Getting Tiles OFF of Paper or Mesh-Backed Sheets0February 17th, 2010Handmade/Crafters, Mosaic Artists, Mosaic How-To's, Mosaic Materials & Supplies, Online Crafter Resources
Today, I was prepping some paper-backed tile sheets that I had ordered online (Gems on the Rocks store on ebay) to get them separated into colors and ready in their jars for the next masterpiece (heh! heh!). I was thinking that it might be helpful to take some photos and share a narrative of working with these kinds of tiles for those of you out there who have asked me about how you “deal” with tiles that come on paper or mesh-backed sheets.
Often, it is easier for a tile manufacturer to mount small tiles onto sheets of paper or mesh rather than trying to count, sort, and ship them in their 3/4″ to 3″ individual pieces. Also; many tile layers, homeowners, and mosaic artists use the tiles’ sheets to hold the tiles together so that they can be mounted evenly and in larger sections (usually 12″x12″) than with individual little tiny tiles. If you are interested in mounting tiles by the sheet, there are LOTS of websites and books out there about how to correctly do so. Today, I’m not going to be addressing those mounting needs, but, rather, when one needs to work with the individual tiles that are mounted on paper or mesh-backed sheets.
I’ll start with paper-backed sheets of tiles; the tiles are mounted onto brown ‘kraft’ paper with a standard white glue that is meant for removal purposes (in the case of mounting whole sheets at once, the paper is removed as the last step of the tile application, just before grouting). Therefore, the tiles easily come off the paper sheets; easier than you would ever realize if you didn’t know better. Here I will refer to the step-by-step photos of the process I follow…
1) The first photo shows several small sheets (4″x4″?) of 3/4″ glass vitreous tiles, which are often used in mosaics. Usually, you will see these tiles mounted to sheets of 12″x12″ paper; these just happened to be “sample” sheets of colors from Gems on the Rocks. I arrange several in either the tub, a sink, or a portable soaker tub like this one here, that I paid a whole $1 for at where else; Dollar Tree! I like the portable nature because I can sit the tub wherever I want and not take up (real) tub or sink room or get gucky water in them. Some people say to never soak several colors at once because then you’ll have to sort the colors afterward, to put into containers, but–I’d rather make fewer trips to the bath or whatever area I’m soaking them in, and then sort them quickly afterward than make a million trips back & forth to soak each tile color separately. It really depends on how many different tile colors you are dealing with; if it is just a few, then separate “soaks’ makes sense to me.
2) Put 4-5 squirts of a regular liquid hand or dish soap and enough hot water to fill the container about 2/3 full. Let tiles sit and soak for about 1-2 hours.
3) After soaking, grab a sheet of tiles and see if they easily come off the backer paper (they should basically slide right off and not leave any backer paper remnants on the backs of the tiles). If not (like in photo above), let soak for another hour or so and maybe add hot water (this doesn’t happen very often if you follow the aforementioned directions).
4) Once you’ve taken all the (now-blank) paper sheets out of the soaking bin and thrown them away, you can now pour off all of the water in the bin (or drain the tub or sink). (See photo below.) Be careful to have a drain guard so that you don’t have tiles going down the drain when you do this! The tiles will remain on the bottom of whatever container for the most part, because they are heavier than the water and will sink.
5) Next, after I’ve drained all the excess water from the tub or sink, I spread the wet tiles out onto my cushioned bath mat in the tub (this protects both the tub’s surface and the tiles themselves from inadvertently breaking ). You could also lay them out on a towel or, if you’re really in a hurry or impatient or just kinda happily OCD, you can take a towel and dry each and every one right away! What –I– do, though, is leave them to dry for several hours; how long depends on if you’re in a place like dry Colorado, like I am, or someplace a little more “wet”, like, say, the Pacific Northwest (heh!heh!; let’s see who comments on THAT one!).
6) The picture above shows my dried tiles ready to be sorted by color into their respective containers. For tile-storing purposes, you can use almost any containers you want, but I REALLY recommend using ones that are CRYSTAL CLEAR; I initially made the mistake of getting some that weren’t totally clear and it was a pain in the a*s to try to peer through the container to see what color the tiles were. I use a LOT of recycled containers; jars are excellent; food jars, health & beauty products, etc. Because we don’t eat enough on a constant basis to support an all-recylced militia of containers, I have bought others at garage sales, thrift stores, and the dollar store.
7) Oftentimes, small tiles will also come on mesh-backed sheets (almost always in 12″x12″ sheets). The photo above shows an example of some glass mosaic tiles that came on a mesh-backed sheet. See the photo below for the mesh backside of these tiles:
So, with mesh-backed tiles, you can follow the same steps as for paper-backed tiles to remove the individual tiles, though you may need to use more soap, hotter water, and soak them for longer (but not necessarily). However, I don’t even worry about the soaking for the mesh-backed ones; I just cut them away from each other with scissors. This is a great option for, say, using a patterned tile sheet like the one above to make strips or a border and not have to lay out every single, individual tile. This also saves you the time and effort of the whole soaking/drying/sorting process and allows you to store the sheets flat rather than to add more containers to your collection (which is like having a bunch of candy jars everywhere, which I love, but, that’s another topic!) I just make sure to cut as close to the bottom edges of the tile as possible with my scissors or box knife, so that there isn’t any of the mesh bits to stick up through my adhesive or grout and subsequently show up in my finished piece (NOT pretty!). The photo below shows me cutting the tile sheet with normal scissors.
As usual, I hope this has been helpful, and, if you have any related tips or cautions you’d like to add, please do! Also, always feel free to post any related questions you might have; I’ll give you the ‘ol teacher’s mantra; “There are no dumb questions” and, “If you have a question, there are probably several others who have the same question.”