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Here at Shubunkin Pottery, pottery and tile making has been the mainstay of our business for years. While that will always remain our biggest passion and focus of our business, we also love our coffee! It’s what keeps us going on those long days. We have recently come across a new brand of coffee that has helped to trim a few unwanted pounds, in addition to helping energy levels stay up throughout the day. If you are also a coffee fanatic like us, and would like to learn more about starting a business selling coffee, feel free to read the details and how to get started here: http://www.bestweightlosscoffee.net/ .

Tile Making

Tile Making

Architectural Tiles

The area to be tiled is carefully measured, and a design is created that complements the space. Joining slabs of moist clay, the clay base of the entire area to be tiled is laid out on a flat surface. If the area to be tiled wraps around corners, the clay slab can similarly be wrapped around vertical supports. Then additional clay is added to the base slab to sculpt the design. After the clay has become firm, the tiles are cut apart in a pattern that complements the design. Additional (false) grout lines may also be carved into the clay surface to enhance the design. The tiles must be dried slowly to prevent warping or cracking. The resulting tile installation will be unique to the intended space.

Hand-Made Flat Tiles

Moist clay is cut and pieced into a large flat shape, and then passed through a slab-roller that compresses and flattens the clay into the correct thickness. The surface is smoothed with a sponge, and the slab of clay is left to firm up. Tiles are hand-cut from the slab and the edges are smoothed and rounded with the fingers. Designs can be pressed into the tiles at this stage. The tiles are then allowed to dry slowly with frequent turning.

Hand-Made Bas-Relief Tiles

Using moist clay, a master tile is made by building up the relief design. The completed tile is placed on a non-porous surface and a mold is built around it. Plaster is poured around the tile and allowed to harden. The sides of the mold are removed and the master tile is removed and discarded. The resulting plaster mold is a “negative” of the tile. The plaster mold is allowed to dry completely; this can take as long as a week or more. When completely dry, the mold is filled with moist clay. This clay is pounded into the mold with a mallet. Excess clay is scraped from the back of the mold, and the back of the tile is smoothed. Over the course of an hour or so, the dry plaster absorbs water from the clay tile, causing it to shrink slightly. The mold is then inverted and the tile removed by tapping on the mold. The first few tiles are often used to make additional, duplicate molds. Molded tiles are dried slowly, sometimes with weights to reduce warping. C

Bisque Firing

When the clay tiles are completely dry, they are loaded into the electric kiln and fired. Although we sometimes refer to the maximum temperature to which the clay was heated, the accepted measure of firing is to a particular “cone”. Pyrometric cones (cone-shaped pieces of clay-like material) are formulated to bend after receiving a certain amount of “heat-work”, a combination of time and temperature. At Shubunkin Pottery, bisque firing is done at cone 04 (i.e., when an 04 cone bends the firing is stopped). The bisque firing burns out organic materials that can mar the final product, and makes the ware strong enough to withstand glazing.


Bisqued tiles can be decorated with underglazes (a type of colored clay that can be painted or trailed onto the surface of the tile) or with stains (colored oxides mixed with water). These tiles are covered with a clear glaze before final firing. Tiles can be made from either low-fire or stoneware clay bodies. Low-fire manufactured bisque tiles can also be used for decoration and glazing.

Tiles can be covered with a colored glaze that can be translucent or opaque, glossy or matte, and smooth or variegated. Stoneware tiles can also be left unglazed if desired, because after firing they will be vitrified and non-porous. (Low-fire tiles are too porous to be left unglazed). Glazes are formulated to melt and mature at particular cones, so low-fire glazes are used on low-fire clays, and stoneware glazes on stoneware clays.

Glaze Firing

Low-fire tiles are fired again to cone 04. Stoneware tiles are fired to cone 6. The firing takes from 12-14 hours, with an additional 12-16 hours of cooling before the tiles can be removed from the kiln.


Handmade Tiles

What kind of tiles can I get from Shubunkin Pottery?

Shubunkin Pottery makes flat and bas-relief tiles out of cone 6 stoneware (fired to about 2200 degrees F) and cone 04 low-fire (fired to about 1925 degrees F) clays. The difference between the two types of clay is appearance and durability; the stoneware tiles are more durable and recommended for areas subject to some abuse, such as fireplace surrounds, whereas either type is fine for routine wall use. Shubunkin Pottery also paints and glazes bisqued low-fire tiles, which integrate better with commercial tile because of their precise manufactured appearance. We can also put an on-glaze decoration on your purchased commercial tiles.

How long does it take to get tiles?

Actually, you can get hand-made tile faster than ordered furniture! The usual lead time for a tile order is 6-8 weeks for existing designs and glazes. Custom designs and glazes take longer, of course. Painted tiles and on-glaze decorated tiles can be had in as little as 4 weeks.

I’d like some hand-made tiles to go with some manufactured tiles I bought at the home improvement center. Can you match the color?

It is virtually impossible to match a given color, because the glaze color is affected by the glaze finish and formulation, the clay body, the firing schedule, and even the water that is used. Consider integrating hand-made tiles in a contrasting or complementary color, using hand-painted bisque tiles in complementary colors with a clear glaze over the design, or using an on-glaze decoration on top of your pre-purchased tiles.

If you would like to pick up a specific color in your tiles (from painted walls, drapery fabrics, etc.) you can request custom color development. This usually takes 4-6 weeks and there is a charge involved; fired samples will be presented for your consideration with no further obligation on your part if they don’t meet your approval.

Why do the hand-made tiles look uneven?

Hand-made tiles are formed out of wet clay, then allowed to dry slowly before firing. The drying and firing process causes shrinkage and a certain amount of warping, resulting in the slightly uneven edges that give hand-made tile its beauty and unique character. Manufactured tile is made from a barely-moist clay powder that is pressed under enormous pressure and then fired. Because there is virtually no water in the clay, there is no shrinkage and no warpage.

Hand-made tiles have a unique quality that may or may not appeal to you. If you do not care for the uneven appearance but still would like tiles that are custom made just for you, you may prefer to use hand-painted tiles (underglaze and clear glaze over manufactured bisque tiles) or on-glaze decoration on manufactured glazed tiles.

I like the idea of hand-made tiles, but I don’t see the design I want. Can you copy something for me?

Shubunkin Pottery will design a tile specifically for you, and you are free to choose the theme or design elements. If you see work by another potter or manufacturer that you like, we can create our own interpretation using similar concepts, but we will not copy another person’s designs for ethical reasons. If you particularly like their work, we encourage you to buy it from them.

Are hand-made tiles expensive?

Certainly, hand-made tiles are not for everyone. Commercial tiles are quite inexpensive and available in a variety of colors. Commercial tiles are pressed by the tens of thousands, glazed, and tunnel-fired such that the entire process might take no more than 1-2 hours from clay powder to finished tile.

Hand-made tiles are extremely labor intensive – each tile is formed by hand using wet clay, dried slowly for days or even weeks, bisque-fired, decorated and glazed by hand, and then glaze-fired. Each firing takes 12-14 hours, with an additional 12 or more hours needed before the kiln is cool enough to open.

You should consider hand-made tiles if you enjoy seeing the mark of the hands that made your tile and the variation and depth that studio glazes and small kiln firings add to the overall tiled effect. Those people choosing hand-made tiles are usually looking for a unique accent that will enhance their home and confirm their individuality. They realize that each hand-made tile is, in reality, a work of art.