The art of mosaic involves arranging pieces of tile, glass, or other objects into a pleasing shape, using some type of adhesive on a flat or three-dimensional surface. Usually grout is added to bind the design together. There are many tools you can use for mosaic, but a few stand out as most important.
The most important job you have to do to prepare to make a mosaic is to get small pieces of tile or glass. Ceramic tile comes in a wide range of sizes and thicknesses, from 3/8-inch squares to 24-inch floor tiles. You can easily break the larger tiles into random pieces by placing them under a towel and hitting them with a hammer. If you want more regular pieces, use tile nippers; these tools hold the tile on the side near the edge; when you squeeze the handles, the tile breaks more or less where the nippers are holding it. This won't make a clean, straight break, however; if you need that type of cut, you may need a wet saw or a mechanical tile cutter, which scores and breaks ceramic tile in straight lines.
To cut glass, make regular breaks by first scoring with a glass cutter, then holding running pliers along the scored line and squeezing to break the glass along the line. To make smaller pieces, use a wheeled cutter; this tool has two sharp wheels that meet in the middle to cut the glass. The wheeled cutter does not cut straight lines, however; for that you have to use the glass cutter and running pliers.
For cutting marble and other hard stone, you should invest in specific tools if you plan to cut a lot of it. A hardie is a chisel-like instrument that you secure in a block of wood. It is usually sold along with a special hammer for marble, which looks like a geological hammer. You set the marble piece on top of the hardie and hit it sharply with the hammer to cut into pieces.
A circular saw or table saw is good for cutting larger pieces of plywood for backing. But if, like me, you are a bit leery of power tools, the nice clerks at your home improvement store will probably be happy to cut larger pieces for you. However, if you need a custom shape, a rounded shape, or something else that is not perfectly square, invest in a jigsaw and learn how to use it safely.
Grasping and Arranging Tools
Invest in a good pair of long tweezers for picking up tiny pieces and placing them where you want them. Some artists collect multiple tweezers of various sizes. Old dental tools are very good for arranging pieces, digging out excess grout or glue, and cleaning out tiny shards from crevices. A set of dental tools includes a variety of picks and scrapers. Ask your dentist to save them for you; most dentists just throw them away when they become dull.
Always wear safety glasses when cutting tile or glass, because the most important tool for making mosaics, and one you can't replace, is your eyes. A generous bib apron helps protect your clothing from glue, grout, and glass shards. Disposable vinyl or latex gloves protect your hands from the drying effects of grout or glue; most artists don't wear gloves for handling the mosaic pieces, as they do not allow for the most precision, but by all means wear them if they don't get in your way. I also have a special pair of shoes that I wear in my workshop, to avoid tracking tiny glass shards into the house.
A roll of kraft or butcher paper is helpful for drawing out your designs and templates. Mesh backing, also usually sold in rolls, provides an effective medium on which to glue a mosaic design if you will be adhering it to the wall, such as for a backsplash. Parchment paper or wax paper, which is available at most grocery stores, is handy to have on hand to put over your worktable and under the mesh, in order to avoid sticking your careful design directly to your table! Have on hand the usual measuring and angle tools, such as rulers, square, compass, protractor, and an assortment of pencils and pens.