Last year I got a cute outdoor set of furniture, but the gray stain has not held up to the weather. I’ve redone the matching bench and chairs by painting them. But I thought for this project I’d do a DIY mosaic table top with broken dishes. I figured it’d be perfect to thrift some floral China plates for decorating the top of the coffee table!
When I was little, my grandma showed my her neighbor’s backyard. They’d spend hours and hours adding mosaic to almost every surface- the table, stones, paths down the garden. The memory is a little fuzzy, but I remember how magical it felt to be surrounded by someone’s beautiful and unique art!
how to make a diy mosaic table top with broken dishes
Let’s start with the video tutorial so you get an overview on what I did. Then, I’ll dive in with more details below:
If the video doesn’t work here, you can watch it on YouTube here. I’d be over the moon happy if you subscribed to my YouTube channel! Videos are actually released on YouTube first (usually the night before they’re published on the blog). Thank you!
- Coffee Table
- White Chalk Paint
- Furniture Sealer (Gator Hide)
- 1/4″ Concrete Backer Board
- Tile Adhesive
- Thrifted Dishes (I’m linking to the Lenox x Anna Griffin plates I used for a few of the big plates. Mostly I used $2 thrift store plates)
- Mosaic Glass Cutter or Tile Nippers
- Sanded Grout in Delorean Gray
- Rubber Float Trowel
- Square Notch Trowel
- Tile and Grout Sealer
step 1- prep the table
Start by prepping the table. I’m using an outdoor coffee table that’s constructed of wood. Note, adding a mosaic will be heavy. Make sure the table is sturdy enough to support the additional weight that will be added.
To start, I cleaned the table with TSP. Once dry, I painted it with chalk paint (Dixie Belle Cotton) and finished it with a waterproof sealer. For this project, sealing is key since it will prevent warping. The wood moving with moisture changes can cause damage to the mosaic top.
For the base of the mosaic, it’s very important to use a concrete backer board. This will create a stable base for the mosaic that will last the test of time. I got a 1/4″ cement backer board from my local home improvement store.
To get the board to the same size as the coffee table top, I used a razor blade to score it and break it to the same measurements as the top of the table.
Do not use any type of wood for a backer for an outdoor mosaic table. Why? Since it’ll be outside and exposed to humidity wood will move by swelling and warping when there is more water in the air. Unfortunately, this can lead to the grot cracking and tiles popping off. When grout develops cracks, moisture can work into the mosaic and it will slowly break apart.
Use screws to attach the concrete backer board to the wooden table. Now I have a perfect base for the mosaic!
step 2- break the dishes
I’ve been thrifting vintage China dishes for the past few weeks. It’s been fun to try and find pink floral plates! Hint- buy more plates than you think you need. I barely had enough and wished I’d grabbed 2-3 more plates.
Next it’s time to break some dishes! I’ll be honest, I was nervous to do this because I didn’t want to ruin my plates that I’d found thrifting. I asked my son to help because I knew he’d love the idea of breaking dishes. And I was right! It was fun to break them together.
To break the plate, I put one at a time inside a hand towel. Then I used a hammer to break it. The hand towel prevents the broken bits of plate from flying everywhere. Still, I wore safety glasses. Look under the hand towel occasionally to see how and where the plate is breaking.
Note, I suggest choose a hand towel that you’re ok ruining for this project. By breaking the plate, it cut slits into my hand towel. Plus I was worried about having little shards left in the towel. So I threw it away after. Luckily, I had chosen a super old towel.
While breaking the plates I kept three different containers- the best pieces with floral pattern, the white part of the plate, and last, a garbage can with the smallest piece and parts I knew I couldn’t use.
Another option besides using a hammer is to use mosaic glass cutters or tile nippers. This would give more control when breaking the plate. I was wishing for this!
step 3- create a pattern
And now it’s time to create a test pattern for the mosaic. To do this, I drew a chalk line on the ground next to where I was working. Another option is to cut out a piece of Kraft paper that is the same size of the table top to plan to the mosaic design.
Next, arrange the pieces of the broken dishes into a design. Time to get artsy! For my tabletop, I decided to keep 5 broken plates as the main pattern. Then I used patterned plate pieces for around the plates and the edge of the coffee table. Last, I filled in with plain white pieces of plate.
When arranging the pieces of China, space them 1/8 to 1/4″ apart. Also make sure that they don’t overhang the edges. This is a very slow and slightly tedious job. But it’s also artistic- like creating a jigsaw puzzle our of plate pieces.
step 4- create the mosaic on the table top
It’s officially time to take the planned design and actually create the mosaic! To do this, spread a thin layer of tile adhesive onto the tabletop by using a trowel. Once the adhesive is on, drag the notched edge of the trowel to create ridges since these help the plate pieces adhere.
We did small sections at a time so that the tile adhesive didn’t dry while working on the project.
Then, piece by piece, transfer the design onto the tabletop. I did my best to keep them in the same order as I planned out.
Though it was a little tricky to keep the design perfectly in place. As I put the plate pieces on, sometimes I’d realize that the plate needed to be broken down more to lay flat. The ridge on the bottom of the plate to help it sit flat on the table is too thick for a mosaic. So I’d break it down more with a hammer. Tip- its better to break the plate during the design portion.
I placed each piece of plate onto the table top one by one. I made sure to push each piece down firmly to ensure it set in place. When I was done, I let the tile adhesive set according to the directions on the bucket.
Note, mine said to let the tile adhesive dry for 24 hours, so this is not a one day project.
step 5- grout and seal
Finally, it’s time to grout! Make sure to use sanded grout because it’s designed for thicker gaps and will help the mosaic last longer.
Apply the grout using a rubber trowel since that goes over the ragged edges easier. Push the grout into the cracks. Note, this is a slow process and took me a few hours to do since there’s hundreds of plates.
I applied the grout in sections. After letting it dry for 15 minutes, I went back with a wet sponge to remove the excess grout covering the plate pieces. I had to go over each section a few times to get the plate pieces as clean as possible.
For the sides of the mosaic where I cut the cement board, they were a little crumbly so I make sure to grout them as well. I thought that left a nice, clean finished product.
A few pieces of my plates stuck up and were a bit sharp, so I went through and sanded them smooth. I don’t want cut fingers from the mosaic!
I wiped the table clean with a damp rag to remove any leftover grout or dust from sanding.
Next, I brushed on a clear tile and grout sealer. This should help the mosaic table top last outside in the weather.
Finally, I sealed the base of the table so that it is weather proof as well and easy to clean.
And here she is, the finished mosaic! It took two days of really hard work, but I am so pleased with how it came together! It is a little shabby chic looking. I love how it celebrates re-using what you have, the beauty of plates, and flowers.
Since these weren’t my plates, I can only image all of the beautiful meals they’ve seen.
One thing I should note is that because I used the main plates pretty much intact, this table top isn’t super flat. You can use the center of the plates for drinks. But that’s what we use the end table is for.
I knew it wouldn’t be a perfectly flat top and since we use the dining table next to this sofa set, I’m not too worried about it. I also have a tray I use 100% for bring snacks outside so that keeps food stable.
If a table that isn’t perfectly flat isn’t for you, break the plates down even more for a more even top.
I am really happy with how the table came together! It’s much improved over the said weather look before. Now I can admire a bit of art while I’m outside that is functional too.
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
If you love it, pin it!