Fireplace hearth with cuban tile

saintpflaFebruary 13, 2009

Primarily in Florida, Cuban tile was used for flooring, fireplace hearths, patios, bathrooms and anywhere you would use tile.

My fireplace hearth was painted with 2-inches (no joke) of dirty white paint. I stripped it off figuring whatever was under the layers couldn't be worse. It turned out to be a beautiful burgundy-brown cuban tile with a gold swirl pattern. It's very diffent and attractive.

Cuban tiles are not terra-cotta, etc. They are cement tile or what is known as Encaustic Cement Tile or Hydraulic Mosaic Tilecellin tile. They are cement based with glazed patterns.

The problem is when I removed all the paint (with paint stripper...yeah, you see where this is going?...), it left the tile very "dull". I did this years ago before researching stuff first before diving into a project.

There is some residue shine left in spots close to the fireplace. I 'think' it may be shellac...but am not sure.

So, my questions are....does anyone know what cuban tile was coated with to shine it and protect it -- that also won't become flamable if there is a spark from the fireplace?

I have several tile products (liquids...) I have purchased that never worked to improve the look or restore the color and shine.

Did they shellac the hearths back in the day? It seemed they used shellac on practically everything back then.

I just purchase Miracle Seal and Enhance from HD. I tried a test area. It may take several coats to do anything, but so far, it's not impressing me.

I have called local tile companies and you would think I was the only one with Cuban tile in Florida. No one can give me any answers.

Hoping for some help here. I'm tired of looking at this dull, dingy hearth that probably was gorgeous in 1920.

Thanks for your time!

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Regular American and English encaustic tiles are unglazed (floor tile). I think you could coat them with clear acrylic varnish if you wanted a sheen. It won't yellow, but then the heat will play heck on it.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 1:11PM
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Thanks so muhc for the reply. The Cuban tiles actually were glazed with something - sometimes bees wax - but, to your point, I want to be careful due to the heat factor as to what I use.

Any other ideas? I have one neighbor who used Boiled Linseed Oil...but, I'm not sure if that is flamable once it has dried. I don't want to take the chance of catching my house on fire for shiny tile.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 4:23PM
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So called oil-based varnishes are flammable because they use mineral spirits as the solvent base or vehicle but I'm not sure if they are flammable after drying but they are probably not since they are essentially dried vegatable oils with polymers added for hardness.

Most water-borne polyurethane finishes are non-flammable even before they dry but because they are low in solids they sometimes require multiple coats.

If a hearth is normally exposed to high heat there is something wrong with the design of the fireplace. To keep embers from damaging the surface of the tiles use a well designed screen, good fire tools, and don't open the screen all the way when tending the fire.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 6:09PM
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You might get a bigger "knowledge base" and more experience at the John Bridge Tile Forum.

Carla in Sac

Here is a link that might be useful: John Bridge

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 9:33PM
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There is a Cuban tile maker in Ybor city that has been there for generations it is on 7th ave you can see the address tiles on display in front but they can give you plenty of history there. (they are probably the ones that made your tiles)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 2:30AM
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Thanks so much for the info everyone.

Justme_today: thank you! I didn't realize there was a place in Ybor that still made Cuban tiles. I'll definetly try to track them down.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 4:04PM
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