How to Hand Carve Decorative Tile

Carve your own design into a clay tile and color glaze it with these simple steps.

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Materials and Tools:

cone 06 white clay body (smooth, no grog)
6-by-6-inch tile cutter
wire tool
long straight rib
carving tools
2-by-3-foot heavy-duty 21-ounce canvas
cone 06 glaze
slab roller
kiln
old 12-by-12-inch floor tile (optional)
mold release agent (optional)
scrap wood (optional)
plaster (optional)
rubber mallet (optional)
rolling pin (optional)

Steps:

1. With a slab roller, roll out a piece of clay a little larger than 6 by 6 inches.

2. Smooth the slab with a large rib. Flip the slab and smooth the other side.

3. With the tile cutter, cut out a tile and place it on a ware board to firm up. Cover the tile and wait a day or two before carving the design on the tile.

4. Sketch a design on a piece of paper or make a copy of a selected image. Place it on the tile and trace it onto the tile with a pencil.

5. Visualize the image in three dimensions. Identify the elements of the image that would, in real life, be closest to you¾they should be raised the most on the tile. Using the larger triangular MRS tool, carve those parts first, but don't go very deep into the clay¾just enough to see the image. As you move on to the parts that are farther away, carve deeper.

6. When carving is complete, let the tile air dry slowly under plastic for a few days. Then uncover to let it completely dry.

7. Bisque-fire the tile to cone 04 (1,945 degrees).

Note: If you wish to make a mold of the tile, skip ahead to step 10.

8. When cool after firing, glaze the tile with a cone 06 glaze. Note: Cone 06 glaze is a colored transparent celadon-type glaze that will move a little and pool in the deeper parts of the carving.

9. Fire again, to cone 06. Let cool.

10. To make a mold of the tile, place the tile face up on a flat surface. Use an old 12-by-12-inch floor tile. Coat the tile completely with a mold release agent. (mold soap or petroleum jelly works well).

11. Center the coated tile and fill in the bottom part of the tile with wet clay to prevent the plaster from flowing under the tile.

12. Build a scrap-wood frame that's at least 2 inches taller and 2 inches wider than the tile. Fill in the cracks and seams with wet clay. Spray mold release on the wood. Place the frame around the tile.

13. Prepare a water/plaster mixture of seven parts water to 10 parts plaster, mixing together thoroughly.

14. Pour the plaster mixture into the wood frame and over the tile.

15. Using a rubber mallet, vibrate the wood frame to cause the air bubbles to rise to the plaster's surface.

16. Let the plaster harden for 30 to 40 minutes.

17. When cured, remove the frame from the plaster block.

18. Remove the tile from the plaster and allow to dry for a week. Put the mold aside for about a week to dry.

19. When the original tile is dry, finish it with steps 8 and 9.

20. To use the mold, roll out a piece of clay into a flat slab and cut it close to the size of the mold opening. Place the clay in the mold and roll it flat into the mold with a rolling pin. After a few minutes, the new tile is ready to be removed from the mold.

21. Allow the new tile to completely dry and finish it with steps 7, 8 and 9.

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