Frequently Asked Questions
How can Terra Firma tile be used?
Tile are high fired and frost proof and thus suitable for use indoors or out. Common uses include fireplace surrounds and hearths, kitchen backsplashes, walls, light use floors, stair risers, swimming pools, showers and bathrooms. See the Glaze Specs under the individual glaze colors on the color chart for each colors recommended applications.
Where are Terra Firma tile made?
All tile are produced at our studio/factory here in the U.S. from original designs. All tile designs, glaze recipes, forming of the clay, glazing, firing and packaging are handled by us. Everything is done in house except the mixing of our proprietary clay body which is produced for us to our specifications.
How much range can be expected in the glaze colors?
Since all tile are brush glazed by the hand of a skilled artisan, no two pieces are ever exactly alike. This gives the glaze a depth, richness and natural variability unique to handmade tile. Glazes will vary in color and surface quality due to differences in raw materials, glaze application and firing temperature. With the purchase of raw materials in large batches and the use of computer controlled kilns, we try to keep this variability to as tight a range as possible.
Do glaze colors leach or fade over time?
All Terra Firma glaze colors are very stable. The high fired glazes will not fade with exposure to the sun or other outdoor elements. Glaze colors will not leach after exposure to mild acids.
Can tile be used for swimming pools?
All tile are made from a stoneware clay body that has been high fired. This makes it frost proof and suitable for outdoor and swimming pool use. All the glazes can be used for swimming pools.
Do extra tile need to be ordered? How consistent are the glaze colors?
We go to great effort to keep our glaze colors as consistent as possible. But since the materials used to make the glazes are naturally occurring, there can be some variability over time. It is, therefore, a good idea to order 5 to 10 per cent extra in case of breakage during installation or if you ever need replacement pieces.
What is the lead time?
All tile are available in all colors and are made to order. We try to keep an ample supply of bisque tile in stock so that tile only need to be glazed to order. Delivery time depends on the size of the order and our prior commitments. Small orders can usually be processed in 2 to 3 weeks. Most orders are 2 to 4 weeks. Larger orders (more than 200 sq. ft.) can be 4 to 6 weeks, rarely 8. Delivery date is not guaranteed, but we will do our best to adhere to quoted lead time. Tile are shipped insured via UPS or Motor Freight, FOB Terra Firma.
What if I need to cancel my order?
We will begin work on your order as soon as possible so that we may get it to you in a timely manner. Contact us right away in the hope that work on your order has not begun. Once your order has gone into production, it cannot be canceled.
What size are the tile?
Tile are approximately 3/8 inch thick. Actual outside dimensions measure 1/8 inch to 3/16 inch less than the nominal dimensions. For instance, a 4x4 field tile will measure approximately 3 and 13/16” by 3 and 13/16”.
What size grout joint is best?
Since tile are handmade and thus have slight variations, we recommend a 1/8" to 3/16” joint.
What type of grout should be used?
A sanded grout is necessary for joints larger than 1/8”. We highly recommend a quality, polymer modified sanded grout. Special applications may require a different grout type such as epoxy. Test to see if a dark colored grout will stain a light glaze color or if a light grout will stain a dark glaze color. Follow manufacturers guidelines for grout sealing.
Are there any special installation instructions?
Underlayment is very important for a quality tile installation. Installation procedures should conform to those prescribed in the Tile Council of North America Publication “Handbook of Ceramic Tile Installation”.
Do tile need to be sealed?
Most glaze colors do not need to be sealed. Matte and Crackle glazes should be sealed before grouting. Taping the surface of the decorative relief tile before grouting will make cleanup much easier. Sealing will not harm any glaze.
How do I care for Terra Firma tile?
Cleaning is best done with a nonabrasive cleaner.
Can tile ship via UPS?
We regularly ship up to 50 pound boxes via UPS. All tile are packed very well. Each piece of tile is individually wrapped, placed in a styrofoam lined inner box and then double boxed. We very rarely have breakage, but just in case, all tile are shipped fully insured. Please inspect all packages upon receipt and notify us of any damage within 10 days so that we may file a claim with UPS. Large orders can ship via Motor Freight, freight collect, FOB Terra Firma, Ltd.
How many tile will fit in a shipping box?
Approximately ten square feet of field tile will fit in a 50 pound box. Decorative relief tile are less predictable, taking up more space per pound.
Can tile be returned?
Because all tile are made to order at your request, returns are not accepted unless covered under warranty or damaged in shipping. Cancellations are not accepted on tile already in production.
Are tile under warranty?
All tile are guaranteed against defects beyond the usual, desirable imperfections characteristic of handmade tile. We will gladly replace or refund the purchase price of any defective tile. However, since we have no control over and are not responsible for the materials used to install our tile, the method of installation, backing, the skill of the installer, type of maintenance, usage or amount of traffic, we cannot guarantee our tile after it has been installed. Our only obligation shall be to replace or refund the purchase price of any defective tile. Beyond the purchase price of materials supplied by us, we assume no liability for damages of any kind.
What is the difference between handmade and machine made tile?

The primary goal of a handmade tile maker is to create a product that is both functional and beautiful. In order to achieve this goal, handmade tile should reflect the aesthetics and skill of the artisan who produces it. The typical handmade process lends itself very well to this personal interpretation with no two tile being exactly alike. Original designs are carved, then made into plaster molds. Wet clay is pressed into these plaster molds, turned out and dried. The raw tile are then bisque fired in preparation for glazing. Glazing can be done by either spray gun, dipping or brush prior to the glaze firing. All Terra Firma glazes are brush applied.

There are several important defining factors that contribute to the uniqueness and personality of handmade tile. Unlike machine made tile, the handmade tile process uses wet clay during the forming stage. Because the clay is wet, the tile shrinks considerably during the drying and firing. The water content of the clay when it is pressed will affect the amount of shrinkage. Thus, as the water content varies, so does the final size. Handmade tile are also handled quite a bit while being made. The tile will take on signs of this handling, especially when the clay is malleable. Both shrinkage and handling combine in the final tile installation to create a very subtle variability with an organic vibrancy and life of its own.
Glaze application and chemistry are also very important. We prefer brush application as it gives a large degree of control to the skilled artisan who must master the idiosyncrasies of each tile design and glaze color in order to achieve the desired results. Thus shrinkage, handling, glaze application and firing all contribute to the natural, desirable imperfections that help give handmade tile its richness and beauty.

Unlike handmade art tile, the primary goal of producers of machine made tile is to create a functional, utilitarian product at as low a cost as possible. The best way to do this is to use a relatively safe tile making process that has a wide margin for error. Mass produced, machine made tile are typically made by pressing powdered clay into metal dies under tremendous pressure. These metal dies are made to very exact tolerances and turn out a high volume of exact copies. The tile are then glazed using a spray or waterfall application that deposits a very uniform thickness of glaze. The glaze formulations also have a wide firing range so that when the tile go through the tunnel kilns the results are very predictable. All this is a highly mechanized process with little input from humans. The net result is a very uniform product that is, in our opinion, lifeless.