Encaustic Tile: What Makes A Character Home?

Elements of a Character Home

Today we are going to talk about encaustic tile or cement tile. A great example is found at a listing I sold at which has an entry lined with these lovely bits of tile art.
I have only seen these tiles in a few Spanish style homes here, in Glendale.  In each case the homes were of exceptional craftsmanship, with lots of romantic detail.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about encaustic tiles:

Originally decorative tiles, known as encaustic tiles, were prepared from a pigmented clay base then heated or fired in a kiln. Tiles made by this method were very popular and can still be seen widely in Europe, Latin America and the US.

Following the discovery of Portland cement and development of hydraulic presses, cement tile, as we know them today is prepared without the use of clay or heating. [2]

Cement tile appeared in the late 1800s in the south of France. Several sources say the first tiles were made near the country’s first Portland cement plant. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the tiles were very popular in the United States and were considered high-end floor covering. It was used in thousands of landmark public buildings and palaces. Their popularity began to wane in the U.S. sometime between the 1920s and ’30s and only started making a comeback in the 1980s and ’90s.

Cement tiles are made by hand, one at a time using a mold, mineral pigments, Portland cement and fine aggregate with a manual or electronic hydraulic press. There is no glaze or kiln. Cement tiles are cured by water and air only –just like ordinary cement.

The metal mold, containing the desired pattern is hand-made from specific design drawings. The pigment composition is a mixture of high quality white Portland cement, marble powder, fine sand, and natural mineral color pigments.

Handmade cement tiles are each unique and are expected to have slight imperfections, which give them character and depth.

There are numerous cement tile manufacturers worldwide with the exception of the US. Presently there are no known cement tile manufacturers located in the US however there are several importers and distributors.

In general, the primary difference between manufacturers is the hydraulic method used in the production. Many small companies employ a hand-operated, manual hydraulic press in the process. The quality of these tiles varies due to inconsistent pressure, which affects the cement layers and attachment of the pigment layer.

Larger, modern manufacturers use electric-powered hydraulic presses that produce a consistently higher quality product. The higher pressure (1,500 PSI) permits a thicker pigment layer to be embedded in the cement layer, which produces a tile with a longer lifespan. The pigment layer is recommended to be 3-4 mm thick.

Another difference in manufacturers is the content of the pigments used. High quality producers use mineral-based pigments only. Non-mineral based pigments fade with age and normal wear. Another consideration is curing. Improper curing reduces quality. Tile should be cured for 2-4 weeks before installation.


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