I have the world's ugliest mailbox. It once had an image of elk engraved on wood on the surface, but the wood and flag have since broken off leaving behind only dried glue. The door is held onto the hinges by zip ties. I need a new mailbox!
Every since living in Germany, I have been collecting Polish pottery. It's totally gorgeous dinnerware made of royal blue and white designs. Because I am a hoarder, I have been keeping all my broken pieces for years. I never had a clear idea what I was saving them for, just that they were too pretty to toss and had some value left.
Doing an online search I found an Etsy ceramic mosaic mailbox for $250. What?!? Naive me, I thought that was a crazy price. I CAN DO IT CHEAPER.
Considerations: With a wet climate, there is a possibility of the mosaic breaking from the expansion/contraction when moisture freezes in winter. Buena Vista is located in what is called "The Banana Belt" and receives less than 10" of precipitation a year. A person in another area could consider taking their mailbox in during the winter. I will not be doing this. We'll see what happens.
I had tile nippers already. I had an ugly mailbox. I had ceramic. I needed glue and grout.
Upon closer inspection, my ugly mailbox was made of plastic! My fantastic super artistic friend that I go to for project brainstorming encouraged me to buy a metal mailbox. She was concerned that 1) The mailbox was crazy old anyways and was already breaking 2) The plastic would not be able to support the weight of the tile and grout 3) No glue would adhere ceramic to plastic. So really, first, a new mailbox!
I made a mistake and bought my mailbox online. It came in minimal packaging. One side was caved in and the front door wouldn't close because the corners were bent. At first I was going to return it and even submitted a return authorization. The reality was that I would have to pay for return shipping and since the plan was to cover the surface so dents and scratches would be hidden, I decided to keep the it. I took a screw driver and hammer to the metal, pounding and prying out the dents.
Not that any of you have any anger issues, but if you did, I recommend cutting up ceramic with tile nippers. HIGHLY SATISFYING. Probably only second to throwing grenades at an ice covered pond. I tried multiple ways of cutting the dishes. I tried a hammer. Very satisfying also, but I found the breakage to be uneven and wasteful. The final method that worked for me was to place the tile and my hands inside a paper bag and cut. That way I could skip the eye protection and easily collect the pieces.
I needed to know how many ceramic pieces I needed. I laid a piece of newspaper over the mailbox and trimmed to get an idea of the surface area.
I didn't have enough Polish pottery to cover the newspaper template. Oh no! As I have young kids I suppose I could put the project on hold for another year as there would surely be broken plates soon enough. I sent out a plea to friends to send me their broken dishes and-lo! I got two small dishes in the mail. Still not enough however. I went to our local thrift store and couldn't find anything that was blue enough. Also, the trend at the thrift store was not to have individual plates but entire settings and I couldn't justify buying something that a family could use and then breaking it. I decided to buy some ceramic pieces off of Etsy. I searched and found ceramic tiles that were high fired - meaning suitable for outdoor applications.
Laying out all the tile on a board was crucial. I had an idea in my mind, but when I saw the pieces all on the cardboard I found that the random pattern didn't have a high visual impact. I chose a wave pattern where grouping similar tile together really made the pieces pop.
I took a crayon and drew some rough wave lines on the mailbox. Let the glueing begin!
Silicone glue is recommended for ceramic to metal. This comes in multiple colors, I chose clear. I ended up using juuuust over two 2.8oz tubes of glue because of poor planning. If you know what you're doing, you will only need about 6 oz. Buy the glue that has a cap so that you can reseal the container. The glue takes about 15 minutes to set up so there is plenty of time to adjust as needed. As I did just a few tile pieces a day, being able to reseal the glue was essential. Note: This glue will permanently stain your clothing, plan accordingly.
The glue label does say to have ventilation while using it, however I did my project out on the lawn so never noticed any scent or ill effects. The Polish pottery was irregular, curved and thicker than my purchased ceramic pieces. Don't fear! Just use more glue to adjust to the desired thickness.
I chose a sanded, bright white pre-mixed grout. As the grout takes 24+ hours to cure and we have rainy afternoons, I moved my project for the final phase into our camping trailer. You'll need access to lots of clean water, fairly quickly. I was running across the lawn with buckets of water because the grout sets up fast. Carcinogens and toxin concerns aside, use gloves for grout because that stuff is super rough on your hands and hard to clean.
Because my tile was so thick, I ended up scooping up the grout with my gloved hand and "smashing" it with my palm onto the tile. Then using a lightly damp cloth or sponge use a circular motion to clean it off the tile.
I got 3/4 of the grout off the tiles but worried I would do damage by being too thorough and left the rest for the final cleaning. The instructions on the grout said that you could remove any haze with a damp rag 5 hours after applying. Reading this, I thought it would be as simple and gentle as wiping away a child's tear. WRONG. I was scrubbing, broke out the spare toothbrush for more cleaning. Save yourself this trouble and do a thorough job of cleaning up so that all you have to do is wipe off the haze.
Wait 24 hours for the grout to cure completely. Then you're ready to inspect, re-grout any areas that need further attention and mount your mosaic mailbox. Invite your neighbors over for a celebratory toast!
Tile Nippers: I used Goldblatt G02007 Glass Tile Nippers With Pro-Grip Handle.
Mailbox: I went with Gibraltar Elite Large Capacity Galvanized Steel White Post-Mount Mailbox, E1600W00. The dimensions are 20.2 x 8.5 x 10.9 inches. Price was $29.
Glue: I used Silicone II Household Glue & Seal (GE280). Price 3 for $12.
Tile: I used broken dinnerware and supplemented with additional tile off of Etsy. I bought 1/2 square foot of primary color bubble tiles and 1 square foot of royal blue random tiles. I also bought 5 royal blue house numbers. Then what the hell. I also got some flowers and a bright yellow bird. Price $107.15.
Grout: I used 3/4 of SimpleGrout #381 Bright White 1 Qt. Pre-Mixed Grout. Price $10.49
Crayon, gloves, eye protection, hardware for mounting.
Total price: $158.64. Still beats the Etsy price of $250, and that didn't include shipping. Plus it's an accomplishment that makes me proud.