Everyone loved the border tiles in my final picture in last week’s post, so much so that I thought today I’d tell you a little bit more about them. They are hydraulic cement tiles (mosaico hidráulico) and I was surprised to learn from Ângelo that these tiles are also individually made.
Ângelo at Terracota do Algarve very kindly shared with us on our visit a video so we could understand how they are made. The whole process, a mid 19th century French innovation, seemed to me to be a kind of encaustic tile making.
The design moulds are made of metal, and after being placed in a frame, a liquid paste of cement, sand, marble dust, water and metal oxides is poured in by hand. There is a different paste for every colour in the tile pattern, and once all parts of the mould have been filled with the paste two additional layers of dry cement are added to provide the tile base and a hard centre. The mould is then placed in a hydraulic press for a few seconds. This process of pushing all the water through the tile enables the cement to partially harden so you are left with a solid mass and the mould can be removed ready for the next tile to be created.
These tiles, unlike terracotta tiles are not baked. They harden with time. It can take up to a month to fully harden, and so whilst a skilled tile-maker may make lots in a single day it is going to be a while before they can be laid in your house! There is a second hardening stage when the tiles are submerged in water, although interestingly I discovered when preparing this post that some producers make no mention of this and others vary on whether or not they are submerged before or after drying. I’ve borrowed though a fabulous picture from Terracota do Algarve which shows tiles submerged!
‘Terracota do Algarve‘ do not currently make these tiles themselves, however they do have partnerships with three producers, including a 75year old tile maker in Olhão. So if you want to buy locally made ones it is possible, they will be more than happy to assist you with both choosing the design and sourcing the tiles. And in the next year or two Terracota do Algarve may even be making them themselves, so watch this space!
By the way if you are just looking for glazed tiles or even stone tiles then do still contact Terracota do Algarve as they can also assist with these, they can even help sourcing second hand tiles. Their showroom may be tiny but it is full of beautiful tiles, and Ângelo is extremely informative and helpful.
PS In case you were wondering I am still planning an in-depth post on terracotta tiles,; I can’t wait to tell you about donkey bricks,. You are, though, going to have to wait until later this month for that post!