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Getting Started In Mosaics – What to Expect

(part 3 of 7)
assortment of vitreous tiles in bright colors

Part 3. Tesserae and Tools.

Let's talk tesserae. Tesserae is a term for any object used in creating a mosaic; for instance, vitreous tiles, stained glass, found objects, ceramic tiles, smalti, etc.

For beginners, I recommend starting with vitreous tiles. These are generally ¾" square glass tiles that come in many different colors, generally on a mesh sheet or by the pound, and can be purchased from craft and home improvement stores or ordered online from mosaic suppliers. Easy to cut with wheeled nippers, they are fine for interior or exterior but check first with the manufacturer to see if they are rated for floors, as they may be very hazardous when wet and may crack if something drops on them.

Stained Glass is another material mosaic artists use. It can come in glass sheets, already cut pieces such as Nippinglass, and sometimes you can buy it by the pound from someone's scrap. Wheeled nippers work well with Nippinglass; however, to cut glass sheets and large pieces, you will need to have special stained glass tools for scoring and breaking it.

woman cutting shapes from nippinglass with wheeled nippers

Found objects are just what they say they are, objects you can find all around you. Pebbles, shells, stones, almost anything you think is interesting can be used in a mosaic. Generally, you will use a thick layer of thinset to imbed them into and these objects are usually not grouted, due to having surfaces that are not easily cleaned from grout.

Ceramic tiles are commonly used and easy to buy at home improvement stores or perhaps scraps from your local tile store. You can cut them with nippers, tile cutters or break them with a hammer. They come in a variety of colors and have a hard glaze on one side.

Smalti, millefiori, mirror, and other miscellaneous tiles are fun to use. They add great splashes of color and detail. Make sure you use an adhesive designed to be used with each of these.

China is another material that is used frequently. Old dishes, cups, bowls, can be broken or cut and will give your mosaics a cool 3-D effect. Most dishes have curves to them, so you will have to take this into consideration before cutting and gluing it if you need a flat piece.

Tools: a Mosaicists' Arsenal

For most of the mosaic artists I know, wheeled nippers are their main tool. They will cut most of the tesserae I've mentioned and are easy to use.

Another helpful tool, Skeewpicks are new to the marketplace and are extremely handy when you need to clean and detail your mosaic. They get in and around tiles better than others and are easy to use. Watch this video to see how Skeewpicks work.


Tile nippers are another favorite and can also cut most tiles. Using only part of the blade, and cutting in from the side of the tile, squeeze firmly.

For cutting large pieces of stained glass, some of the special tools you'll need is a glass scorer which will make a score on the glass and then you will use a running plier to "snap" the glass apart.

Grinders are another helpful tool for getting rid of those rough edges that nippers or other cutters can leave. Here's another video that will show you how well a grinder works. Watch it here.

A tile cutter is used by tile layers for cutting larger pieces of ceramic tiles. The lever will score the top and then when you press harder, it will break the tiles.

Other tools and supplies you probably already have and will need in time are listed below. There are probably more but this is a good start. :

  • Tape measure
  • Sponges for spreading grout
  • Pencils
  • Markers
  • Rulers
  • Tweezers for small pieces hard to handle
  • Rags to clean grout
  • Buckets for mixing thinset and grout
  • Float for applying grout on delicate surfaces
  • Trowel for applying thinset in large areas

In my next blog post, I will write more detail on cutting tesserae. Hope you make it back here soon. In the meantime, check out some of the other cool stuff on the website.

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