Tile: Everyday Mysteries
It is fascinating to realize the things that we do not know, especially considering how much of our day is spent defending what we do know – whether it be at work, at home, or at school. Oddly enough, our knowledge about everyday items is severely limited perhaps because such things are so common we take them for granted. For example, how many thousands of times have you turned on a light bulb? And after doing so, could you recreate the light bulb independently? For most of the population, the answer would be a definite 'no'. Another example, look below your feet at the tile you are walking upon – could you recreate that?
The simple answer is 'yes,' given a correct set of information. While you may not be able to produce tile on the scale of Daltile, one of the largest manufacturers of tile, you could at least recreate something resembling what is available today. For a basic understanding, you must first recognize that clay is an earthen material that is moldable or plastic when wet, non-plastic when dry and permanently hard when baked or fired. Because it is widely distributed geographically, and often found mixed with sand in soils, tile is not specifically limited to one particular style of architecture. Clay can be found in a vast number of places, and so clay types vary throughout the world. Each type of clay possesses a unique combination of special properties such as plasticity, hardness and lightness, as well as color and texture, which makes some clays better suited for one kind of ceramic than another.
Herein lays the skill and judgment that Daltile brings to the equation. They have an exquisite ability to determine which raw materials to utilize for each various end product. The correct clay mixture needed for a particular purpose can be created by blending clays and adding other materials, but using the wrong type of clay can result in expensive production problems such as crazing, which is the formation of tiny cracks in a tile glaze. An even worse consequence is warping of the tile itself. Traditionally, chalky clays have been preferred for many kinds of ceramic tiles because when fired they produce a white body which is desirable for decorating. However, as design styles evolve, some people are not necessarily looking for purity, but authenticity. Anyhow, other materials can be added, including ground-up fired clay, which also helps prevent warping.
There are several methods used for making ceramic tiles: extrusion, compaction, cutting it from a sheet of clay, or molding it in a wooden or metal frame. Manufacturers like Daltile may even produce tile in a number of manners depending on the desired finished product. Specifically, most ceramic floor tiles, including traditional ceramic mosaic tiles are made from refined and blended ceramic powders using the compaction method, which is also known as dust-pressing. Another type of tile, encaustic tiles, are made by dust-pressing. These are unique in that their designs are literally inlaid into the tile rather than surface-applied. Once this particular type of tile is formed, it is dried slowly and evenly to avoid warpage. It is then fired in a special kiln that controls the temperature at a high and even level. This drying process may occur for 30-40 hours. The reason being, higher temperatures produce denser tiles with harder glazes. Most ceramic tiles require only one firing to achieve the desired density, but some, especially highly decorated tiles, are fired more than once. Despite the impressive nature of this manufacturing technique, some tiles are more porous, as they are fired at lower temperatures.
In the United States, there are five grades assigned to floor tiles regardless of whether they are imported or produced in this country. These grades are assigned Roman numerals, with grade I being the lowest and V the highest. Grade II tiles can be used in residential applications where light traffic is expected, such as bathroom floors. Grade III tiles are adequate for any residential use, including kitchen and entry floors, which receive considerably more traffic. These tiles might also be used in light-traffic commercial applications such as beauty parlors and other businesses where heavy and continuous volume of foot traffic is not present. Grade IV tiles are suitable for commercial applications, although they are also commonly used in homes. These tiles will hold up in just about anywhere, including such high traffic locations such as grocery stores, bank lobbies and post offices. The final grade, V, is used in industrial settings where heavy abuse and exposure to various chemicals is expected. While tile grades are never stamped on packaging, you are at the mercy of the person selling you the tile. For this reason, as well as many others, it is important to establish a relationship with your flooring supplier.