How to Turn Broken Dishes Into Mosaic House Numbers

Don't throw away broken dishware or leftover ceramic tile. Upcycle it into a mosaic house-number plaque to boost your curb appeal.

Materials and Tools

  • various broken ceramics or tiles
  • (1) small roll of carbon transfer paper
  • (1) tube of construction adhesive
  • (1) scrap piece of plywood
  • scrap 1x3 pieces of wood
  • (1) heavy-duty picture hanging kit
  • (1) small bag of un-sanded grout
  • (1) small bucket
  • (1) sponge
  • grout float
  • hand clamps
  • hammer
  • gloves and safety goggles

Start with Size, Shape and a Template

Start by measuring the space where your numbers are going to hang. You’ll want to select a proportion that is large enough to be visible from the street, but not so big that it’s tacky. You can get creative here, but if you're nervous, a rectangle is an easy shape to work with. Cut a piece of 1/8” plywood to your selected dimension for the baseboard. Head over to your computer and print out some numbers to your desired size and tape them together to make a template that fits on your baseboard.

Build a Frame for the Back

Framing the backside of the baseboard allows the mounting hardware to remain hidden and prevent it from interfering with the tile that’s going to get adhered to the opposite side. Cut a 1x3 for each side that will frame the inside area of the baseboard.

Install the Mounting Hardware First

It’s going to be a lot easier to install the screw eyes into the frame now than it will be once the tile and dishes are adhered to the baseboard. Even up the two longest frame rails, draw a line about 6"-8” from the top ends and install a screw eye in each one.

Glue up the Frame Rails

With the two screw eyes toward the top, apply a liberal amount of wood glue to each rail and clamp it into place. Make sure all four sides are making even contact with the baseboard and are clamped tightly until the glue has been allowed to dry for the recommended amount of time.

Transfer Your Artwork

Place your piece of carbon transfer paper onto the plywood side of your baseboard and use some painter's tape to secure it snugly. Then, lay your artwork over the carbon paper and tape that in place as well. Try to keep everything nice and flat and prevent it from moving around. Once everything is laid down, use a pencil to draw over your design by hand. The pressure from your pencil causes the carbon to release from the transfer paper and leaves what you've drawn on the wood below. Then, use a permanent marker to outline everything so you can see it clearly as you lay out your tile.

Now It’s Time to Smash Some Ceramic

You can add nearly anything into your mosaic; seashells, pebbles, glass, pottery, broken dishes or just any regular tile leftovers you have lying around. In the event you need to smash things into smaller pieces, you’re going to want to wear some safety gear. Goggles and heavy-duty gloves are an absolute must. Use a small scrap of wood to absorb some of the blow from your hammer and place a towel over anything you plan on smashing to prevent shrapnel from flying around. Start with a gentle tap and increase your hammer blows until your object shatters. You want it to break apart easily, not explode into a million pieces.

Start With the Numbers

The objective is to make the numbers as visible as possible. Use the most prominent colors or materials for your numbers so that they’ll stand out. Then use a high-strength construction adhesive to glue your mosaic pieces down to the plywood baseboard. Press down firmly on all of your pieces and allow them to dry for the recommended time before moving on to the next step.

Fill in the Background

Now that your numbers are set in place, you can start filling in the background space with your less prominent-colored materials. Adhere your background pieces in the same manner, being sure to keep the tiles from hanging over the edge of your baseboard.

Now It’s Time for Grout

Once all of the adhesive has cured for the appropriate time, you can apply grout to fill in all of the gaps between your tiles. Grout doesn’t need much in the way of tools or effort. You need a grout trowel, a sponge, a bucket and a bag of un-sanded grout. Start with a few handfuls of grout and slowly mix in water until your grout is smooth and has the consistency of peanut butter. It needs to be spreadable and somewhat sticky, you definitely do not want it to be too runny or loose.

Lay it on Thick

Once your grout has reached the right consistency, it’s time to spread it on. Place a thick mound of grout into the middle of your masterpiece and use the trowel edge to work it into the cracks. You want a nice smooth coat, but it’s more important to make sure all of the gaps are filled and the outer edges are nice and clean. You can inch close to perfection in the next step, but you’re going to have to wait about an hour before you do.

The First of Three Wipe Downs

After about an hour has elapsed, take a lightly dampened sponge and start to clean the grout from the tiles while giving the whole piece a gentle wipe down. Clean the sponge often and make sure to squeeze about 95% of the water out of it before putting it back on your piece. Your grout needs to set up, but it's not fully cured so you want to get your work clean but not perfect.

The Second and Third Wipe Down

After that initial sponge bath, your masterpiece needs to sit for about six hours so it can harden. After that time has passed, you’re going to want to give it a second sponge down exactly the same way you did before. You’ll notice now that your artwork is starting to shine. Once you’ve finished, let your project rest for 24 hours so the grout can totally cure. When you return tomorrow, you’ll notice that a thin haze has developed over your tiles. Not to worry, this is the last step. Take a clean damp cloth and give your work a final polish. This should lift off the film and your grouting has officially finished.

Frame the Outside

Mosaics tend to leave fairly rough edges, so framing your project really sets it off. Cut some more 1x3s and finish them however you’d like. We used scraps of mahogany with a nice coat of polyurethane. Attach your frame edges with some construction adhesive and a few small nails in each side and at the corners.

Attach a Hanging Wire and Install

Your mosaic is likely going to be pretty heavy at this point. It’s important to use a strong picture hanging wire attached to the screw eyes on the back. Make sure to add a few twists so it stays put and cut the excess off with some pliers.

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