From the Forums: How to Create a Mosaic Tile Top for Your Patio Table

Posted by: on June 8th, 2012 | 30 Comments
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a beautiful mosaic table top

 

Your patio table aspires to be more than just a place to set your drink while you grill burgers. It wants texture, color, and most of all, respect. Topping your patio table with a mosaic will do the trick. You can turn it into a stunning hand-made work of art, as artist Mark Hendricks did with the table we see above. But even a more modest mosaic of ready-made tiles will raise your patio table’s self esteem to a whole new level.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to create a mosaic tile top for your patio table put together by Forums associate aboveaveragejoe. He posted these instructions on The Home Depot’s Community Forums in response to a question by a Forums member who goes by the handle tenthumbs. The glass top of tenthumb’s patio table had broken, and he/she wanted to replace it with a DIY mosaic top.

Here’s what aboveaveragejoe said to do:

How to make a mosaic tile top for your patio table

You can approach it two ways:

1. Use  pre-made stone or glass mosaic tiles

2. Make your own custom, one-of-a-kind mosaic tiles by hand!

No matter which way you choose, you’ll need to first install a secure base so that the tiles have a firm and permanent place to rest upon. This step is just as important as the tiles themselves, so it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Let’s get started!

Preparing the table for mosaic tile

Now depending on the size, shape, and how the table is constructed will depend on how much materials you’ll need to buy. Hopefully, you’ve gotten the remaining glass out of the table and surrounding area. At this step, check carefully any strips, edges or fasteners that held the original glass in place. If it is rubber or a vinyl-based material, it will be easier for this project for you to take it out now so the new material can fit properly. If the table had a hole for an umbrella to go through, you’ll need to consider the diameter size for the new table top. Either way, the main takeaway at this stage is  inspection and measuring. You will need to take careful note of how thick (or thin) the table edge is as well as finding out the exact size of the opening. This will make sure your base, and then your tile will work effectively. For example, choosing thin base materials (tile backerboard and wood) to hold up the final tile and grout will mean the table top won’t go very much higher than the edge of the frame of the patio table.

As for a material base, there are various items you can use for this project. You’ll want the materials for your table to withstand the weather, and fortunately, there are items we sell in our stores that will work perfect for this!

Shown below, I included a cut-away illustration that best describes the items you will need to make a base and to hold the tiles down securely. While I realize your table edge and materials maybe different, this should give you an idea of what to expect.

 

Some of the items listed above, like the screws, may not be needed. You may only have to put a wood frame to hold the tile backerboard in place. Again, it all depends on the size and shape of the existing patio table frame that you have now.

Essentially, if you place down the backerboard with wood underneath (the wood can be fastened underneath with adhesives and sheet-metal screws to the frame), you’ll be giving yourself a long-lasting and professional tile top that can withstand any weight and weather beating down on top of it. So, lets say we’ve got this base down, now lets get to tiling!

 

Using pre-made mosaic tiles

When choosing which tiles to use, using a mosaic tile that has existing patterns are a time-saving and very beautiful choice when it comes to putting a new table top.  These kinds of tiles typically come in 12″ x 12″ sheets and have a mesh backing, allowing you to make cuts and place the tiles all at once.

 

 

With all tiles, no matter the style you choose, you’ll first need to measure and layout the space to find out how much tile you’ll need. After getting the tiles that you like, you will need a good adhesive to stick them down.  You can use a pre-mixed thin-set mortar or adhesive, since we are dealing with a small area. The great thing about these kinds of tiles is that most of the spacing is done for you. While you can line up the other spaces where the tile mosaics meet, using tile spacers will guarantee you a professional finish.

I’d recommend using a tile installation kit that has everything you’ll need to put down the tile. It includes a grouting sponge and gloves to make the job much easier.

 

Making a Custom One-of-a-Kind Mosaic Table Top

If you decide to make your mosaic using broken tile pieces no bigger than a quarter, you’ll need to do a little more preparation with the tiles. The upside of this is that you’ll be getting a unique and customized table top that no one else on earth has!

First, obtain the pieces of tile you would like. Remember to consider thickness, so that at the end of the day, the table top is as level as possible. You can place the tiles you want to break up in a folded drop cloth and break the pieces using a rubber mallet. Wear gloves during this stage, since chards of broken tile can cut skin very easily.

Next, depending on the size of your table, you can layout the tiles by pattern, color, or style on a flat surface so you can mimic that pattern onto the final table top. Now you can place a small amount of tile adhesive spread thin in a small area so you can work the tiles in carefully. The tile nippers (included in the tile installation kit), can cut, or bite into the tiles if you want to give more smoother or different edges that the original broken pieces. This tool is very useful when making a mosaic pattern. If the tiles happen to be glass, you can use the item shown below that works by ‘scissoring’ the tiles to be manipulated.

 

tile nipper

 

 

I’ve seen some arts and crafts stores sell tile mosaic glue, but if you do a small amount of pre-mixed tile adhesive we sell, this can work just as effectively. Space the tile mosaic pieces out from any space you like as little as 1/16″ up to 1/2″ wide. It is entirely up to you what particular pattern or space you want. Just remember: the more space, means the more mortar you’ll need to place between the tile pieces.

Let the tiles dry out overnight, and you can place grout or mortar to fill in the spaces between your tile pieces. Grout can dry very hard, but I’d recommend to use mortar, since it dries even harder and can stand up to heavy use. Look for a mortar that can be mixed with color additives to give you more choices for your final look. No matter which kind you use, they will be applied with a floating trowel. If you already bought your tile installation kit, it is already in there.

Be sure to wipe off excess mortar/grout as soon as you are done with the application. Be sure to pick up all haze, residue while it is still wet, as cleaning dried grout/mortar isn’t something you want to be doing after coming this far along in the project.

After letting the tiles and grout/mortar set overnight, you can now place the last thing on your mosaic tile surface, a good tile sealer. I’d most definitely recommend putting a clear sealer down to ensure no food or water can reach into the tiles and mortar and damage the job you’ve spent so much time on. Depending on what kind of tile down will determine what kind of sealer to put down, which is why I can’t recommend one until you choose your tile. No matter how you put down your tile, using a quality sealer guarantees you won’t have to worry about failure in your table for a long time.

And that’s it! All the options, steps, and choices when it comes to putting down mosaic tile for your patio table!

[Ed.: This article prompted reader Jan Wilmeth to send us photos of her mosaic works. We've shared the photos here on the Apron in Real Stories, Real Doing: Mosaic Teacher Shows Us Her Creations. We'd love to see your creations, too! Just leave us a note in the comments, and we'll contact you.]

Take a look at some other interesting ways to decorate with tile in our Meet the Materials article on mosaic tile

We have more advice from our experts.  Visit the Forums for DIY tips and tricks from our store associates. From the Forums Friday is our weekly column highlighting expert advice and the best of The Home Depot’s Community Forums. 

Photo of mosaic topped patio table (cc) Punk Toad

 

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  1. Eve says:

    I am making a mosaic table out of broken china pieces -some thicker than others. Is there something I can seal it with – clear of course – that will level the surface so it is flat and even enough to place drinks on, etc?

    • Craig Allen says:

      Eve, I’ve taken your question over to our online Home Depot Community, where our home improvement experts can take a look and offer their advice.

      Click here to go to where I posted it.

      -Craig, from The Home Depot

  2. [...] Helpful Resources How to Create a Mosaic Tile Top for Your Patio Table – Home … [...]

  3. [...] Meet the Material is a series designed to introduce you to some of the everyday goods sold at The Home Depot. Is there a material you’d like to know more about? Just let us know in the comments. And take a look at our how-to instructions for creating your own mosaic tile patio table top.  [...]

  4. Diana B. says:

    I have a stunningly beautiful mosaic table that warped in the weather (I’d been told when I bought it that it would be fine outside – NOT). I’d love to remove all the tiles and remake it. Is this a ridiculous task or is it possible to reuse all the tiles? Do I need to clean off all the old grout from each piece, or can I pull it off in sections and re-do it that way?

  5. Jennifer says:

    Do I have to have plywood under the tile backerboard for small patio table?

  6. [...] We just love it when readers send us photos of their DIY projects. Take a look at these gorgeous mosaics created by Jan Wilmeth, who lives in a fairly remote spot near Lake Don Pedro in northern California. She sent the photos to the Apron blog after seeing an article we posted about creating a mosaic table top for an old patio table. [...]

  7. DYIprojectLover says:

    Great idea. many a poly resin table has ended up in a landfill because it needed a face lift. Who knew or thought of doing something like this? My question for you is this. I woulld like to do a similar project on my large faux terra cotta planters. This poly resin material is so much lighter than actual terra cotta and I want to do some original mosaic designs on the outside of the planters.
    Do you know if the glue you spoke of using could be used to effectively and permantly hold down the tile to the poly surface and would grout work on the surface?
    Thanks for you help! Hope you can answer in an email :) thanks for sharing your knowledge. Happy days!
    Jeanne DYIprojectLover

    • Craig Allen says:

      Hi, Jeanne DYIprojectLover.

      Aboveaveragejoe has an idea for how to decorate your poly resin pots. Here’s what he wrote on our How-To Community Forums in reply to your question:

      “DYIprojectLover: This is a project that can easily be done, and you have lots of options to achieve the face lift for your faux terra cotta planters. Since it is a plastic, most ready-to-use thin-set mortars and mastics won’t stick to the surface, so try out the SimpleMat that was previously shown on this thread that I posted.

      It’s thin, sticks very well, and can be cut easily to fit your planters. Since the adhesive is very effective, make sure you know exactly where you plan do put down the mosaic pieces before placing them on the surface. SimpleMat is very sticky and is next to impossible to remove the tiles once their down, so this step is important.”

      Thanks for the question!

      -Craig, from The Home Depot

  8. vertina says:

    I was given an older wood cabinet i would like to refinish for use as a liquor cabinet. How can I do a great mosaic on top of my cabinet, it will be used indoors only. What materials and adhesive would be best for this project? Thank you.

  9. claudia says:

    What was not very clear for me, was what tipe of table we should use, and if we can find the materials in HD. I would think one made of wood would not last with rain, it seems to me it made out of iron. Am I right? Please let me know the name of the materials, and if I can find the at HD.
    thanks!

  10. Shug Jones says:

    As a professional mosaic artist who has installations in homes, hotels, and hospitals across the US as well as exterior public art installations in Texas, I must differ with you on several of your instructions.

    For an exterior installation, I would NEVER suggest the use of wood, treated or not. A cement board or Hardiboard base should be used. Wood will eventually warp, no matter how well sealed or treated, . That is the death knell for a mosaic.
    I would NEVER use a pre-mixed tile adhesive for an exterior application. Use a polymer modified thinset or a thinset to which you add a polymer to mix. This is a more flexible mortar that allows for expansion and contraction during periods of changing weather.
    Do NOT make your interstices between the tiles large. Use as small a space as possible, 1/16 – 1/8″ is preferable. Grout is just a filler. It has no adhesive properties like thinset mortar does. If your spaces are small then you won’t be using a lot of grout. If you have wide spaces, you can count on the grout crumbling after a time and coming out. Thinset mortar can be used as a “grout” in this instance (especially if you have very wide grout spaces) but it is much more difficult to clean off the face of the tiles while doing the application.
    A sealer on an exterior mosaic is essential. It should be applied several times (wiping the face of the tiles after each application) until the sealer no longer soaks into the grout. For something that is kept outside all year and is subject to rain, etc., sealer should be reapplied every 2-3 years no matter how long its guaranteed for. Use a good quality sealer.
    I have been called to examine mosaic table tops that were created on wooden substrates and they were literally falling apart. There was no way to repair or even salvage them. The time it takes to make a mosaic demands that you use the best practices possible to ensure that the finished artwork will survive, in good condition, for many years to come.

  11. Sue Skoler says:

    Delighted to see these instructions. I have three matching tables, one coffee table and two end tables. All have matching marble tops, the coffee table has 3 sections of marble. One of the smaller sections was broken in a move. I have wanted to refinish the table, have the middle large section of marble cut to fit the smaller space of the broken side piece, then use the left over marble along with some tile or stone to create a fairly neutral middle piece for the coffee table. I love the pieces, and don;t want to replace them entirely, but I am in my 70′s and not sure I can do this work. Your great directions have given me hope. Many thanks!

  12. dree says:

    The table instructions are fine, as far as it goes. However, if you are not insetting the table into a frame, how do you deal with the edges? After all, you have plywood, backer board, mortar and the tile itself to contend with.

  13. Jan says:

    I am so pleased to see this set of directions for replacing a table top with tiles and indicating the use of backerboard. I’ve been doing tile tables for several years and always use backerboard. I’ve also used Home Depot for many of my background tile color choices. It’s the only place I can find colored field tiles and now I’ve found you carry them online too with even more color choices. I, and several of my mosaic friends, have ordered your tiles and were very happy with the packaging and service. The tiles were perfect too.
    I also make my own ceramic art tiles, but use Home Depot’s colored tiles to fill in around those I make. I hope you will continue to address the needs of those of us who do this popular artwork.

    • Craig Allen says:

      Hi, Jan.

      We would love to see some photos of your work– especially if they show some how you incorporated Home Depot tiles.

      Thanks so much writing!

      -Craig, from The Home Depot

    • Craig Allen says:

      Jan, thanks for sending us the photos of your beautiful mosaic works. We’ve published them here on the Apron so everyone can see them.

      -Craig, from The Home Depot

  14. Gwenn says:

    Hi Craig,

    What an interesting article about tiling a table top. I have been thinking about tiling a birdbath, but I am uncertain that it will work. It is a metal bird bath that has been painted. The bottom losses paint every time I clean it. Could it be tiled on the bottom like the table top? Thanks!

    • Craig Allen says:

      Hey, Gwenn.

      I am very pleased you like the article. The credit really goes to Home Depot associate aboveaveragejoe,, who did the heavy lifting. He’s the one who came up with the instructions and most of the illustrations.

      We just had a question about this from Apron reader Pam, which I reposted on the Community Forums, where aboveaveragejoe, or one of our other DIY experts can take a look at it and provide an expert answer. I’ll do the same for your question.

      I’ve opened up a new thread on the Forums for your question.

      It occurs to me that if you have a digital photo of your birdbath, it would help get a better answer tailored for your situation. You can upload a photo from your computer to that thread over on the Forums.

      If you’re not sure what to do, here are some quick instructions for uploading an image on the Forums:

      Just go to that thread (I gave you a link in the words “a new thread on the Forums”); Click on the “reply” button; and then type your message; and click on the little button that looks like a photo of a tree. That button is the “insert/edit an image” button; You’ll get a new window open up where you’ll show where your photo is on your computer.

      In any event, I’ll report back here when we get a response.

      Thanks for the question, Gwenn.

    • Craig Allen says:

      Hi, Gwenn. I hope you’ve seen the response you had to your question on our How-To Community Forums.

      Just click that link in the previous sentence to see them.

      But, in a nutshell, our expert, Ask_Mr_Jay, says that tiling metal is difficult, largely because the metal expands and contracts so much depending on the temperature. The good news is that painting the base of your birdbath should be easy– try a Rusto-Oleum spray paint that’s made for painting metal in an outdoor setting.

      Jay suggests that if you want to paint the bowl of your birdbath– the part that will remain submerged in water– try a swimming pool paint.

      A Forums member named Paul, who you’ll see on the Forums a lot, also had a good suggestion for painting the bowl of the birdbath. If you want a really lasting finish, consider a paint designed for metal boat hulls.

      Thanks for the question, Gwenn.

      -Craig, from The Home Depot.

  15. pam says:

    I have a small metal or wrought iron round table. Can I put backer board on
    a metal table and then make a design with broken dishes or glass tiles?

    Thanks for your reply. pam

    • Craig Allen says:

      Pam, I took your question over to our How-To Community Forums, where this mosaic table project was first presented.

      I’ll post a report on what our experts suggest. And you can certainly go over to the Forums yourself to see the answer and post follow up questions or comments.

      Thanks for the question, Pam.

      -Craig, from The Home Depot.

    • Craig Allen says:

      Pam, aboveaveragejoe has a pretty detailed description of two ways you can do this.

      Here’s part of his response:

      “If you decide to place backerboard on top of it, it would need to be thin (1/4″ thickness) as stated in my original post above this one, and done so that the final combination of backerboard/adhesives/tiles/grout will be in flush with the rest of the table.

      I recommended to use backerboard and plywood to the other user since they had no table top at all, save for the frame. If you already have the table top, I’d be concerned that the tiles could be set up high, leaving sharp edges over the top. This problem can be solved with careful grouting sometimes, but the end result is to get the table top as flush as possible.

      Another option to use instead of tile backerboard if the table still has the top on it, is to use one of two items we sell– Tile and Stone Underlayment or a tile setting mat. These are much thinner options and will give you the most flush finish for your table. Please note that the second option isn’t rated for outdoor use.”

      Aboveaveragejoe goes into some detail about how to use these two options. Please see his instructions on our How-To Forums.

      Thanks for your question, Pam.

      -Craig, from The Home Depot

  16. Craig Allen says:

    Hi, Debbie.

    I’ve posted your question on our How-To Community Forums for an answer from our experts. Click here to see it.

    –Craig, from The Home Depot