There are a lot of websites out there that go over the various processes for creating a penny tile floor from regular old pennies, however, I have yet to find one that actually provides a penny floor template to use. I’m going to explain MY process in detail, so that you will have something to go by if you decide to take on this project!
- Pennies (obviously)
I made a Facebook event and invited my friends to “donate” to my project. I got more than half of what I needed for my penny floor template from doing this. The rest I got in quantities of $10-$20 from the bank as I worked on it.
- Weldbond Glue
I got this at Ace Hardware. It’s about $4.49/bottle and I went through about 6 bottles to do 16 sq. ft.
- Mosaic Tile Mesh
I got this at MosaicArtSupply.com. 38.5″ wide x 10ft was $22.90 with shipping.
- A penny floor template
- Clear Packing Tape (for your penny floor template)
- Scrap Cardboard– at least a 1x1ft square (for your penny floor template)
- Latex/Rubber Gloves
- Cement board (to create a level, sturdy surface to lay your tiles on, about $10 for a 3x5ft piece)
- Mortar (also called “mud” or thinset” — used on tile floor installations, about $20 for a 50lb bag — this is way more than you will need as it covers about 75sq feet)
- Unsanded Grout (I used a charcoal color to make the pennies stand out, but chocolate would also be a good option, about $25 for a 10lb bag)
- Polyurethane Sealant This will keep your pennies from getting damaged. I’ve also read about people using an epoxy to seal the pennies. I actually used the polyurethane but in this post I cover several options for sealing the penny floor.
Creating a Penny Floor Template
Creating a penny floor template was the key to my success in this project. Now… why would you use a template instead of just gluing down the pennies right on the floor? Well, if you want to glue your pennies right to the floor, you need to work very quickly. I chose to do this project on weekends when I had free time, so the penny floor template was essential to my success. Using the mosaic tile mesh allowed me to work at my own pace, creating each “sheet” as time allowed.
The penny floor template allows me to still have full use of my front door and foyer area instead of having it blocked off for weeks (or months) while I’m laying the pennies. The template really makes it more manageable to work on at your own pace.
I used a website called Incompetech.com for my penny floor template. They have a circle grid graph paper PDF generator that allows you to play with different combinations to get exactly the spacing and look that you want. The settings that I used were:
- Document Size: 8.5×11″
- Minimum Border: .5″
- Dot Weight: 2.5″
- Grid Spacing: .825″
- Radius Multiplier: 1
- Dot Color: Black #000000
I used Incompetech’s generator to make my penny floor template. I printed two 8.5 x 11″ sheets of paper with the grid on it, then carefully cut along the edge of the 8.5″ side of each piece of paper. This allowed me to make a penny floor template to accommodate over 1 sq foot of mesh at a time. I carefully overlapped them so they lined up together, and layed them onto the cardboard.
Now, you don’t want the glue to stick to the cardboard template when you are gluing your pennies, so I found the best way to prevent this is by covering the ENTIRE piece of cardboard with packing tape. Just tape the sh!t out of it. That way, when your glue is dry you can use a putty knife or a butter knife to carefully peel away the mesh from the penny floor template without very much effort at all.
* Note: I made two cardboard penny floor templates for myself so that I could work on more than one square foot at a time. It was much easier for me to do this, and allowed the other piece to adequately dry without me getting impatient and wanting to start a new square. Highly recommend!
Prepping the Mesh
Once I created the penny floor templates, I took the 10 foot long piece of mosaic tile mesh, and cut the mesh into 1ft squares. The mesh is just a plastic material so a simple pair of scissors did the trick. I precut the whole piece so that I wouldn’t have to keep going back to measure.
Applying your Pennies to the Penny Floor Template Mesh
It’s all in the prep-work, so from here you are home free. Simply line up the mesh on top of your new template, and use the Weldbond glue to adhere each penny to the tile one at a time. I found that using a rubber glove is really, really important. If you don’t, the oils from your fingers will tarnish the center of the penny where you pushed it down into the glue. You won’t notice it right away, but in a day or so there will be black dots in the middle. I didn’t think to pay attention to this and basically ruined 4 square feet. Everything has been perfect since I began using the rubber glove for the application. After you’ve finished that square, let it sit over night. I used a metal paint scraper the next day to carefully separate the mesh from the cardboard template. It’s inevitable that some of the pennies will come loose. Just save them, and when you are installing the floor you can use a dab of the Weldbond or the thinset mortar to put them back in place.
Ultimately, I decided to lay all the pennies heads-up and facing the same direction. The only exceptions were Canadian coins or wheat pennies, which I put face down. I also collected the birth dates of friends and family who contributed, along with a few other important years of my life. For those “special” pennies, I’ve scattered them throughout the squares, but kept them heads up facing the opposite direction. It’s really subtle, but my friends had fun trying to find their birth year. I also added ones for the year I graduated college, the year my house was built, the year I bought my house, my parent’s anniversary, etc. Special years to me.
Tip: Don’t Clean the Pennies
Just a tip from experience, don’t try to clean your pennies after you’ve glued them. I read all these techniques for cleaning/shining up a penny and thought it would be a great way to get a consistent look. I ruined a few sheets trying this method out. This is what I’ve tried that you SHOULDN’T try.
- Ketchup. I’ve always heard that ketchup works wonders to shine up a penny. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me. It barely took the tarnish off, and made the cracks in between all red and gloppy and gross.
- Baking soda + water. Again, I tried this to get the tarnish off some of the pennies using a paste that I rubbed on using a toothbrush. It ended up scratching a lot of the pennies, and took the orangy shine off of them. Now they are more of a pinkish/dull color… so I ended up not using that batch.
- Vinegar. This didn’t work for me either. Maybe try soaking them beforehand to see if you like the effect?
The problem with shining the pennies is that the pennies are all from different years, therefore contain different amounts of copper and other metals. Because they aren’t consistent in what they are made of, they all react to the cleaning methods differently. My best advice is to be picky about which pennies you use from the start, and once they are on the mesh LEAVE THEM BE!
*Update* 3/12/13: I found a really great product for cleaning the pennies (and believe me, I’ve tried everything). Although I like the idea of having old and new mixed together, if you want a super even look, or just need to clean some of the really dirty pennies, try Wright’s Copper Cream. It’s amazing!!! And it’s available at Walmart in the aisle with the Tarnex and Brasso.
*Update* 3/14/13: I received a message from one of my readers and she’s used Bar Keepers Friend on the pennies with great results. Thanks for the info, Nance!
Installing your Penny Tile Floor
The penny floor is installed just like any porcelain tile floor would be laid down. Here’s a video/instructions from DIY Network on how to lay a tile floor. Once I get to this stage, I will post a more detailed guide on how I personally installed my floor.
You don’t necessarily have to use a penny floor template. If the place you are putting them is out of the way, and you’d prefer to lay the pennies all at once, you can put them directly onto the floor using a paper thin coat of plain old wall mastic applied with a 4″ spackle knife. The bond doesn’t need to be incredible because grouting them and sealing them will hold them in place.
I came up with some really different ideas for laying the pennies, so I thought I’d share with you.
- Do one whole sheet heads up, and one whole sheet tails down, creating a checkerboard effect when you lay them.
- Any wheat pennies put face down, while the rest of the pennies are face up.
- Add a dime every so often for some variation… it gives people something to look for!
While I created a penny foyer out of this project, there are many, many different things you can create. I’ve seen a full kitchen floor created with just pennies. There’s even a bar in NYC that has a penny floor! How about using the pennies as a backsplash, or table or a bar top? Or on a vanity or a tub surround? The possibilities are endless!
Good luck, and I hope this penny floor template helps to make your process easier. Please feel free to post your pictures when you are done. I’d love to see them!