How to Make a Tile
I was requested to make a "MORE ABOUT THESE TILES YOU MAKE! PICTURES PLEASE" list but the company I work for, Pratt and Larson, has hundreds and hundreds of different designs of tiles so I figured I'd show you all it takes just to make one of our gorgeous pieces.
- •Extrude the clayEvery morning we start our day by cutting slabs of clay to a specific width and height. These are called "slugs" and we use a big ol' machine called an extruder to do this. 25lb blocks are thrown in and a specific sized flat stream of clay comes out sort of like a meat grinder. The slugs are cut and put onto boards which fill up levels on a bakery rack. We make as many levels of the size of clay we need for the pieces were making that day.
- •Pick your pressWe have 5 different presses at P&L- 3 small and 2 large. Each press is good at making different types of tiles. The small presses are good for small pieces (up to about 6" long and 3" wide) and can crank out a lot in a day. The two larger presses make our bigger items (up to 6" X 12" as well as things that are tall like big trim that looks like branches) and make fewer tiles a day.
- •Pick your dies- topEach design has its own plaster die that we have to remake any time the plaster chips, the design cracks due to pressure or the image wears away due to over use. We can get about 1,000 presses from a die so depending on the quantity ordered or the popularity of a piece, we have to make new plaster dies on the regular. The image on the die is a reverse of the image we are making and the gutters around the outside help make a clean, square tile by compressing the clay.
- •Bottom dieThe presses take a top die with an image and smoosh it down to a bottom die that is usually flat with our company name on it. Sometimes we have special two part dies for making corners or tiles that need to have a waffled back to keep the weight of the piece down. The dies are made of plaster and have an airline that runs through them. The airline is activated in order to push moisture in the plaster out in the form of water that keeps the clay from sticking.
- •Set up the diesThe bottom and top dies need to be set with as little space as possible between them. Too much space and you can't remove a clean piece of tile from the flashing (that's what all the scrap clay that gets smooshed out is called) and too little space and the plaster dies will crack due to the force of the press bringing them together. Setting a bite is fun and challenging and when you set a good one you can really blow through tiles quickly and it feels damn good.
- •Cut the slugEach slug is cut a specific way to get the right amount of tiles from it. This board has two 4 1/2" slugs on it that are cut into six pieces to get 12 4X4 tiles from it. The cut slug is then placed on the bottom die and you either press buttons or push down handles (depending on the type of press) to bring the top die down, smoosh the clay, send water through the airline so it doesn't stick and then let go to send the top die back up and leave you with a nice looking tile stuck to the bottom die
- •Give it a counter bendOnce you've pulled the tile off the bottom die using the moisture pushed out by the airline you have to give the piece a counter bend. As the clay dries it wants to curl up so we bend the piece of tile to counteract anything it might do while it dries. Clay has a memory so if we give it a good bend it will remember that motion and not give us a headache later in the form of warped tiles.
- •Fill a board, repeatOnce you've filled a board, cut and repeat. We make all these tiles by hand from start to finish so they are not cheap but, as you can see, a little love and a lot of energy goes into making just one!