Archways are a design element that dates back millennium, from stand-alone concrete arches to brick, stone and tile. Modern arches often are built out of wood, then covered with drywall, which in turn needs to be covered with a finish material. Tile makes an excellent choice, and provides a variety of finishes as well as a lifetime guarantee when properly installed.
Tile Limitations on Arches
One of the limitations when working with tile against the underside of the arch is that the curvature of the arch itself does not lend itself well to square, flat materials. Most tiles are sold in flat, square formats, and do not bend. Thus, if you are trying to install a too-large tile against the underside of the arch, the tiles do not bend to match the curve, and instead create “flat” sections from tile edge to tile edge. On top of that, excess mortar is needed to pad behind the tile where it spans the section of the arch where it is placed.
Outer/Inner Face of the Arch
A similar limitation is found on the inner and outer face of the arch. While you can install square pieces in an arch format, the grout joints between the pieces have an ever-widening grout joint from the bottom of the tile where it meets the arch, up to the top of the piece, which follows the curvature of the arch on the wall beyond the arch. This “pie slice” joint is because you have to spread the pieces to add curvature to the top reveal of the pieces. This is avoided through the use of custom-manufactured tiles, which are designed with the angle of the arch in mind, and created through specialty shops.
One way to work around the limitations of the inside curvature as well as the inner/outer face curve is to use smaller tiles. The smaller the tile on the inside of the arch, the less of a flat area there is, as the tiles more naturally follow the curve of the arch. Face pieces on the vertical walls of the arch also follow the same rule, in that the smaller the tile, the less of a “pie slice” grout joint is required to make up the angle of the arch. When working with large-bodied tiles that do not have smaller tiles available, one solution is to cut the tiles into 2- or 3-inch-wide strips, which then are used to line the interior and exterior of the arch.
The easiest solution when tiling an arch in circumstances where you do not have custom-designed arch tiles to work with is mosaic tiles under 2 inches in size. This is especially true for the inside of the arch. One-inch mosaics naturally follow the curve of an arch, and do not leave much in the way of “flatness,” since rather than span a distance across their width, they follow the curve of the arch with the majority of their backsides in direct contact with the arch. Natural tumbled stone mosaics are preferred because they have naturally smoothed edges that help hide any inconsistencies in the size of the tiles and curvature.
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