Create a glass tile mosaic light box

I love the look of stained glass, and still someday hope to create a real stained glass window for myself.  In the mean time, creating a stained glass mosaic is easier and less time-consuming.  I plan at some point to create an inlay for a table top, but today, I am sharing the light box I made.

This is at least a 3-day project, if you decide you want to take it on.  Let’s start with what you’ll need.

I bought various sizes of stained glass pieces from sellers on etsy and ebay, keeping to a green/teal/blue color scheme.  I was also able to order grout and adhesive from one of the sellers.  I chose white grout, though it comes in many colors so that you can have it compliment your project better.  There is also sand grout and sandless grout.  Which you use for your project is more a personal preference.  The sandless grout should be smoother, less grainy, if that’s the look you’re going for.   You’ll need grout sealer, and I already had some on hand, so didn’t buy more.  I found sand dollars at a dollar store, but then totally forgot to include them in my design.  Duh!

 Next you’ll want to choose the surface on which you will create your mosaic, and how you plan to frame it out.  If you want, you can use 1/4 inch plywood as your back surface.  It’s easy to frame out the wood, and you can make it in any size you want that way.  Unless your are covering the top of an item (such as altering the front of a basic picture frame), plan to leave a slight edge between your tiles and the edges of the backing surface for framing.

I chose to buy a shadow box frame, 16 x 20 inches.  I bought a second inexpensive 16 x 20 frame for the glass insert.  I wanted my backing to be transparent so I could put light behind it.  I also wanted the glass panel that came with the shadow box to serve as a protective surface covering my glass tiles, otherwise, I could have just used it for the back surface and saved a few bucks on the second frame.  Instead, the front glass panel will keep dirt and dust out of the grout so I won’t have to worry about cleaning it.  My tiles will be just a couple centimeters inside the back-glass edges to accommodate the way the frame is constructed.

Your first step is to dry-fit your tiles into whatever design you’ve chosen.  Since I specifically bought square tiles, my design was going to be fairly geometric.  I opted to off-center my main piece to try and create a more interesting layout.  Keep a gap between the tiles for your grout, but not too large a gap so that you have large spaces of nothing but grout.  (In this picture, the skinny black frame is an insert/spacer from the shadow box, and is being used as the guide for how far from the back-glass edges I need to lay my tiles).

Next, you will adhere your tiles to your backing surface.  Follow the instructions of whatever brand adhesive you decided to use.  I opted for Weldbond as it dries fairly clear, which was desirable when wanting light to shine through from behind.  In my case, the directions called for adhesive on both the tiles and the surface.  This was difficult to do with the smaller pieces, so I just glued them down with the adhesive on only one of the two surfaces.  It worked just fine.

I found it easiest to start with my large pieces, working down to the smallest ones.  This is probably the most tedious stage of the whole process, as the tiles can (and will!) shift while you’re trying to place the ones next to them.  But you have time (depending on the adhesive) to straighten them out as you move along.   The work actually was hardest on my neck and back as my desk is normal height, so I spent a long (long!) time hunched over the work-surface glueing tiles down.  (Note to self:  when desiging my new craft space, have a taller work surface to spare my old bones!)

Once all your tiles are glued down, wait for it to set before grouting.  While the adhesive may dry within about an hour, it’s best to wait overnight, up to 24 hours, before grouting.  You don’t want to dislodge any of your tiles during that process.

Okay, along with the grout, gather a few more supplies.  You’ll want gloves to work in (latex/plastic/rubber), and, if you cannot work in a well-ventilated area, consider a mask that will keep dust particles out of your lungs.  It was a gorgeous day, so I took my project out to the deck and worked on my table outside.  You’ll need a container to mix the grout in – better if it’s something disposable like an old Cool-Whip bowl.  I didn’t have one handy, so I cut the side/top off a water jug.

Have clean water and a clean sponge on hand as well for after the grout sets.  A lint-free cloth is also needed.  To spread the grout, you can use a spatula or putty knife, or just use your hands/fingers.  I found it easiest to just use my hands.

To mix your grout, follow the directions that come with it, or if there aren’t any, start by adding only a small amount of water at a time.   Your goal is a paste the consistency of thick oatmeal, or peanut butter.  While you want enough grout mixed to complete your project, you don’t want to have too much and waste it.  I used a plastic spoon to mix it, but you could use the spatula or other tool you’re going to spread it with.

Put a dollop of grout paste on your tiles and begin working it into all the seams.  Make sure you spread in all directions to get the grout into every nook and cranny.

You will now let the grout set up for about 10-15 minutes.

Take your clean sponge, dip in the clean water, and wring it out completely.  Gently work the grout off the tops of the tiles, and smooth the grout lines as you go.  You will need to rinse out your sponge frequently and change your water a few times.

Don’t wet the sponge too much as you don’t want to loosen up the grout so much that you start removing it.  When you’ve cleaned the tiles fairly well with the sponge, you can change to a dry lint-free cloth and start to polish them, removing the last of any grout residue still present.

(Can you tell the sun was going down behind me??)

Okay.  Since these tiles aren’t going on a kitchen backsplash, nor in a bathroom shower stall, I’m not so worried about when to seal the grout.  At minimum, you should let at least 24 hours pass before you seal it, but you can do this any time after that.  If your project is going to be at risk of having something spill on it, you’ll be glad to have done the sealing sooner rather than later, though.   Again, follow the instructions on your product.  Usually, it’s just a matter of brushing it onto all your grout lines, going in all directions to get every side of every tile sealed.  Then polish the tiles again to removed any residue.

Now you’re ready for framing.  If you used a plywood backing, you can glue/nail your frame directly to the edges of the plywood.  In my case, I removed the back of the frame and 2 of the 3 spacer-frames that came with the shadow box.  That leaves a small gap between the front pane of glass and my design, plus a small space behind my insert where I placed 2 small 10-bulb strands of mini lights.

I used a small electric saw to cut a notch out of the frame’s back board to allow the cords to exit the frame, but keep the back flush with the edges, allowing the anchors to still close properly.

So, that’s it.  Turn it around, plug it in, and this is what you get….

As heavy as this piece ended up being (I didn’t weigh it, so can’t tell you the specifics), I don’t feel like I can safely hang this up on a wall in it’s present state.  I will likely set it on a shelf unless I build a stronger frame/box.  I did not know when I ordered some of the tiles that they would be blacked out on the back, so that is something else I would do different in the future.  Still, those tiles are gorgeous and, when seen from the front in regular light, they really look great in this piece.

I hope you found this project as interesting and easy as I did.  I believe I will do more of this type thing in the future!


One response to “Create a glass tile mosaic light box

  1. Bobbie McClure

    Hi! I live in Aurora, Colorado. My husband and I recently remodeled, closing up a window. We left the window frome and window indentation. I think this would be a great place to put a tile light box. Thanks for your instructions. Easy is nice (compared to stain glass). I will have to try your method. Thanks for sharing!!

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