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How to create a simple mosaic tabletop

Add a mosaic tile tope to any size table and you will have a beautiful art piece that will last a long time.

Do you have an old table that has been stored away because it needs some jazzing up? Perhaps you have found an unfinished end table that would look great if it just had a more colorful look. Creating a mosaic top may just be the solution. It's easy and fun and you will have a piece of art that is both durable and long-lasting.

Before you begin, decide on a design and select tiles or ceramic pieces in varying colors. Home improvement stores will have supplies for gluing, laying, and grouting the tiles. Hobby stores also carry supplies for this craft project.

Other supplies include:
-Heavy-duty rubber gloves (mortar and grout will eat through latex gloves)
-Dust Mask
-Eye protection
-Tile Nippers
-Notched trowel
-Rubber grouting trowel
-Several plastic shopping bags
-Landscape mesh or netting
-Household glue
-Thin-set mortar - look for polymer-modified thin-set mortar. Color does not matter.
-Grout - grout colors vary; choose non-sanded or sanded. If the spaces between tile pieces are less than 1/8" use non-sanded. If the spaces will be variable and larger than 1/8-inch, then use sanded. (Non-sanded is easier to apply, but with the inconsistency of the tile pieces in this project, sanded is recommended.)
-Grout sealer
-Buckets or bowls for water, mortar, and grout
-Sponges for cleaning grout from tiles
-Small spray bottle
-Hand-held electric grinder (optional; useful for rounding sharp points after tiles are laid and grouted)

Outdoor tables will require tiles that can withstand extreme temperatures and moisture, such as those used in bathrooms or on patios. You can find these at specialty ceramic and tile stores or at home improvement stores. Specialty stores will have a wider range of colors, but you may be required to purchase a complete box.

If your table will be located indoors, then you can check discount stores or garage sales for low-priced china in your choice of colors.

Mosaic art can be free-form with no particular pattern or tile arrangement. Simply smash your tile pieces and place them in a random pattern.

If you have a particular design in mind, use the following procedure:

Draw a pattern with bold outlines on a piece of paper to fit the size of your project. You can also create the image on a computer and print it out in "tiled" format for larger works. A local print shop will have a copier that may be able to enlarge your drawing to the required size.

Place the pattern face up on a flat work surface. Add a layer of wax paper or plastic wrap on top. Next, cut mesh or landscape netting to fit. The outer perimeter should be about ½ inch less than the outside perimeter of your table. This will ensure that the netting does not show when you grout around the outer edge of your table. Make sure you can still see the art underneath.

Purchase enough tiles or china to complete the project; you will need some overage. You will lose some to chipping; smaller, unusable pieces are inevitable when breaking up the tiles.

Take two plastic bags and place one inside the other. Place tiles or plate flat in the bag. Hammer the top of the bag to break up the tiles. Watch for sharp edges and continue pounding the tiles until you have several small pieces in different shapes. You should be wearing gloves when handling these tiles. You can soften pointed edges with tile nippers.

Begin laying your tiles on the netting, without using glue. Use tile nippers to cut odd pieces that need to fit within your pattern sections, especially at the color breaks. Edge tiles should be straight as they will be visible at the perimeter of your table.

Once all tiles are in place and you are happy with the design, you can begin the gluing process. Squeeze out a small pool of glue on a separate piece of wax paper. Pick up each tile, dip it, and replace it in its original position on the mesh.

Using this method, you will know exactly where each tile fits and should be able to create precise gaps between each piece.

Let the glue set for a few hours. Cut two pieces of cardboard to fit the project. Slide one underneath the bottom layer and place the other on top. Carefully flip the tiles over and remove the plastic wrap or wax paper. Return the mosaic to its upright position using the two pieces of cardboard. Remove the cardboard - you are now ready to prepare the tabletop.

Sand and clean the tabletop so that it is free of dust and debris. Allow to dry if you used a liquid cleaner.

Leave the mosaic in this position for another 24 hours. Now you are ready to prepare the thin-set mortar. Follow manufacturer's instructions for adding water to the mortar.

Use the notched trowel to apply a thin layer of mortar to the tabletop. Spread to edges in a crosshatch pattern.

You may need assistance to lift the mosaic piece and position it on the tabletop. Make sure the mosaic top is flush with the table's edges. You may lose a piece of tile during the process. Just return it to the proper place and press into the mortar--no need to re-glue. Press the tiles down and check that the surface is mostly level. Remove excess mortar that squeezes up between the tile pieces.

Let the mortar set up for about 24 hours.

You are now ready to grout. Mix the grout per manufacturer's instructions. Pour the mixture on top of the mosaic and begin pushing into the spaces with a rubber trowel. You can use a rubber-gloved finger instead. Make several swipes with the trowel or your finger so the grout fills the spaces; you want to eliminate air pockets. Smooth the outer edges with a finger so that grout and tiles are even.

Use dry paper towels to remove excess grout from the tiles. You do not have to remove it all. Wait a couple of hours. Use clean water and a wet sponge to begin removing grout haze from the tops of the tiles. Do not disturb the grout in between tiles, as it will come up with the water.

When you have removed most the haze, the table must begin "curing" before use. You will need a spray bottle filled with water to mist the grout twice a day for about ten days. After that time, you can seal the grout and being using your table.

Should you find any sharp points on the tiles after the grout has dried, use a hand-held electric grinder to smooth the edges.

Grout sealer is now available in spray form and is easy to use. We have had success with spray-on sealing products. Re-seal the grout annually.

Enjoy your new table and do not hesitate to use it. Mosaic tiles are hardy and should be able to withstand normal use for a long, long time.


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