Monday, July 26, 2010

The Red Clay Tile Works with Andy Anderson

The Red Clay Tile Works

Fireplace in the display room.
According to Andy, it folds up into a suitcase to take to craft shows.

Andy Anderson has been making custom tile in Pittsburgh since 1974.  Andy started the business with his wife Eileen after both finished school at University of Cincinnati, and Eileen had spent time in Europe where she was exposed to European architectural ceramic tile tradition.  

While there are not a lot of tile makers in the area, Andy is unique in that he has designed and built most of the equipment used in the making of tile.  This includes the clay mixer, pug mill, tile presses, and many smaller tools that he uses to execute his work.  Often if Andy needs something, he designs and builds it rather than buying it.  In addition to tool and machinery creation, he also has devised systems to produce a lot of work efficiently in a rather small space.  

Today I visited with Andy and recorded the main processes that he uses to make tile.  After a tour of the processes and workshop, I will show his showroom and some of his work on display there.  Contact:  75 Meade Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15202  Studio Phone:  412 734-2222.
To purchase tiles from Red Clay Tile Works go to the following:

Clay mixer and weighing system.  Mixer designed and built by Andy with approximately 150 lb. capacity.

Exhaust system for both the mixer and weighing system.  He did purchase the blower and motor.

Custom built extruder with tile die that exits onto ware boards on a skate roller.  He also uses a type of clamp to connect one ware board to the next so he does not have to stop the extruder as often.

Front of extruder with hand cutter.  He is preparing tiles for the press.

Tree mold.

Andy uses plastic wrap to enable the clay to release from the mold so he can remold instantly.

After the slab of clay is added, plastic also goes over the top of the clay.

Andy build this hand tile press that compresses the clay into the mold.  The red light is connected to a limit switch to indicate that it time to stop the pressing otherwise more force would break the plaster mold.  Through the use of the plastic wrap and careful working like above he is able to reuse the molds for many years.

Removed from the press the top layer of plastic is removed and the excess clay pulled off.

Before removing the tile from the mold, he cuts a notch in the back to enable a hanger to be used and stamps the shop's name into the clay.

He removes the clay tile from the mold,

and peels off the plastic wrap.  A slight dusting with dry clay before the plastic was applied assists in the release of the wet clay from the plastic wrap.

A homemade, adjustable cutting tool is used to trim excess clay and square up the tile.

He cuts the other side in the same fashion.  Note how clean the cut is on the side just finished.

"A trade secret" is that Andy bends the corners of the tile before laying flat which minimizes warping.  You are looking at the back of the tile.

Andy built a tile shelf holder with a hoist and wheels.  These tiles on there now are in the glazing process but he uses the same shelf boards and  holder for wet tiles.

The hoist can be rolled to the opposite wall and deposited on holders that hold 8 shelf boards.  The wall contains multiple holders and he can use the hoist to pull down 8 boards at a time for moving to the bisque kiln for loading.

One of the mold storage areas.  He has developed many molds over the years.

Bisque kiln ready to be unloaded.  He modified an 18" Skutt electric kiln with additional insulation and has built a refractory stacking system.

He mixed a refractory body and extruded the above shapes to separate and hold the tiles in the kiln.

The second row down with tiles stacked on end and separated by the dividers.  Andy uses an earthware body that yields a fired tile with 5% absorption.

The refractory piece on the left is used to support the tiles so they don't fall over.  I counted 63 bisqued 6" x 6" tiles in the 18" kiln.  The additional insulation allows him to achieve the proper bisque temperature with the high density of tiles in the kiln.
Since many of the tiles have designs in relief, he uses a multiple step process to hand glaze each piece to achieve the desired effect that he wants.  

The front of the studio has a display room with several hundred different tiles displayed.

One staple for the studio has been house numbers.  You will see Red Clay Tiles Works tiles in front of many Pittsburgh houses.

A set of 4 tables with metal legs and tile mosaics set into wood.  Andy is also a metal worker and a blacksmith with a forge, presses, and much metal working equipment.

More tiles.  RCTW also does kitchen, fireplace, and bathroom tiles with both standard and custom designs.

Border tiles and small mirrors.

Mirror - unfortunately I cut off the top of it.  These are applied to a backing and come with wire hanger.

Mirror with Southwestern motif.

Finally, a number of years ago, I hired Andy to sculpt a gargoyle that I needed for a project in Vancouver, BC.  Andy supplied the shop drawings needed for architectural approval.  Upon approval, he built the armature from Styrofoam and chicken wire and had the sculpt finished in two days.  

The fired height of the gargoyle was 5 1/2 feet and weighed about 600 pounds broken into sections.  We took the sections apart that Andy had made and cast molds from them to produce the 8 glazed gargoyles needed for the 16th floor.  See the two pictures below of the gargoyle in the bisque stage and then installed.

Bisque gargoyle.

Glazed pieces installed.  There were 8 in total.


  1. Wow, what a great profile. Our bloggers are jealous.

  2. very nice blog!!all pictures are looking beautiful.Amazing work....Thanks for sharing!!!