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technical
Tools of the artisan tile trade
How tools, equipment and materials enabled a class of aspiring tile artisans to bring artistic vision to life
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By Scott Carothers, Academic Director Ceramic Tile Education Foundation
What do you get when two incredibly talented and dedicated tile artisans reach out to willing participants to provide specialized tools, tile materials, and an abundance of knowledge, patience, expertise, detailed instruction, and hands-on training? You get A.R.T. aka “Artisans Revolution in Tile” training. The inaugural artisan tile training event was held June 19-23, 2023, at Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works in Milwaukee, Wis.

A.R.T. – sponsored by the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and LATICRETE International with support from ARTO, EMI Mesh Mount Paper and Tape, Floor and Decor, Gemini Saw Company, Inland Craft, and TileTools.com – provided the opportunity for aspiring tile artists to learn and grow their abilities in this specialized field of tile work while gaining experience with equipment that was new to them or that could be utilized in new ways.
Master artisans Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone and Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska, led a team that shared their hands-on knowledge, encouragement, and guidance with the “A.R.T.isans” during the program.
Matt Blood, CTI #1279 of Paragon Tile Installation in Cumberland, R.I., said, “Of all the industry training events I’ve attended over the years, the artisan event easily ranks at the top. The instruction was clear and precise, and the amount of time we were able to spend letting the creative juices flow was unprecedented. This is a must-do training for anyone interested in creating art with tile.”
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Artisan tools: shaping creativity In addition to design tips, recommendations for material selections, technical directions for templating, pre-mounting, and grouting from the experts, the class had a chance to work with a range of tools and equipment. Some of this equipment, such as wet saws, was familiar to the A.R.T.isans, but working with the other tools was a brand-new experience. All were essential for enabling the A.R.T.isans to shape their chosen materials of ceramic, porcelain, and stone into their creative vision.
When asked what made working with the tools easier, Jaime Karsky of Meadowlark Tile LLC, in Dickinson, N.D., said, “Lee and Josh! They gave excellent instructions.”
These are the tools the A.R.T.isans used in the class:
Jaime Karsky of Meadowlark Tile LLC, Dickinson, N.D., using the DeWalt 10" wet saw. Initial cuts can be made on the wet saw and fine-tuned for the final finish.
Wet saw – A row of eight DeWalt 10" wet saws were set up in an outdoor tent to facilitate cutting the tile and stone. Although wet saws were primarily used for straight cuts, they were also used to shape some of the intricate pieces required to complete each attendee’s project. In fact, Nordstrom commented that for years, he made all his cuts on wet saws.
“Prior to the training, I had only been familiar with the DeWalt 10" wet saw,” Blood said. “Truth be told, I even built some confidence in new ways to utilize the wet saw that I previously may not have done.”
Karsky added, “I have done three mosaics since the class and used my wet saw.”
Although the DeWalt 10" wet saws were primarily used for straight cuts, they were also used to shape some of the intricate pieces required to complete each attendee’s project.
Gemini Revolution XT Ring Saw – this tool is not your common everyday tile saw. The ring saw consists of a 10" sintered diamond blade, similar to a wet saw blade, but it does not have a metal center or an axle. It combines the best qualities of a band saw and a table saw that can cut forward, backward, and make both inside and outside curve cuts with ease. It makes all these cuts with little or no vibration, yielding a smooth and clean finish.

Chris Osterritter, of Art by Tile in Wilmerding, Pa., was eager to employ the ring saw once he returned to his business. “I couldn’t wait to get my own tools necessary to create these intricate mosaics,” he said. “I actually purchased a ring saw online before I left Milwaukee.”
The Gemini Revolution XT ring saw consists of a 10" sintered diamond blade and combines the best qualities of a band saw and a table saw that can cut forward, backward, and make both inside and outside curve cuts with ease.
Intricate cuts being made on the Gemini Revolution XT ring saw by three of the A.R.T.isan attendees. Notice the focus and intensity of the group.
Wizard IV glass grinder – the Wizard, manufactured by Inland Craft, is better known to the tile artisans as the “shaper” due to its ability to provide very precise trimming, generating the desired size and shape. It has two diamond grinding bits including a 1/4" bit to create holes in the glass, tile, or stone as well as a 1" bit for shaping all edges. The motor operates at 3,550 rpm, which easily manages most shaping needs including those with a tight radius. One cool feature is the optional MagnaShield, which has a built-in optical-quality convex magnifying surface, making it easier to view the work while protecting the artisan from any flying debris.
Aryk Snowberger of Snowbee Custom Tile in Canton, Ohio, revealed in late March that he was in the process of buying a shaper as he was interviewed for this story. And Chris Resti of Crest Tile and Mosaic, Inc. in Hilton, N.Y., said, “Having a grinder/shaper is extremely helpful to fine-tune the pieces after initial fabrication. I purchased one after the training and bought a variety of bits to experiment with.”
The Wizard shaper by Inland Craft provides very precise trimming, generating the desired size and shape of mosaic pieces.
The Inland Craft Wizard IV Grinder was used to put a finishing touch on the mosaic pieces, allowing smoothing and shaping to create a perfect fit.
EMI Mesh Mount Paper and Tape – Callewaert and Nordstrom said mosaic tape is so much better than the standard carpet tape many installers use to face tape mosaics before pre-mounting or installation. They suggested it should be called “tile tape” as it has benefits for so many installations, not just mosaic work.  “Use pre-mounting to your advantage whenever a need arises!” emphasized Snowberger. (See “Pre-mounting saves the day” in this issue’s Gallery section-Ed.)
EMI mosaic tape is so much better than the standard carpet tape many installers use to face tape mosaics before pre-mounting or installation.
Mosaic tape is sturdier and doesn’t stretch like carpet tape. Tile artisans value the time savings when they tape their work prior to the install with this quality, easy-to-use product. It did take some practice to become adept with the tape. Lucas Hendrickson of Northwest Artisan Tile Company in Auburn, Wash., admitted, “The face tape has learning curves with how well it adheres to different tiles. There can be no moisture in the tile!”
Aryk Snowberger of Snowbee Custom Tile, LLC, Canton, Ohio, applies the EMI Specialty Tape to his koi artwork in preparation for the next step.
Inspiration + instruction + tools = artistry Every component of the A.R.T. training – including the tools selected – was geared towards inspiration, skill-building and success of the A.R.T.isans.
“These tools have allowed me to more confidently produce art pieces that I will use as marketing material to upsell future clients, as well as create pieces to sell as stand-alone art, or as part of a larger tile project,” Blood said.
Osterritter acknowledged that “[the tools] have given me the ability to create the mosaics I enjoy, and the confidence of knowing what I’m capable of. With these tools on hand, I can now offer custom mosaics to my clients, and that’s a benefit that sets my company apart.”
These tools will again be key equipment used at this year’s training class scheduled at Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, June 10-13, 2024, sponsored by LATICRETE International and the NTCA with support from TileTools.com, Gemini Saw Co., DeWalt (celebrating its 100th anniversary), Inland Craft, EMI Specialty Paper and Tape, and Daltile.
A special thank you goes out to Jane Callewaert of Dragonfly for her assistance in the production of this article as well as providing some of the images seen here.