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.