Friday, November 9, 2007


    I have been working on the tile in the entry, kitchen and bathroom since last Thursday. Let me just start by saying that this is the last time I work with slate tile again. It looks good, but man, it's a pain to work with. The problem mostly lies in the fact that the pieces are so imperfect. It's the nature of slate that it is a bit of a rustic material. As such, they aren't exactly square and they aren't uniform in thickness either. This makes getting perfect grout lines impossible. So instead, you have to have a margin inside which your grout lines fall. We have been trying to keep them between 1/8" and 1/4".

    Last Thursday my dad, who will forever be referred to as "Rockstar Dad," came over and we took the day off and worked on tile to get us started. Even though he didn't have a ton of free time, he took time from his own projects a few days before he left the country to help us out.

    We started in the kitchen because we needed frequent access to the tub in the bathroom, which is currently our only water source. By the time my dad had to leave at around 4:30, we had finished almost all of the kitchen, which is about 150 square feet.

    Two things kept us from finishing. The first was that we don't have a tile saw on-site, so we left out any tiles that needed to be cut. The second reason was that when I purchased the tile that morning from Contempo Tile, they only had about 120 square feet of the 240 square feet I had ordered currently in stock. The balance would not be available until the next morning. One of the problems with slate being so imperfect, as I mentioned above, is that sometimes you just have tiles that are unusable, and I had run out of usable tiles.

    In the kitchen we had been trying to use tile spacers to set the tiles. These are usually great because all you have to do is get your first row in straight and then use the spacers to insure that the rest of your tile goes in straight.

    Slate, we discovered, is a different story. After some research on the internet the next day, I came up with a new method. I snapped a chalk line for each row of tile that included the desired spacing between the tiles and then did my best to eyeball the tile within those chalk lines. This allowed me to adjust for tiles that weren't square or uniform in width but still keep my overall tile rows straight.

    On Friday I picked up the remaining tile from Contempo and bought some more thin-set mortar to set the tiles in. This time I got the rapid set stuff that dries in 3 hours — they said it was good for smaller jobs. Since all I had left at this point was the bathroom and entry way and filling in the rest with cut tiles, it seemed ideal. I started out by mixing a 25-lb. bag of mortar, since I would normally work with about that much of the regular stuff at a time. This turned out to be quite a mistake. After only laying about 14 tiles, using half of the mortar I had mixed, the rest of it had turned solid and I ended up having to throw it, and the bucket, away. I was pretty frustrated. I found after that that if I would just mix half of a 25-lb. bag at a time it worked perfectly, and it is really nice to have the tiles set up so much faster.

    On mixing the mortar. When I picked up the first batch of tile on Thursday I also purchased a mixer (giant egg beater) that you can use with a drill to mix the mortar. This seemed like a wise purchase, since mixing by hand is quite fatiguing. When we went to mix the first batch of mortar on Thursday, it turned out that the 1/2" mixer was too big for the three drills we had on site, all of which are a 3/8" chuck. So, we mixed 100 lbs of mortar using nothing but the strength we possess in our forearms and a putty knife. Not so much fun, so the next day when I picked up the rest of the tile, I bought a mixer that would fit a 3/8" chuck and it's a beautiful thing. My 12-volt DeWalt only has enough juice in a fully charged battery to do about 4 minutes of non stop drilling, so I had to charge between each bucket of mortar.

    More later.

    (Our version of the Titanic handprint.)


    TOWR said...

    So I totally thought the "Tai-el" title was an awesome Superman reference at first. Then I read the post.... thought about it for a minute, then I finally got it!

    I know I know, I'm such a dork. Well done and glad to see you guys are getting in the practice for when we need to lay tile :).

    TOWR said...

    Ha - I'm posting from a friends computer and forgot to sign my name instead of hers. This is Brick