult to cut that small, or if it is too tedious to arrange properly, then consider making the mosaic larger (or simplifying the smaller details of the design).

The size of a mosaic (or a painting) is ultimately determined by the size of the smallest detail that can be rendered. The principle seems obvious in hindsight, but in practice it catches many people by surprise. Why? Because they can visualize the smallest detail easily but do not realize that their powers of execution are much more limited.

Take the stress out of your mosaic project by playing with tile before you begin. Cut a little bit of it up and play around making patterns, and then decide how detailed your design should be and how large it should be. If your total area is already fixed (due to the size of an existing surface to be tiled), then try cropping or simplifying your design.

Terracotta Flower Pots Mosaic Warning

Terracotta flower pots are highly susceptible to freeze damage because the material is extremely porous. Moisture seeps into the tiny pores, freezes and expands, and then the surface flakes off as shown below. However, it is possible to use terracotta as a mosaic base provided the mosaic is mounted correctly and the artist understands the limitations of the material.


Terracotta flower pots are highly vulnerable to freeze damage because they are soft and porous. The damage could have been minimized by sealing the pot inside and out with a tile and grout sealer.

Minimizing Damage To Terracotta Flower Pots

Freeze damage can be minimized by sealing the flower pot inside and out with a tile and grout sealer from a local building material store. Tile and grout sealers are silicone products that plug tiny pores and prevent moisture penetration. They can also interfere with bonding, so we recommend sealing the flower pot AFTER your mosaic is complete. Note that even if you do seal a terracotta pot very well with multiple applications of sealant, it still won’t last as long as a concrete pot would.

Concrete Pots Are Preferred

A terracotta pot might be an acceptable base for an abstract mosaic quickly made from random colorful tile, but detailed mosaic designs take more time and effort than that, and they deserve a more durable base. Concrete flower pots and planters are available at most lawn and garden centers, and whatever extra cost is well worth it. A single winter of hard freezes can totally destroy a terracotta flower pot left outdoors. Also terracotta is also easily broken and cracked during normal use.

Sure you might already have terracotta pots at home that you could use for free, but how much money are you saving if the mosaic doesn’t last six months? Once you take the time to mix up mortar and attach the tile, you’ll be glad you took the time to find a concrete base, even if your design is just random tile.

Use Mortar Not Glue

The tiles should be attached with thinset mortar instead of glue. White PVA adhesives such as the Weldbond we sell are water resistant when fully cured, but there is a difference between water resistant and water proof. Flower pots are containers full of damp soil, and that means the back of the mosaic will be continually subjected to moisture and acids from decaying organic matter. The acidity of the leach water means that flower pots may be a more extreme environment for mosaics than pools and fountains.

Thinset mortar can also be used to grout your mosaic. Both grout and thinset are powdered portland cement products, but the thinset is stronger and more adhesive. If you are going to have to purchase a powdered cement product to make the mosaic, get the better product (thinset), and use it for everything. You can even reinforce the inside of a terracotta flower pot by plastering it with thinset.