Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Answers to CERAMIC TILE CHARACTERISTICS - fact or fiction?

In my last blog post, I challenged Tile Talk readers with a quiz that targeted the misconceptions and misinformation that exist in the industry about ceramic tile and how and where it is appropriate for it to be used. There is so much information available today, much of which is contradictory and product driven, it is often overwhelming. Common sense is an extremely efficient tool, but some general, unbiased facts are helpful. We had no winner and that tells me that urban tile myths live on. Some debunking is in order, so I'm going to review the quiz, indicate the correct answer and explain why the answers many of you chose are wrong.


(1) Most tile lines have white clay bodies or bisque. But some cheaper tile lines from other companies have red clay bodies. Is a white clay body superior to a red clay body?

Fiction because — answer B
In an effort to keep color purity when glazing over red clay, a layer called an "engobe" was applied. Eliminating this step by mixing a whiter clay not only made sense but helped keep production costs down.

50% of you answered (A):
White clay is just red clay that has been bleached, so one isn't better than another.
This an incorrect answer, because white clay is a mixture of clays and minerals blended to produce a lighter clay body. No bleach is involved.

Nobody answered (C):
Red clay "bleeds" when cut with a wet-saw, therefore white clay is superior.
Actually red clay does "bleed" when cut with a wet-saw. Particles of red clay get into the water used with a wet-saw, turning the water a reddish color. Any good installer knows to change the water during installation when this happens. Obviously this has nothing to do with superiority of one clay type over another, but over the years it has been added to the urban tile myth collection.

(2) All tile is not made the same thickness, but most popular handmade tile lines are thicker than inexpensive tile lines. Are economy tiles always very thin because they use less clay to keep costs down?

Fiction because — answer C
Inexpensive tiles are thin because they are typically mass produced by machine, which allows the clay to be compressed into a dense but thinner tile size.

Only one reader got the right answer. Both incorrect answers below were chosen by others:

A)   Inexpensive tiles are thin because they are easier to install and the manufacturer can fit more tiles in a box, thereby keeping shipping costs down.
Ease of installation has to do with the surface on which a well-made tile is adhered. Thin or thick, it will be more difficult to install any tile on an uneven surface. It is true, however, that you can fit more thin tiles in a box and that does keep shipping costs down.

B)   Inexpensive tiles are thin because clients for this product don't like thick tiles which are often uneven in surface texture.
Who says thick tiles are often uneven in surface texture? Totally made up reason. Surface texture, whether smooth or undulating is a part of the planned production method.

(3) When purchasing handmade tile, surface glaze irregularities — such as pin-holes, occasional little specks, glaze build-up, glazed over nicks and chips — are not considered defects.

Fact because — answer A
The hand of the ceramic artist is evident in the irregularities that will be inherent in a handmade and hand glazed tile product and are part of their charm.

Congratulations! You all got this one right. But I especially loved one reader who put "all" as the answer. Here's why:

B)   These are not considered defects because purchasers of handmade tile don't want tile that looks machine-made and with cookie-cutter sameness.
While A is the real answer, this one qualifies too. Purchasers of handmade tile by-and-large do celebrate the obvious handmade qualities and don't want a perfect, flat and monotonous look.

C)   All those irregularities are not defects because the Kiln God says so.
Ask any tile manufacturer and they will tell you that the Kiln God rules! The making of most ceramic tile is part art and not an absolute science, even though science is used in production.

(4) I've been told to NEVER mix white or off-white glazes from different tile lines.

Fact because — answer B. 75% of you got this one right.
Factories use different bisque and glaze recipes and over the expanse of a wall or floor, they can look very different from one another. A sample cannot tell the whole story.

A)   Tile manufacturers don't sell standard quantities per box, so figuring quantities needed would be too tricky if ordering from different suppliers.
This is fiction because any good tile showroom should be able to figure correct amounts regardless of the different quantities packed per box by manufacturers.

C)   Tile showrooms discourage mixing whites, like a less expensive field tile with that beautiful but costly molding you love, because it makes the sales associates' job too difficult.
Excellent, nobody picked this answer. It should be so fiction! Run from any tile business that takes this attitude!

(5) Thick tile is stronger and, therefore, more durable than thinner tile.

Fiction because — answer C. 50% of you got this right.
The thickness of tile has to do with the method of production and the type of clay body or bisque, not its strength and durability.

50% of you thought this was the right answer. You are not totally wrong.

B)   A thinner tile is just as strong as a thick one after it is installed and is joined to the wall or floor with the appropriate adhesive.
The key here is the statement that thick tile is stronger and more durable. Installation was not mentioned. Tile production can be controlled to a degree but installation typically is done by an independent installer. Tile, whether thin or thick, is only as good as the surface it is installed on and the skills of the tile mechanic doing the installing. So... strength and durability of a given tile is determined by the quality of its production. Strength and durability of an installation is determined on the quality of the installation surface, installation materials and skills of the installer.

Thank you to all of you who took the time to answer the Tile Quiz and help me debunk those old urban tile myths. I hope you learned to separate some tile facts from fiction along the way.

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