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Lay a Ceramic Tile Floor

Step 3: Laying Tile

With a good bed of mortar and accurate cuts, it's tough to lay a bad tile. Tiling has these basic steps:

  1. Lay down mortar.

  2. Place each tile position in the mud and rotate into position.

  3. Beat (tap firmly on) the tile with a 12" block of 2 × 4.

Shimmying and rotation both push the tile into the mortar.

Building Smarts

Tile trowels have a toothed side to lay out an even bed of mortar. When you set a tile into toothed mortar, the mortar cushions the tile, allowing precise height placement. Bigger teeth are used with bigger tiles; bags of tile mortar explain which trowel to use for your tile size.

Use the beating block to check that each tile is level with its neighbors. Work fast to make adjustments before the mortar sets, and don't kill yourself aiming for thousandth-of-an-inch accuracy; 116" accuracy is just fine.

After you level the tiles, place the spacers to set the joint width. After you lay a few tiles, check the level with a straight 1 × 4. If you work quickly, the mortar will be soft enough to adjust the tile level. Continue checking the level as you work: The straightedge never lies!

As you set tiles, don't let mortar build up in the joints. Use a screwdriver and a wet rag to clear out mortar so none remains above the surface after you grout.

I beat the last tile into place with a 2 × 4. Then I use the beater to check that the tile is level with its neighbors.

Step 4: Great Grout

Building Smarts

People who haven't worked with mortar resent letting the mortar run the show, but you've got to prevent the grout from “getting away from you.” The various steps of grouting—placing the grout, forming the joint, and removing the excess—must be done when the grout has set up to the right consistency. If you get the timing right, the job will be fast, easy, and attractive.

Once the tiles are laid, give the mortar 24 hours to set. Assemble your grouting tools. It pays to have a range of trowels on hand to fill the joints. Some people prefer using the straight edge of a toothed tiling trowel. I prefer a drywall knife, sometimes assisted by a second trowel. The goal is to find a fast system that completely fills the joints.

Mix the grout, allow it to rest 10 minutes, and mix again.

If the grout starts getting too stiff, it won't go into the joints. Throw it out and mix more.

Keep an eye on how the grout is setting. After five minutes, test the consistency to see if your finger can shape it.

You may be tempted to buy a jointing tool to form the grout lines, but fingers often work better. Jointing tools tend to dig too deep in a wide joint, and ride up in a narrow one. A gloved finger, on the other hand, adapts nicely to varying widths. You may need to run your finger back and forth to smooth the joint. In a few minutes, scrape diagonally across the surface with a wide trowel to remove spilled grout.

As the grout sets, you can clean the floor more vigorously without harming the joint. When the grout is sufficiently set, sponge diagonally across the entire floor to remove smeared grout. Clean the sponge in a bucket, but keep it relatively dry. Cleaning goes fast if you catch the grout at the right degree of setting.

When the grout is fairly hard, a damp sponge will do a final smoothing. Run it along the joint, adding a bit of water if necessary to smooth out the joint. Don't overwork the joint—stop when it's smooth enough.

After the grouting is done, leave everything alone for 24 hours so the grout can harden. After a few weeks, a silicon grout treatment can reduce staining, but it's not mandatory.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Home Improvements © 2004 by David J. Tenenbaum. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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