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flat tile

updated wed 31 may 06


Stephani Stephenson on tue 30 may 06

Flat tiles, flat tiles...
Part of the answer is hidden in the question
which begins with
clay, clay, clay
the commercial bodies we buy,
are , for the most part, broad brush stroke here, not great tile bodies
they are too wet, they don't have the
right % or size distribution of grog
i.e. they are problematic.
Though they are all around useful claybodies
for the classroom, the potter, etc.
one must do a lot of exploring and testing to find a serviceable,
suitable and attractive
claybody for tile,
The long range answer to find or formulate a good claybody, yourself .
If you aren't able to do the testing yourself
consult with your distributor or someone else to find a suitable
custom body.
but then , with a custom body , you usually need to order it by the
so, understandably , for many, it is back to exploring
the "off the rack" bodies.

When you do this you often end up settling for something that will 'do'
in some areas
color, glaze response, shrinkage, etc.
but it lacks desirable attributes in other areas.
Nature of the beast if you are buying small quantities.

Chris makes a good point. It is absurd to spend a lot of time
fussing over elaborate drying rituals unless you are making small
quantities for personal use or
occasional projects or simply enjoy elaborate drying rituals....
a couple of you mentioned that you make tiles hearkening back to the
craftsman era
there is no way they would have fussed over drying single tiles as
much as we seem to fuss.
there was too much tile to make and too much else to do. there's labor
enough in the whole process.
some of those tiles were dust pressed. others had high amounts of grog.
I have a good amount of respect for those
tilemakers . Clay is key to reducing labor and improving product.

We get use to seeing dust pressed tile and our aesthetic is geared
toward envisioning very thin, very flat, very smooth tile.
Wrong model.
Find a nice flat tile, made from moist clay. cut it with a tile saw.
look at the cross section. observe it.
study it. Compare it to a dust press tile. a machine pressed tile.
I think that with hand pressed tile, warping in drying happens when
you start with a clay that is too wet AND has too little grog.
those two variable work independently and togeter , for you or against
Warping also occurs when you exert uneven pressure in the pressing
process. Uneven compression, or areas of the tile which are stretched
or in tension
next to areas which are compressed. BINGO. cracking and/or warping/
in your repetetive hand motion do you press one side more than the
other , the center more or less than the sides?

With extruding, rolling or pressing...are you handling the clay when it
is too wet? let it set up a bit before you cut.
I have never had success with the 'dropping the clay on the floor
my drops get a wee bit too much english , land at angles
for me causes more problems than it least dropping slabs.
maybe pre-dropping the entire bag....
but for some this works.

old style slabs were not made by rolling , they were made by slamming
wet clay into
contained areas and letting it set up..
there's a whole way of working that went along with places that also
made their own clay.
I think we have been going about it wrong
though well intentioned. I am reexamining the whole thing. Sort of at
one of those points where one minute you think you have climbed pretty
far up the ladder,
then step back, realize maybe it has been the wrong ladder....

for the most part I am like Chris... I press or extrude the tile, get
it on a board, the board is in the shade, then walk away
Even when I am using a commercial not so great body for a particular
when the clay is set up still somewhere shy of leather hard I stack
or clamp them, I.E. stand them vertically like books on a bookshelf.
usually I do that for space conserving reasons, not for drying voodoo
then leave again. funny I will notice maybe there is one in the whole
bunch that will warp no matter what...
I cull it.

I have observed that beginners tend to want to make tiles that are too
large with clay that is too wet, too plastic,
and also will roll
tiles, and tend to roll them too thin.

each clay has it's own properties, each person their own methods of
handling. but those are some things I notice about folks starting out.
unless of course you want to work with say, porcelain with fiber, then
go thin baby, have fun...find your way.

we demand a lot from a tile body..we want to be smooth so as to
register detail, yet we also want the admirable low shrinkage and
flat drying properties of a
body typically containing higher amounts of grog.
we want it to shrink little, dry flat, fire flat, yet we also want it
to be vitreous enough to have low absorption and nice glaze response.
We want a stiff or dry body to reduce shrinkage, yet we also need it
moist or workable enough do it can be extruded, rolled or pressed,
(unless of course one has a RAM press...then one CAN work with stiffer
dryer clay and count on a nice even tonnage of pressure)
We like the properties of some of the raku bodies but find the color of
them boring .
We like the behaviour of some of terra cotta bodies but want lighter
clay colors.
Some of the talc bodies have good glaze response etc at lower temps but
handle like crap when it comes to making related slab pieces.

so yeah, takes a while to work out the kinks! but I do think the
typical "am I turning it enough, drying it under absolutely,
absolutely perfect conditions"
questions, are not the questions that hold the answers.....

tile on, weary tilers!

Stephani Stephenson