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This is a question we are often asked! There is a lot of misinformation and confusion regarding these products, so we would like to enlighten you a little, we won’t get too technical but just give you a brief insight.
Basically all clay composition kiln fired products are generically known as CERAMIC. For our purposes I will break these products into 4 basic types. The biggest difference is the firing temperatures.
Literally (Baked Earth). These tiles are made from raw unrefined clay / mud usually sourced at the point of production. Traditionally pressed into wooden moulds by hand, dried in the sun and fired in kilns heated by wood or other locally sourced combustibles. There is often no temperature control and the temperatures are not very high. Due to the fact that temperatures are low and heat in the kiln is not even, there will be colour and size variation from tile to tile and the body will be very porous. Terracotta needs to be sealed and is not frost resistant. Sometimes terracotta is glazed for surface protection / decoration but is not very durable.
The most well known type of ceramic is used extensively for pottery, tableware, decorative objects, ceramic wall tiles and some older types of floor tiles. Formulations vary; a generic composition is clay, kaolin, quartz and feldspar. Earthenware is fired to temperatures between 1000 and 1150 °C the exact temperature will be influenced by the raw materials used. After firing, the body is porous and opaque with colours ranging from white to red depending on the raw materials used. Earthenware must usually be glazed and fired again in order to be water resistant. More recently, earthenware tiles can be single fired, this is done by pressing dried powder clay recipes, under high tonnage and applying the glaze at this stage – the tile is then fired once. To achieve flat consistent tiles all parts of the production process must be critically controlled and monitored.
A different clay recipe than earthenware, usually incorporating flint and fired at higher temperatures, ranges from about 1200 °C this composition and firing makes a harder less porous semi vitrified body, water absorption typically up to 5%.
Stoneware tiles can be used unglazed, typical quarry type clay tiles, with or without coloured oxides or clays or more commonly with a decorative glaze.
Again in recent years it has been possible to produce “single fired” (Monocottura) stoneware floor tiles, where the glaze is incorporated prior to firing. As with earthenware, to achieve flat consistent tiles all parts of the production process must be critically controlled and monitored. The advantage of this type of product is a homogeneous body that is less likely to chip. Because of the possibility of water absorption these tiles are not frost proof.
The ingredients in this type of product are carefully selected for their ability to withstand very high firing temperatures up to 1,400°C , resulting in a fully vitrified body, with a typical water absorption figure of less than .05% making this type of product frost proof with the strongest body, relative to thickness, of any ceramic tile.
Porcelain tiles can be produced with bodies coloured all the way through and different surface textures or mechanically polished to a sheen or high gloss finish.
Porcelain tiles can also be glazed with a decorative surface, always with the (Monocottura) method of production, this type of porcelain tile has very little advantage over a glazed stoneware tile – the main one being resistance to frost.
Because of the very high temperatures porcelain tiles are fired at, finished sizes can be very variable, to combat this anomaly, porcelain tiles are often “rectified” this process involves grinding all 4 sides to make all tiles the same dimensional size and provide square edges.
Basic Recommended uses
Walls and solid floors on bathrooms and bedrooms
Wall and floor internal use domestic and commercial (according to wear grade)
Wall and floor use internally or externally domestic and commercial (according to wear grade and slip resistance)