How to mosaic stair risers using plexiglass

the top mosaic stair risers
the top mosaic stair risers
the bottom four mosaic stair risers
the bottom four mosaic stair risers
detail of one end of two stair risers ...
detail of one end of two stair risers ...

These mosaic stair risers on Plexiglass add color and interest to our home. Butterflies, dragonflies, snails, birds, and fairy faces peek from the forest. Fish leap in the stream.

Children love these stairs. When a two-year-old comes to visit, he is immediately drawn to the stairs and crawls up, pausing on each step to carefully trace the creatures with his finger as his mother hovers behind him. I ground, tumbled or otherwise smoothed each piece so that there are no sharp edges.

I used stained glass, broken plates, pieces of jewelry and glass globs. There are bits of costume jewelry throughout, along with special plate rims that feature faces that look like fairies and woodland elves. The colors are blue, purple, green, brown, cream, and a few bright accent colors. My best friend's broken earring, a link of another friend's grandmother's necklace, my mom's pendant; all these things and more are included in the forest.

There are 16 stair risers and they are not exactly the same size. Some are 7" in height, some are 6 3/4" and some are 6 1/4". Thank my lucky stars that I measured more than just one before I had the Plexiglass cut! I would advise you to measure each one, and check your measurements, and then check once more before you have the Plexiglass cut.

I had Lowes cut 1/4" Plexiglass in the size and shape of each riser, and I mosaiced each one sitting comfortably at the kitchen table.

I first drilled a hole on each end of each rectangle before I began to glue. I grouted and sealed before I installed each piece with small screws. Right after I grouted, I stuck a toothpick into the screw hole and cleaned out the grout. The screws were a pale brown color and just happened to blend perfectly with the grout, so I didn't even bother to cover or paint over the screw heads.

Alhough the 1/4" Plexiglass is hefty, it still has a tiny bit of flex and with grout, we don't want any flex in our substrate since that will cause cracks. I figured that I could repair them after installation; it would still be much easier than grouting in situ! Fortunately, there were no cracks. Over four years later, they are holding up perfectly; still no cracks.


These stair risers are removable; they are rectangle pieces of Plexiglass, mounted to the front of each stair riser with two screws. I could have used the method of mosaic onto mesh, but I would have had to grout in place, a daunting task, and they would not have been removable.

Use this same method to make a mosaic backsplash! So much easier than working directly on the wall behind the stove or sink -- and you can take it with you when you move if you wish; just repair two small holes in the wall -- or you can take it down and replace it with another if your d├ęcor changes. You can use Plexiglass, Wedi board, or other backer board.

If we moved away, we could unscrew the risers and take them with us. I can envision them installed on a wall as a piece of art. If you go to my blog,www.mosaicroad.blogspot.com, you can view the work in progress. Go to the oldest posts on the blog.

Sometimes it is more appropriate to mosaic onto mesh and I have written an article about that here: http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-mosaic-on-mesh

We purchased many books on the subject of mosaics, and one stands out, Elaine M. Goodwin's Classic Mosaic (see link below). It is a wonderful reference book to have.

These stairs add so much color and interest to our home.

Comments 39 comments

Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

I will do that, I have always meant to do some mosaic and even gathered a lot of things at one time but for some reason it always got put off, I think it is so fantastic and this is beautiful!

Polly


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thank you for your comment, Polly. You won't be sorry if you start mosaicing. It is so much fun and so rewarding.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

Yes I have had a friend tell me so many years ago you can use almost anything...I have drawers full of that. lol


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

So beautiful.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thank you, suziecat7.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Love it Silva, a great piece of art both on the stairs and on their own. Really inspiring.

Ben


Maria Harris profile image

Maria Harris 5 years ago from Houston

wow, these are the most beautifully designed stairs I've ever seen. Great hub. Rated up. Thank you for sharing.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 5 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Maria and Ben, thank you both for your comments. We are still enjoying our stairs; I am so glad I accomplished this.


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Nice work,thanks for sharing.


kate 5 years ago

I am going to attempt to do this beautiful staircase in our home... I cannot see from the pic, but what colour is your grout between the tiles? Kate


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 5 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

It's a pale sand color; I think it's called Bone. Any of the light browns are my favorites to use; one thing I have learned is to never use white. The black is really effective to use but really messy to clean up. Charcoal is good also. Check back a little later on this hubpage because I will add some additional photos so you can see the stairs better.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 5 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Kate, scroll down to the end for a photo showing the grout.


Heather 4 years ago

This is so awesome. I can't believe your creativity and artistry!


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Heather, you are so generous. Thanks for your comment!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

These are perfectly gorgeous! When I first saw the picture, I fell in love with the idea, but thought that there was no way I could kneel to do the artwork. Knowing that this can be done on removable plexiglass makes the whole project so much more doable! Thanks for the inspiration!


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

You're welcome! The plexiglass makes all the difference -- I could never do something like this in place; it would take years ... thanks for your comments.


Karen McT 4 years ago

Thank you for your hub on sociopaths and thank you for this as well. I am going to try and do a piece. Your work is so impressive and seems a great way to heal myself. Art is an expression of emotion. You are so talented and your work makes me smile. I think this can help me a lot to heal. Thank you and may God always bless you.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Karen, I love your comment. Thanks so much. I would love to see a photo of your work as well. You are right; art will help you heal. It's what keeps me sane.


calculus-geometry profile image

calculus-geometry 3 years ago from Germany

It's great that you made them to be removable. What a shame to have to leave them if you ever sold your home. They are really beautiful.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 3 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thanks for the visit and comment, calculus-geometry. Yes, if I moved away, I would remove them and re-install them as wall hangings elsewhere, perhaps in stacks of 3 or 5. This type of installation gives one options.


wilderness profile image

wilderness 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

This has to be one of the most fascinating and beautiful projects I've ever seen! I do an awful lot of home improvement projects but never anything like this.

I don't have stairs, but my son does. You can bet that he will see this hub as he badly needs to finish his stairwell after putting new flooring down everywhere.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 3 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thank you so much! I have done hundreds of mosaic installations, and this one is my favorite.


Susan 3 years ago

beautiful! I thought mosaic and then thought painting a scene but I do like your idea with plexi glass. I get sore painting. What glueing product do you use to attach the pieces before grouting? I would be sitting on each step admiring too :)


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 3 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thank you, Susan. I use MAC Glue. It is thin but strong so a little goes a long way (it is expensive, $19.00 for 8 oz.). It dries transparent and more quickly than Weldbond. I have ordered it on line from Maryland Mosaics but a local Austin stained glass shop (Blue Moon) carries it now. You could also use Weldbond.


Marsha Kaye 3 years ago

I've always wanted to do this but on the stairs leading to my pool. Do you think this same process will work on outside stairs? What about the glue?


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 3 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Yes, I think this would work well on outside stairs. For outdoor projects you can use Mapei brand Ultra Flex 2 polymer modified mortar as an adhesive. (This is a thinset that can be used as both an adhesive and as a grout for outdoors). It is sticky and a little messy and not as easy to use as glue, but it is guaranteed to hold up outdoors, as it is the same thing as cement. Mix up a small amount at a time, perhaps a cup or so. Keep it covered when you have to stop and also have a small spray bottle of water handy to spritz the top layer and it should remain workable for about an hour. I have also used the GE Silicone II Kitchen and Bath sealant (clear) as an adhesive on outdoor projects and after five years, it is holding up well. I buy both these products at Lowes.

There are other outdoor adhesives as well but I can only recommend these two since they are what I've used for outdoors. I also would use a grout sealer that says it's for outdoors. I have used Aqua Mix UltraSeal Premium Stone & Tile Sealer. You might want to refer to another hub I wrote, https://feltmagnet.com/crafts/How-to-Create-Mosaic...

as it might have some information that would be helpful.

For your stairs I would stress that you probably want to make sure you have smooth edges since people will be using them with bare feet. Even if you only mosaic the riser part of the stairs, people still might hit it with their heel. There are several ways to do this; I usually use the carborundum stone. Some people use their Dremel tool and I have also tumbled all my tess to take care of sharp edges and points.

Thank you for your visit and your comment! I will be happy to answer any other questions you might have.


AndreaU 2 years ago

Your idea for putting it on plexiglass is fantastic. I've been working on my own stained glass mosaic backsplash and just finished one wall, but sealing and grouting were such a mess since I was doing it against a vertical wall. I'm now ready to begin my main wall, but it's funny- I've been putting away the scrap glass I bought with colors that I really love specifically because I wanted to only use them on projects that I would be able to take with me. So basically my backsplash would only incorporate glass that I was willing to part with- though of course there's the real issue of parting with countless hours of labor :)

A question for you, will grout stick to plexiglass? It seems like any smooth surface like glass or plexiglass, the grout would just scratch right off. Is there a specific type I should use for plexiglass?

On another one of your pages, you talk about making the surface completely smooth for, say, a table top mosaic. Can you please explain again how you do that? Assume I have no access to a rock tumbler and I don't know what that Carborundum stone is or where to get one. How would I make that table so a glass can be set on top of it?

Though I am just a beginner, I do have a few tips to pass on to you. You had mentioned removing marker lines from the glass for the wet saw - steel wool grade #0000 works great. Also, for mosaics, I buy random samples of backsplash and bathroom tiles to incorporate into my pieces. You can find sheets on sale at Home Depot or Lowes, but there is a site I love called The Glass Tile Store which will send you 5 samples for $5 (free shipping) and you can make multiple orders. The samples are about 3"x3" or 4"x4" so they are a decent size for $1 each, and then I have boxes full of different types of tiles to work into my project (sometimes I'll buy full sheets when I really like the tile and want to use it in multiple projects).

I'm still learning- my stained glass mosaic backsplash is my first attempt ever of using stained glass or making mosaics, but so far things have been going well. Oh, one other tip, another site I found is Armacost LED lighting. They make led rope red, green, blue lights that can be programmed to any color (including multiple shades of white). They hide extremely well under cabinets or in the back of curio displays, etc and have attachments so there can be breaks in the line and will still only need one power source attachment. And the customer service is excellent. I called them and they had me send them photos of my kitchen and sent me a layout of exactly what I needed and how I should install each part. They also got rave reviews on other sites I checked. I would highly recommend them to help enhance your commissioned projects that need their own lighting.

Thanks for all your tips. I found your site extremely helpful. I might be back with some more questions! :)


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 2 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Hi, Andrea, thank you for your helpful tips! I have been wanting to add some light to my projects so I will pursue the Armacost LED lighting for sure.

The grout I use is sanded grout and it adheres well to the Plexiglass; I haven't had any problems at all with these stairs. Sanded grout that you mix yourself is much stronger than unsanded grout.

The indirect method gives the smoothest results for a table top. You would need a mold, and the easiest concrete to use would be Diamondcrete concrete. I have found it at Hobby Lobby. Using this method, you would not need to grout. You can make your own mold or buy one, and you can also mix your own less expensive concrete.

Using the mold as a guide, you cut out an exact shape of the mold out of clear contact paper. You grease the mold well, using a mold release or Vaseline. Then you lay the contact paper down inside the mold, sticky side up. Now you mosaic upside down, pressing the top side of each piece firmly against the contact paper.

If you want to mosaic following a pattern, use a piece of paper the exact size and shape of the mold. Draw your pattern using a bold black marker. Then flip the paper over and trace the pattern onto the back of the paper. Hold the paper up to a window if you need to in order to see the pattern.

Then layer first the Vaseline, then the paper pattern, back side facing up, then the clear Contact paper sticky side up, and then proceed to mosaic, remembering to press the tile face downward.

Another way to do this is to mosaic onto mesh. On a hard flat surface, you first tape down your paper pattern, which is exactly the size and shape of the mold. Over that, tape down clear plastic. I take a large baggie and cut off the top and sides and open it up to get one piece of plastic. Over that, tape down your mosaic mesh, also the exact size and shape as the mold. You then proceed to mosaic onto the mesh, being sparing with the glue. You want to put a drop of glue onto each piece, enough to stick to the mesh, but not enough to ooze up in between tiles. When the glue is dry, you pull the mosaic up and discard the pattern and the plastic. You will flip your mosaic/mesh over and press it, face down, in your mold, on top of the Contact paper.

I know all this sounds complicated, but it really is not as bad as it sounds. The goal here is to press the tesserae firmly enough onto the Contact paper that the Diamondcrete will run in between each piece but not underneath.

After you get this all set up, place your mold somewhere out of the way where it can stay undisturbed because after you pour it, you don't want to move it. I have used this method for stepping stones and I like to set the mold on a grate like the ones in an oven. When I release the stone from the mold, I lay the stone on the grate and air can circulate all around it.

Just follow the directions on the box of Diamondcrete. It tells on the box how many cups of mix to water. As soon as you mix, pour gently into the mold.


AndreaU 2 years ago

Wow, I will have to work through all that. It sounds really confusing- if you ever happen to make a post about doing doing a table with with pictures of the process, please let me know because I think it will be far less confusing if I can visually see the process.

You had mentioned other installations you've done- do you have a gallery online of your work? I've love to more of your gorgeous mosaics. They are really inspiring.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 2 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Hi, Andrea. I agree; it does sound confusing. As soon as I have some extra time, I will do a table top with photos illustrating the indirect method. It is actually easy to do. Here are some of my art pieces on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/41703578@N07/page1/

and here is my blog, which I started when I did the stairs in 2008. Just keep scrolling to the bottom and clicking on "older posts" to see it all.

http://www.mosaicroad.blogspot.com


AndreaU 2 years ago

Phenomenal work- love the space mosaic (especially the little cow jumping over the moon in there). I was at Home Depot last night brainstorming with a supervisor what material would be the best to use for backing for a hanging mosaic (light enough to hang but won't warp from the grout). You had mentioned you expected the grout on your plexiglass to crack so I was worried about giving a gift where the grout may crack in a few years. Plus plexiglass is a little costly if I plan on doing multiple hanging pieces as gifts. We settled on Fiberrock as our final decision. Plywood would warp and MDF non-flexible board seemed way too heavy to hang. I had tried hardboard while trying to make a mosaic mirror and it warped once I glued on the mirror. Do you have any suggestions? I'll be reading through your blog later this week when I have a little free time.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 2 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Hi, Andrea, thanks for the visit and comments. Yes, originally I did worry about the grout possibly cracking on my plexiglass stairs but it has not. It is still just as sound as it was way back then (I think it was in 2008).

I have been using Wedi board as a light-weight durable substrate. It is water-proof, does not warp, and easy to cut. I cut it with a box cutter type tool and then I cover it with a thin film of thinset mortar. It's important to install the hanging mechanism before starting to mosaic.

I bought my first batch of Wedi at Maryland Mosaic (online) and then my local stained glass shop began to stock it (Blue Moon Glasswork, Austin, Texas).

If you go to my blog, you can see my works in progress; just scroll down and keep choosing "older posts." http://www.mosaicroad.blogspot.com

Good luck on your projects and ask me anything; I will try to help if I can.


AndreaU 2 years ago

What do you use for the hanging mechanism? I recently made a mirror mosaic on the fiberrock and am now trying to figure out what will hold the weight.

I looked up Wedi board for a seller in the area (and because I have no clue what it is) and came across this thread (http://www.johnbridge.com/vbulletin/archive/index.... Part way through, people start bringing up a cheaper alternative to Wedi board called ProPanel (finpan.com) and one comment explains the difference in the manufacturing processes which accounts for the drastic difference in price yet still the same durability. You might want to check it out, I plan on doing that this week.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 2 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

There is a hanging mechanism made especially for Wedi. One place that carries it online is Maryland Mosaics. http://www.marylandmosaics.com/wedi-picture-hangin...

When using Wedi, it's important to install the hanging mechanism first, before you mosaic.

It is possible to rig up your own method of hanging a Wedi piece. You just need to use a washer on either side; otherwise, the hanger will pull out, since Wedi is just a foam core substance. On light pieces, I use D rings and make sure the shank is long enough to go all the way through, and I drip glue into the hole.

I have heard of many people making their own version of Wedi much cheaper. They use a piece of white crispy Styrofoam, coat it with first the mesh tape they sell for taping and bedding Sheetrock, and then coat with a skim coaat of thinset mortar.

I will do some research for ProPanel; thanks for the info.


jean 17 months ago

Hello Silva! I am just finishing my second stair riser---thank you for this inspiration. What type of paint should be used when painting details such as fairies faces onto the glass? Also, I have drilled screw holes about one and one-half inches from each end, will this be sufficient? I just noticed that yours look to be much further in. One more thing---no worries about the sanded grout scratching the glass? Thanks for your help!


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 17 months ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Hi, Jean! What fun that you are doing your stair risers! I haven't painted on the glass so I can't say for sure, but there are paints made especially for painting on glass. I would probably use liquid acrylics since I have them on hand. The faces in my stairs are from a plate rim: Metropolitan by Vitromaster. Yes, my drill holes are about 5 inches in, but I don't see why yours wouldn't be fine. And don't know why, but my sanded grout never scratches the glass.


Jean 17 months ago

Thank you! Can I bother you with one more question? I began by using nippers to make small pieces of glass, and then found it took hours to "make" them fit into my pattern. Now I'm tracing pattern pieces onto my sheet glass as if I were doing a glass window etc. Then I cut each piece (a leaf for instance) into small pieces that perfectly fit. What is the method you use?


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 17 months ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

I use both methods, and I agree, fitting small pieces of glass together is extremely time-consuming. Sometimes I nip a shape (for example, a leaf); after I nip a leaf-shaped piece of glass, then I nip it in half length-wise and that's the stem running through it, then I will nip into small sections, taking care to place each piece in its correct position. Then I will Scotch-tape the leaf together, then place it into the mosaic.


jean 17 months ago

Okay, thanks! I was hoping there might be some secret I didn't know about that might speed things up. Well, back to work!

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    Here's a detail of two of the risers that shows the color of grout I used; it's a soft pale brown and is my favorite color to use.
    Here's a detail of two of the risers that shows the color of grout I used; it's a soft pale brown and is my favorite color to use.

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