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The Art of Tile Setting Not Difficult to Learn

March 01, 1987|Dale Baldwin

There is no accomplishment quite as satisfying to do-it-yourselfers than mastering the somewhat elusive art of tile setting. It is a tempting endeavor that some hesitate to try, not realizing that the process is actually quite simple.

Tile work can be beautiful. It is stain- and scratch-resistant, easy to maintain and lends itself to a kaleidoscopic range of geometric composition.

Whether on kitchen countertops, bathrooms walls or flooring, the job can be done successfully by following certain time-tested shortcuts and procedures. Above all, it is essential to plan a dry layout to make sure you have purchased enough tiles and end up with a design you really like.

Tile can be applied over any surface that is clean, dry and structurally sound, and with no give at all. Preparation of the surface includes removing anything that is attached, including faucets, switch plates and shower head.

If using ceramic or mosaic tile, an appropriate adhesive substance should be used, and directions for its application can be found on the container label.

The more successful technique for applying it is to use the smooth edge of a tile-setting trowel to spread a thin layer of adhesive on the surface being worked on. Then, holding the trowel at a 60 to 80 degree angle, comb the adhesive with the notched edge of the trowel to create ridges in a wavy pattern.

Do not spread more adhesive than can be tiled because it sets fairly quickly, and do not spread the adhesive too thickly or it may come out between tile joints. A little practice, and you're on your way.

Tiles are pressed in place with a slight twisting motion, but never slide them.

When choosing ceramic tiles, usually four- or six-square inches in size, use ceramic spacers available in tile supply shops. These will gauge your grout lines and give you professional results; mosaic tiles usually come in sheets and do not require the spacers.

After all the full tile has been set, remaining pieces are trimmed to desired size and contour. There are several tools to make that job easier, the most useful being the tile cutter, tile nippers, rod saw and masonry drill bit.

A good plan is to first observe someone else set tiles or to study an illustrated do-it-yourself manual that provides step-by-step assistance. It's good to know, for instance, that when cutting tiles with a ridged back, you must cut them parallel to the ridges, and that to fit an irregular contour, you must first draw the shape of the contour, then transfer it to the tile before cutting.

Grouting is done after a 16- to 24-hour waiting period and after masking off any areas you do not want grouted. You are then ready to blend the grout (to a peanut butter consistency) following directions on the package and using rubber gloves to protect your hands.

The grout is applied with the aid of rubber grout float and forced into the tile joints so that it thoroughly worked into the cracks. After 72 hours of curing, the area can be caulked and sealed with a silicone product.

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