With a tradition dating to ancient civilizations, ceramic floor tile is found in a variety of settings in diverse cultures and structures. Historically, its widespread use may be attributed to a readily available natural material — clay. Clay could be converted by a relatively simple manufacturing process of baking or firing to produce a durable, long-lasting, attractive, and easy to maintain ceramic floor tile. Their modularity make them easy to fit into different sized spaces.
Ceramic floor tiles exhibit a versatility of colored glazes and decoration that range from the plainest terracotta tiles to highly decorated individual ceramic tiles, to elaborately patterned tile floors. Ceramic tiles are used on walls as wainscoting, on fireplace hearths and fireplace surrounds, as well as for flooring.
The Tile-Making Process.
Clay is an earthen material, pliable when wet, non-plastic when dry, and rock solid when baked or fired. It is widely distributed geographically and often found mixed with silt and sand. Relatively pure clay is not usually found as a surface deposit, but may be exposed by erosion.
Clay types vary throughout the world, and even within a region. Each type of clay possesses a unique combination of special properties such as plasticity, hardness and lightness, as well as color and texture, making some clays better suited for ceramics than another.
The correct clay mixture needed for a particular purpose can be created by blending clays and adding other materials. But using the wrong type of clay can result in expensive production problems such as crazing or warping of the tile itself.
Traditionally, chalky clays have been preferred for many kinds of ceramic tiles, in part because when fired, they produce a white body which is desirable for decorating. Other materials can be added that helps aerate the clay and prevents warping, speeds firing, reduces shrinking and increase hardness.
There are several methods used for making ceramic tiles:
- compaction or dust-pressing.
- cutting from a sheet of clay.
- molded in a wooden or metal frame.
Quarry tiles are extruded, but most ceramic floor tiles, including traditional encaustic, geometric and ceramic “mosaic” tiles are made from refined and blended ceramic powders using the compaction method, known as dust-pressing.
Encaustic tiles, which were made by dust-pressing, are unique in that their designs are literally “inlaid” into the tile body, rather than surface-applied. Once formed, tiles are dried slowly and evenly to avoid warping, then fired in a special kiln that controls high, even heat at temperatures up to 1200°C (or approximately 2500°F) for 30-40 hours. Higher temperatures produce denser tiles with harder glazes.
Most ceramic tiles require only one firing to achieve low porosity and become vitrified or grass-like, but some, especially highly decorated tiles, are fired more than once. Non-vitreous and semi-vitreous tiles are fired at lower temperatures and are much more porous.
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