Kids Article Full Length
Full text of Kids Page magazine article, complete with asides and a project for kids to do at home.
These days tiles are made out of a lot of different things—stone, wood, metal, even leather! (But porcelain is probably the type of tile you see most, so we thought we'd tell you a little about how porcelain tiles are made.) We've also got a nifty recipe for making tiles of your own from things you can find in your kitchen.
How Are Tiles Made?
These days tiles are made out of a lot of different things—stone, wood, metal, even leather! (But porcelain is probably the type of tile you see most, so we thought we'd tell you a little about how porcelain tiles are made.) We've also got a nifty recipe for making tiles of your own from things you can find in your kitchen. The basic process has been around a loooooong time (thousands of years). You shape clay (certain kinds of dirt, mixed with minerals and water) into a flat block and you bake it. Simple, right? Here's the trick, though, most ceramic tiles need to be baked at temperatures higher than your kitchen oven will ever go. (That's why our recipe is a little different than the clay you'll find in pottery class.)
Remember that geometry lesson where you learned that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? Well, porcelain is a type of ceramic, but not all types of ceramic are porcelain. Porcelain, one of the most beautiful ceramics, is a mix of specific types of clay and minerals: kaolin, feldspar, silica and quartz (and sometimes others). Kaolin, also known as China Clay because it was originally only found in China, is the white powder that gives porcelain its translucent look. European traders took beautiful samples of Chinese porcelain home with them in the 1500s and craftsmen from many European countries did their best to copy them, but they were missing a key ingredient—there wasn't any kaolin in Europe. Well, there was, but it took them 200 more years to find it.
What's the difference between Porcelain China and Bone China?
Bone china is actually made with the ash of ground up animal bones (yes really!)—one of the 16th Century European attempts to replace kaolin. Once kaolin deposits were discovered in Europe, kaolin was mixed with the bone ash in a recipe that is still used today.
That's a long time to wait, so in the meantime craftsmen in Europe tried using different things instead of or in combination with kaolin imported from China (this was so expensive, and hard to get, it was called "white gold" and only small amounts of it were used!) Eventually, a few decent imitations were developed. These were referred to as soft-paste porcelain, because they didn't hold their shape as well before firing (baking) and often melted in the kiln if the temperatures were too high. This also made the finished pieces more fragile, since high heat and longer firing times help give true porcelain its strength.
Ever hear of the porcelain throne?
Yep—the toilet. Toilets have been made of porcelain since the 1800s. You might think with all the advances in technology that would have changed by now. But, as they say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Porcelain is waterproof and durable, but, best of all, it isn't porous, which means it doesn't absorb things. When you're talking toilets, that means it doesn't absorb bacteria... and... y'know, other stuff, which is fine by me!
Check out the next pages for some fun tile options to make at home.
MAKING YOUR OWN TILES AT HOME
Since most people don't have access to a professional kiln and your oven won't get as hot as it would have to for genuine porcelain, we're going to imitate those 16th Century Europeans and substitute ingredients for what you probably have handy at home.
Materials You Will Need
2 cups flour (your kaolin)
1 cup salt (your feldspar, silica and quartz)
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vegetable or baby oil (because flour isn't really a clay and this will help it act more like one... Oh, and if you're one of those kids that never met an art project they didn't want to taste, use the vegetable oil... trust us on this one)
Something to stir with (we're partial to wooden spoons—they don't warp when the stirring gets tough)
A large mixing bowl
A surface to roll out the dough on, like a large wooden cutting board
A rolling pin
A knife (if you're not old enough to handle one of these things yet, make sure the knife comes attached to a parent)
A cookie sheet
STEP 1: Preheat oven to 325ºF (We know you know this already, but ovens are HOT and you know how parents are about kids and hot things—be sure you get their permission BEFORE you turn the oven on!)
STEP 2: Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and stir 'em up.
STEP 3: Add the oil and cold water to the flour and salt and mix it all together to make a smooth clay that you can roll into a ball that doesn't stick to everything. If you your mix is too sticky, add some more flour a little at a time. If it's kind of crumbly and won't stick together, add water a little at a time.
STEP 4: Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it's about 1/4" thick (about the width of a pencil.)
STEP 5: Trim off the edges of the dough to make a square tile. You can now cut this big square tile into four smaller tiles of equal size (or see "Fancy Options" on next page).
STEP 6: Cover your cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Try not to get it wrinkly, so the back of your tile will stay flat.
STEP 7: Carefully place the squares onto the foil covered cookie sheet.
STEP 8: Put the tiles in the oven and bake until dry, but not burned. About 10 minutes (see NOTE in the "Fancy Options" section on next page).
STEP 9: Remove (or have your parents remove) the cookie sheet from the oven and lightly spray the tiles with hairspray or acrylic spray and let them cool.
(Read all of this before you cut tiles or bake)
If you were to walk into a tile showroom, you'd find hundreds of different options to choose from, so we wanted to give you some choices for your project.
SHAPES: You don't have to just make square tiles that are the same size. Many modern tile floors combine different sizes of squares and rectangles in their design. In STEP 5, you can also cut your large tile in more than four pieces and they can be square or rectangular. note: If you make different size tiles, the smaller ones will bake faster, so check on them every few minutes to make sure they're not getting brown. You may have to take the smaller ones out before the bigger ones are done. (That's why a lot of people will just make four tiles the same size—they'll probably be finished all at the same time—but we like to get creative and take a walk on the wild side every now and then.)
TEXTURES: Before you bake, you can create textures on your tiles in several different ways. You can press things into the tile to make impressions—wood, marbles, rubber stamps, get creative (just be sure you get permission if your creativity has led you into someone else's toy chest). You can use a toothpick or something like it to make grooves and lines on part or all of the tile. You can also use the trimmed off edges of your clay to add shapes to the top of your tile (add food coloring to these scraps to add extra pizazz!) Sometimes these don't stick to the tiles once they've baked, so be ready with some glue. The idea is to have fun.
COLORS: Porcelain is white but often painted with beautiful, colorful designs to make it interesting. Following the directions on the previous page, your dough will be white, too and we thought it might be fun to add some color. In keeping with the "safe to eat (if not tasty)" theme, we picked food coloring for paint. You can either mix it into your dough before rolling it out (this can take A LOT of food coloring and remember putting too many colors in will make brown) or you can roll out and cut your tiles, then paint the food coloring on (see note with the picture on the previous page.) Or, you could do a combination of both. If you click on and watch the video above, you'll see another way to color (and texture) your tiles. Coffee. Who knew?
DISPLAY: Poke a hole in your tile before baking so once it's done you can use ribbon or string to proudly hang and display your newly-created tiles. Make the hole a little bigger than you want it, since the tile may shrink a little when baked, and make sure it's far enough away from the edge that it won't break when tied.