Is Hardboard a Good Base for Mosaics? : A Guide to Making Your Mosaics.


As long as the overall mosaic and tesserae sizes are kept to a minimum and the mosaic is not displayed in a damp area, the hardboard offers a fantastic base for your mosaics. Due to its susceptibility to degradation in outdoor settings, hardboard should be avoided. In my experience, 1/8-inch thick hardboard serves as a good base if your tesserae are the size of a quarter or less and your mosaic’s total size is less than 24″x24″. Even with grout, a mosaic made from little tesserae can be surprisingly flexible; it can take minor warping before the grout splits or the glass pieces pop off.

Your mosaic can’t endure as much warping (i.e., the thicker the wood, the more resistant to warping) if your tesserae are extensive or if you incorporate significant pieces of stained glass into your mosaic. Let’s say you’re making a mosaic on a 24″ x 24″ scale and want to depict the sun using a single piece of yellow stained glass. Take the sun, whose diameter is assumed to be 10 inches and hence dominates the design, as an example. Even slight distortions can put undue strain on a single pane of glass, increasing the likelihood of failure (i.e., cracking or bursting). It’s similar to installing ceramic tile over a concrete surface. The force on the ceramic tile increases as the concrete cracks and shifts, and eventually, the tile will break. Therefore, the size of the tesserae should be considered when determining the base’s base depth for your mosaic.

Over the years of creating numerous 24″x24″ or smaller wall mosaics, I have found that a 1/8″ hardboard is my preferred base. It’s the same dark brown material as pegboard, minus the holes. One side is silky slick, while the other is rough. This material is not intended for outdoor use. Therefore, I only use it for inside wall mosaics that will not get wet. The glue adheres effectively to this material because it is 1) not too heavy, 2) not too thick, and 3) rough on one side.

Because it is only 1/8 inch thick, the completed mosaic can be placed in any store-bought picture frame. The finished mosaic is approximately 1/4 inch thick because my glass tesserae are only 1/8 inch thick. Because of this, I can get a ready-made frame for pennies on the dollar. The standard sizes for ready-made picture frames inspire me to create 16″x24″, 18″x24″, and 24″x24″ mosaics for indoor walls. For a mosaic this thick (i.e., 3/4-inch wood foundation plus 1/8-inch tesserae = almost a 1-inch thickness), I would need a custom frame with enough depth to cover the total thickness. The price of a custom frame might be up to five times that of a mass-produced one. A pre-made 18″x24″ frame in a lovely style and color that best suits the mosaic, installation of the mosaic within the frame, installation of the hanging wire, and installation of the paper backing can all be had for less than $25 at my favorite hobby store during their biweekly 50% sale. True enough. Spending less than $25. It’s possible to spend upwards of $150 on a bespoke frame.

Not only do I spend less on frames, but hardboard is also less expensive than 3/4-inch plywood or MDF. Instead of purchasing a full 4′ x 8′ sheet of hardboard, I purchase a pre-cut piece. This piece has already been trimmed to 24″x48″. Given that the height of my interior wall mosaics usually is 24 inches, I may use the pre-cut section to determine whether the hardboard should be 16 inches, 18 inches, or 24 inches wide. Let’s say I plan on making an 18″x24″ mosaic. The hardboard I purchased comes in 24″ widths. I use my ruler and saw to get a piece of hardboard that is 18 inches wide and 24 inches long. A ready-made 18″x24″ frame would be ideal for this. I use a regular circular saw and a “rip fence” I made from a 3-foot level and two C-clamps to accurately measure and cut the hardboard. I can ensure my cuts are straight and precise by pushing the saw along the level’s straight edge, protected by the rip fence.

I start by applying two coats of white primer to the hardboard base. Having a white background against which to stick the glass tesserae is the primary motivation for painting it white (Note: I always adhere the glass to the rough side of the hardboard). The white background makes it stand out, even though I often use opaque glass. The glass pieces, meant to be opaque, appear dull and dark due to the hardboard’s dark brown tone. Priming the hardboard has the added benefit of protecting it from the elements. Even though I do not know if sealing hardboard improves its performance, I think it does. Whether or not the hardboard needs to be sealed is a mystery to me, but painting it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Sealing things, whether or not they need it, is a habit of mine.

If your tesserae are small enough, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how flexible the mosaic is once the grout and tesserae have been applied. Experimenting with a 1/8-inch hardboard base, I discovered I could bend the finished mosaic two inches without damaging the glass or grout. I couldn’t bend it more than an inch or two! Based on my experiment, I believe the mosaic is robust enough to withstand any warping that may occur. Then, after having the mosaic set into the ready-made frame, I noticed that it had been set up to prevent any warping. The mosaic was secured by pressing it into the frame and using the tiny screws on the reverse. The mosaic can only bend if the force is significant enough to bend the frame. When utilizing average pre-made frames and 1/8-inch hardboard for an interior wall mosaic, I’ve never had a problem with warping.

Using a 1/8″ hardboard keeps the overall weight of the mosaic from necessitating any significant structural changes to the house to accommodate it. My 24″x24″ mosaics (and smaller) are typically lightweight enough to hang with just a picture hook and nail in drywall. It saves me from having to cut into the drywall and then insert 2″x4″s between the studs. The fact that the recipient doesn’t have to do anything more complicated than pounding a nail into the wall to hang the mosaic is a huge plus when it comes time to sell or give away the mosaic.

Bill Enslen has been making beautiful mosaics for thirty years. You may create your own [] mosaic [] masterpieces with the help of his new guide on how to do so. Check out his website to read a few chapters for free. Take his word for how simple it is. With Bill’s assistance, you can succeed. The answer is yes.

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