A few years ago, I bought a fabulous outdoor table at the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena, one of the world's greatest flea markets. The base of the table was wrought iron, authentically weather and aged, just the way I love. The table featured a glass top.
During renovation of my back yard, when I converted my freestanding garage into an office and debris was strewn all over the place, the glass top cracked. I gave a moment's thought to replacing the glass and then came up with the idea of covering the table top in mosaic tiles, a look I have always admired.
I read several craft books on mosaics that advised that for outdoor use, it was best to mount the tiles on green board, the waterproof drywall material used for bathrooms and kitchens. The problem was that I could not find green board in the size of my table. One Saturday, I drove past a sheet metal shop and thought, why not? I bought a circle of heavy-duty aluminum cut to fit my table top.
When I got the metal sheet home, I quickly realized that it did not fit into the lip of my table base—but it almost fit. I took a heavy metal file and filed down the rough edges until, voila, the sheet metal slid snuggly and firmly onto the tabletop. (Good thing I will never have to remove it!)
Now I was ready to think about design. I decided on circles, lots of circles. I used two strings crisscrossed to find the exact center of the circle where I positioned 4 Mexican tiles. Using another string, I held one end in the center and traced large circles with the other end. (I used a thick magic marker to write on the metal.) Then I cut a piece of cardboard into a circle and traced the shape as scallops around the edges of the table. I had my basic design.
For this table, I purchased three boxes of tiles in four different colors: blue, green, yellow and terra cotta. These were the least expensive tiles in the home improvement store but they were also four beautiful colors that matched the more costly Mexican tiles in the center of the table. I thought about where I wanted the colors to go and labeled each space in terms of color placement so that I would not get confused once I started gluing. (My other favorite hobby is needle pointing which requires a similar attention to detail and color placement.)
Now for the fun part! Breaking the tiles! Before going to town with that hammer, I covered the tiles with a piece of fabric so the chips wouldn't fly around. (I also wore safety glasses and thick gloves to protect myself from getting cut by flying chips of tile.) I soon realized that tiles break rather easily and hitting them too hard tended to chip off the color so I went easy with the hammer.
As I broke the tiles, I stored them in separate bowls by color. I have always found that being organized from the starts always pays off in the end.
I began working from the perimeter of the table. It was like starting a jigsaw puzzle: I always start by looking the edges first. I did the same here. I first looked for the smoothed end pieces of tile. The "ends" have a polished edge that slopes slightly downwards. I used these end pieces for the outer edge of my table, lining one row all the way around the circle.
Once I was satisfied with the outer edge, I filled in small areas with the colors indicated on the metal. Sometimes, I had to break the piece of tile into something smaller in order to fit my pattern. Then I started gluing the pieces to the metal. I used special mosaic glue created specifically for this purpose that I bought at a craft stores. It came in a squeeze bottle. I dabbed each piece with a small amount of glue and held it in place for a few seconds. The pieces bonded fairly quickly so I had to be careful once I got to this stage that I was gluing the right colors in place.
As this was not a jigsaw puzzle, there were spaces between the pieces. I learned not to worry as the spaces would eventually be filled with grout. I did however try my best to position the tiles close together, leaving as little space as possible between pieces.
Once I worked my way to the center of the table and all my tile pieces were glued into place, it was time to mix some grout. (The books I read warned me that, working outdoors, I should only grout on a clear, dry day. Apparently, rain is detrimental to grout.)
Dry grout can be purchased at any craft store and comes in dozens of different colors. (Mosaic grout is slightly finer than the commercial grout used for tiled bathroom or kitchen surfaces.) I discovered that it is best to chose a darker color grout as white tends to stain easily and turns gray with time. However, if you really prefer a pale grout color then, after you are done grouting, make sure you seal the grout with a grout sealer (also available at craft or home improvement stores.)
I mixed the dry grout with water to the consistency of grainy toothpaste. (Follow directions on the package.) It is best to mix the grout in small batches because it hardens quickly. Using a small grout float, I covered a surface about a foot wide and spread the grout evenly, making sure to fill all the spaces between tiles and level the grout to the same height as the tiles. Then I rubbed off excess grout with a damp soft cloth. I repeated this process until the entire surface was grouted and all the spaces were filled. Then I allowed time for the grout to set, according to the manufacturer's instructions (overnight as I recall.)
Your grout can then be sealed; again, according to directions from the manufacturer although I did not bother with this step as I had chosen a dark grey grout. After almost a year, the grout has not cracked or chipped.
Since I finished the table, I have had dozens of barbeques where I bask in the compliments and accolades of my friends and family. I tell them all what an easy job this was but no one believes me.
I get tremendous satisfaction every time I look at my mosaic table and think about the fun I had putting it together. It also started me on a mosaic path. I paved the entire back yard in mosaics. And my next stop is the koi pond in front of my house that is going to get a new cost of tiles this summer!
Other projects you'll enjoy:
Faux Painting: Make it Look Like Leather
Build a Backyard Barbeque
Video: Build a Barbeque