What I Learned In School Today: Tiling!

Hoping this’ll be a quick post since I’m tired, but since I blather on in my posts like I’ve never made human contact, I’m thinking not.  So here goes!

The Home Depot workshop?  Was a workshop of one.  Okay two; me, and the workshop/Tile Expert Bill.  Not to be confused with Vampire Bill, because (1) Tile Expert Bill was out in daylight, and (2) Tile Expert Bill doesn’t seem quite as pale.  Of course, he may just hide in the Depot ’til dark, and he may have just fed…but I’m not judging.  I learned a lot from Tile Expert Bill, so I’m not judging.

Tile Expert Bill asked me what I was interested in knowing, and if I had a project in mind.  If it’s a small group (like my group of me), he likes tailoring the workshop to individual needs.  I told him that I knew nothing beyond a few HGTV episodes, and a wish to possibly tile my kitchen backsplash.  So he took me on a tour of the tiling aisles. As we walked around, he talked me through how to pick tile, how to figure out where to put it, and how to make it stick.

First things first, Choosing Where To Put It; is the surface you want to tile sound?  Is it level?  Can it absorb the adhesive you’ll need to get those little buggers to hold tight?

TIP: in order to check to see if a wall surface you want to tile is “sound”, grab yourself an ice pick.  Push it — gently — into the surface.  If it’s firm or slides in with a nice little hole?  You’re golden.  If the surface crumbles, sags or rips?  There’s a problem, your surface isn’t up to the task. But repairing a wall surface is another topic.  If you’re building/rehabbing a wall and you know you want to tile it?  Don’t use drywall, use Hardibacker, which is tailor-made drywall-like stuff for setting tile.  Other options?

Yes: Backerboard

Yes: SOUND drywall

No: Planks (not stable enough since it often flakes)

No: Particleboard or MDF (these are made with an adhesive that doesn’t like any other adhesive.  Put adhesive, then tiles on this?  Hilarity, or crying, ensues.)

Next?  Choosing What You Want: there are tons of options, from natural mined materials like slate, marble and stone, to ceramics, porcelain, glass and metal.

TIP: porcelain is the least porous of ’em all, and the most durable. But with today’s love of French Country “stone”-like tiles (bumpy and porous) and glass (beautiful but easily cracked and scratched), it’s not gettin’ the bulk of the love right now.

All natural materials can be porous, and therefore are susceptible to stains when things are spilled on ’em (think grease-tinted tiles on a stove backsplash.  Ick.)  Solution?  Seal ’em.

TIP: Not all boxes of tile are created equal.  Most stores sell “Grade 1” tile, which means each and every tile is usable.  For a typical home job that’s the one to go for.  If you’ve got a larger job (or are trying to skimp on cost and are going to a wholesaler), getting a lower graded tile means that you absolutely will be getting some tiles that are unusable.  But for a large project?  Could be worth the savings from the higher graded product.  Especially since everyone busts a few tiles working a tile project, even the pros.

Figure Out How To Hang It: there are many ways to hang/lay tile….

* Thinset/Mortar, which is an adhesive that has some concrete in it

* Quickset: an adhesive containing no cement, AcrylPro & OmniGrip are two examples.  Problem?  Not to be used for really heavy stuff, or for tiles more than 4×4″ or so (takes too long for the adhesive in the center of the tile to dry.)

* EasyMat/SimpleMat: a sheet of adhesive you can pop up on a wall like wallpaper and place your tile on.  You can even walk away from it and come back later, something you can’t do with the first two since they’ll dry out on you.

Personally?  I’m thinking the last option.  I like to take shortcuts when I can.  And Tile Guy Bill said it’s a good product that works well for beginners wanting to do small jobs like my backsplash.

You’ll need a trowel to slap the adhesive up on the walls/down on the floor if you’re using thinset or quickset, doesn’t matter if it’s got triangles or squares as notches, according to Tile Expert Bill.  The notches distribute the adhesive, so the larger the notch?  The more adhesive.  Though I think I’ll go with a triangle notch, since that’s what I see on HGTV all the time….

Where To Start: lay out some tiles and spacers, measure to make sure the dimensions you have right in front of you are equal to the dimensions stated on the box or sheet it came in/on.  Those dimensions are approximate and though they do try to get in the ballpark, it can sometimes be off enough to throw your particular project a loop if you’re not careful.  Tile Expert Bill said some folks lay out their entire project, just so they can see how it will look, and so there are no surprises-in-a-bad-way.

Unless you’ve bought sheets of tile (smaller tiles are often sold like this, which makes things easy since they’re on a backing & already spaced), you’ll need to space your tiles, so make sure you have spacers.  The best way to do this is the “tombstone” method, since after you put all those spacers in?  You’ll have to take ’em out.  Not taking spacers out means that you’ll have to deal with gaps in grout where those little rubber wonders are still nestled, snug & tight.  And digging out tile spacers in-between tiles if they’re flush with the tile?  Will only cause you heartache when you shift those perfectly set tiles in the digging-between-tiles process.  Qep has a *fantastic* PDF on tiling, including a pic on the “tombstone” style.  Which not only makes sense, but is a totally groovy name for this style, in my horror-movie-loving opinion.

Cutting Tile:  everyone’s gotta do it.  Ceramic tile is the easiest to cut, and you can buy a cheapy-but-good tile cutter for ceramic for less than twenty bucks.  But for the tough stuff, like slate, marble and glass?  You’ll need a wet saw.

You can rent one for somewhere around fifty to eighty bucks, or you can buy a small, portable one for under ninety (one I had my eye on was 79.00 at the Depot).  Tile Expert Bill said a good way to go is to buy a cheap one, do what you’ve gotta do, then sell it at a yard sale/consignment shop for more than half what you paid for it (he recommended fifty bucks if I picked up the 79 buck special).  That way is cheaper than renting, in the long run.  And you can keep it as long as you want, in case you’ve burned out on tiling after your first project and don’t want to do it all at once, like you planned.  With adhesive-setting, and grout, there’s a lot of hang-time in a tile project, waiting for stuff to dry.

Grout?  What’s grout?  Isn’t that what Henry VIII had? Uh, no.  Grout is something that seals the sides of the tile (no matter how coated/protected your tile is, the sides?  Still porous.)  And it’s pretty.

TIP: grout comes in colors!  So pick something that matches your decor but make sure you love it.  Because removing grout can be a real b*tch.

Something else to remember is that grout Does Not support tile, nor does it add additional adhesive to help the tile stick to the surface you’ve put it on.  So make sure you’ve done a good job with your adhesive or be prepared for some tile ploppin’.  There are two types of grout;

*Sanded Grout: grout with ground silica, this type reduces shrinkage

* Unsanded Grout: wait for it…grout without ground silica.  Can only be used on tiles 1/8″ wide or less.  MUST be used for natural polished stone and glass.  Because the silica in sanded grout?  Would do the scratchy.  And who wants to spend all that time laying tile only to drag the grout-equivalent of sandpaper all over all that lovely, expensive dichroic glass you put up?  Masochists, that’s who.  Not you.

You can mix it up yourself, or buy pre-mixed.  It’s best (and cheaper) to mix it yourself; Tile Expert Bill said the pre-mix is gummy and hard to work with.  He also said “with a project as time consuming as laying tile, what’s an extra 5 minutes to whip up a batch of mix?”  I agree.  Best to grab something you know is gonna work.  Though pre-mixed grout is fine and dandy for repairs to tile.  So replacing a tile or two?  Pre-mix is peachy.  More than that?  Go mix yourself.

Got your grout mixed?  Good.  Go grab either a grout bag or a grout float (something that pushes the grout around, just like the trowel pushes around the adhesive) that looks like a kinder, gentler rubber trowel.

TIP: apply the grout at 45 degrees from the lines of the tile. So if your tile is totally horizontal?  Sweep it at a 45 degree angle.  If it’s diagonal?  Sweep it across.  You want to make sure you’re getting that stuff deep in there.

Once you’ve got your grout in there, take the excess off with a big-arse sponge.  And then look at the pretty.

To get that “pro touch”, take a CLEAN (or brand-new empty) spray bottle and fill it with CLEAN (distilled, filtered or de-ionized) water.  And spray down the grout every 4 hours, or at least every 4 hours while you’re awake.  Counter-productive to wet down something you’re hoping to dry out?  Not necessarily.  Wetting the grout slows down the curing time.  And the longer grout (and/or cement) takes to cure?  The harder it’ll be, and that’s a good thing.

Sealer?  Aren’t we done? Well, that depends.  Do you want your grout to have those grease/tomato/wine stains because (fill in the blank) has been splashed on it and the porous grout absorbed it?  If you don’t, then seal that puppy.  But you want to wait at least 72 hours after you’ve grouted.

As always, there are two different types of stuff to seal with:

* Wax:  a “polisher”

* Filler: as you may guess, this fills the air holes in the porous grout, and the tile.

TIP: if you’ve got highly polished stone or glass up there, a sealer may cause it to dull.  Best to apply the sealer to the grout only.  A good way to do this is with one of those black foam paint brushes that are in the paint department. Grab a few of the little ones (they’re dirt cheap, so best to have a few spares) and apply the sealer with the pointy-tipped end to the grout only.  Ta-da!  The glass I’m hoping to use is a sort of dichroic knock-off, so it’s not as super-shiny as some of the solid-colored glass out there.  So I can just take the grout float and schmeer away.  Whee!

Be prepared to put a few coats of sealer on the grout.  It will settle in and need to be re-applied.  Two to four coats should do it, according to Tile Expert Bill.  His recommendations from the zillions of sealers they’ve got?  Surface Guard is his #1 choice, with 511 Impregnator as #2.  I think 511 Impregnator sounds like the nickname of a particularly scummy high school or college toolbag, but that’s just me.  At least that’ll get me to remember the name of the stuff.

To remove gobs of sealer off of your pretty tile facades, traditional polishing stuff is cheesecloth.  But an old t-shirt is just as good.

TIP: USE GLOVES!  This stuff isn’t caustic, but it can wreak havoc on your skin. And after all the dry cracking my cuticles went through after all my painting?  Sounds like gloves are the way to go.  I always lotion up my hands before I slide the gloves on to help further prevent dry skin. Makes me feel like I’m doing a spa thing while I’m workin’.  And it actually feels like it makes a difference, when I slide those gloves off.

Tile Expert Bill recommended Dal-Tile Corpration, a Web site that has a nice planning tool so you can map out a project.

Side note, my bathtubs: since I had his ear, I asked about the dry, crusty, cracking grout/caulk in my tub.  He said that was grout, not caulk (caulk is more forgiving).  Not good, since it should have been caulked, but nothing to worry about.  To fix?  Easy.

* buy some kitchen/bath caulk, or ceramic tile caulk

* remove all the cruddy old grout

* fill your bathtub with water

* roll up your pants (or wear shorts)

* get in the tub

* caulk that sucker

* leave the water in the tub ’til the caulk dries, however long the package dictates.

Why caulk in a tub full of water?  Simple; since you usually step into and out of the tub (and fill that sucker up from time to time when bathing instead of showering), this gives the caulk a more realistic surface area to fill.  And when the water is drained?  The caulk seal is that much tighter.  If you caulked in an empty tub?  The caulk is more prone to stretching.

Okay, that’s enough posting for one day.  I’m pooped from today and yesterday, so instead of my glorious night of fun in DC?  I’m having a glorious night of sleep.  Jealous?  Yeah, didn’t think so.

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4 thoughts on “What I Learned In School Today: Tiling!

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