In part 2 of our guest bathroom renovation, we’ll show you how to lay tile – from sub-floor to sealant. Let’s have a look at how it’s done!
When we started this job on Saturday, we thought we’d be able to finish the tiling on Sunday. Though we’re steaming full-speed-ahead into middle age, we still plan projects like we’re in our 20s. But when the work starts, our bodies revolt and act their true age. [“We” as in “Greg and the mouse in his pocket.” I’m still a spring chicken! hahahaha. – Handan] [Clam it, Old Woman! -Greg]
Everything hurts more after forty.
Unless you’re one of those fitness nuts, in which case, good for you!
Now go away, and leave us unenlightened slobs in peace.
And take your Vitamin Water with you!
We started the morning with another trip to Home Depot to pick up some 1/4 plywood for the sub-floor. When we got back home, we measured where I’d need to make cutouts for the heating register and toilet hole (that’s probably not the correct term. Poop pipe? Yeah, that’s more like it.)
After measuring, I drew my register cutout on the plywood.
I drilled a hole inside the cutout area.
When the cutouts were finished, I trimmed the boards to the length of the room and laid them into place. Then came the hard part: me on my knees, screwing the plywood into the slab. I thought life was supposed to get easier as you got older? Shouldn’t I be sunning my flab on a tropical beach somewhere, iced daiquiri in hand, instead of crawling around on all fours stabbing screws into a floor? [How about a dry martini, a steak and a movie, my babes? 🙂 – Handan]
Eight groans, seventeen grunts and six curses later, I finished screwing in the sub-floor. Or so I thought…
…because I had tried to cheat. The original sub-floor had easily twice as many screws as I put in. Why so many screws? I wondered. Bah, not needed. But the sub-floor sprung under my feet when I walked on it. Ugh, that’s why so many screws. Okay, back on my knees, then. Have I mentioned I hate crawling around on my knees?
If you’re using plywood for a sub-floor, you’ll need a lot of screws. It was only after we had laid the tile and after my Part 1 post that we learned of the existence of WonderBoard – a cement backer board sub-flooring for use under tiling. Though it was too late to use it for this project, we took a look at it this past weekend in Home Depot. We weren’t thrilled with the way the concrete stuffing crumbled at the edges of the WonderBoard product, but there was another similar product called Hardie Backer that looked much better. For this guest bathroom that doesn’t see a lot of moisture, plywood is perfectly fine for the sub-floor, but if we were to re-tile our master bath or Barish’s bathroom, I’d go for the Hardie Backer. Since cement board needs to be adhered to the slab with thin set mortar, it alleviates the need for all that horrendous screwing – an added bonus in my book!
With the new sub-floor laid and vacuumed, Handan and I were ready for the main event. We brought the tiles in from the garage and laid them in their places. We were using a mix of 16×16 and 16×20 tiles. Handan arranged them into a pattern, and I measured the gap between tiles to be 3/16 inch.
Now, a smart man would have looked a little closer at the entire tile aisle at Home Depot when buying grout and mortar, as we did that weekend. A smart man would have then seen the cement board. A smart man would have also seen tile spacers that come in all different sizes, including 3/16 inch. I am not a smart man, at least when it comes to DiY. Daring? Yes. Foolhardy? Perhaps. Handsome? Damn straight. But not smart. Handan is the smart one. I just throw plaster against the wall and see what sticks. So instead of buying a bag of cheap plastic spacers, I went and made my own from a scrap piece of exotic hardwood. I can’t ever seem to do things the easy way. Perhaps if I planned more…? Yeah, screw that, I’ll keep doing things my way.
Before laying the tile, we needed to cut some of the them to fit around the register and the poop pipe. Others had to be trimmed to fit the room. Fortunately, we had a tile saw in the basement from a previous pre-blog wall-tiling project we did a few years back (and when I say “we,” I mean “Handan.” I only cut the tile. She did everything else for that project!)
We set up the tile saw on a small side table in the kitchen.
Hmmmm….that gave me an idea…
Yeah, that’s more like it!
The tile saw blade stayed cool by rotating through a small reservoir of water inside the saw housing.
This created a lot of spray, which is why they incorporated that combination safety guard/spray guard. But sometimes I would need to lift the guard a bit to get a better look at my cut, resulting in my shirt and face getting soaked with a gray slurry of water and tile dust. I found a solution to that problem and soldiered on.
When the cutting was finished, I took the toilet for a dry run.
For the tile that would wrap around the floor register, I made two parallel cuts with the tile saw. My plan was then to chip out the notch with a hammer and chisel. I took the tile to the basement, set it on a worktable and gave it a tentative hit with the hammer and chisel.
I hit a little harder.
I hit it harder still.
The notch cleaved off in two clean pieces.
And the rest of the tile split in two. Damn.
If that technique wouldn’t work, how would I get the notch cut? I showed the broken piece to Handan, and she suggested we use CA glue (super glue) and insta-set spray. I told her that she was nuts, that it would never hold. The tile was too heavy, I informed her. The joint would break under the weight of the tile itself, I said.
She just looked at me.
“Fine!” I said. “We’ll glue the stupid thing! But it won’t work!”
We went to the basement, and I gathered my glue and insta-set spray. I put a bead of glue on each face and we both pressed the pieces together with as much force as we could muster. I didn’t want to spray the insta-set spray on the edges, because I needed a little time to get the pieces perfectly lined, and that spray works, well, instantly – just like the name implies. Once we had them aligned, the pressure we applied also helped set the glue. CA glue is crazy stuff. Water, alcohol and pressure all help set the glue. Once we had the pieces joined, I sprayed the accelerator on the bottom side of the tile. I didn’t take pics of the broken pieces, but here’s how everything looked after the gluing.
Front side. Can you see the crack?
Back side. How about now?
Here’s a closeup.
It seemed to be holding together just fine. So Handan was right. What else is new? Moving on…
We assembled our tools and supplies and got ready to tile.
The tiling itself was a joint effort: Handan laid the mortar, and I laid the tile.
We’ve seen some DiYers who apply mortar to the back of the tile, and then put the tile on the floor. This method must work, since so many people do it that way, but we wanted to tile the way the pros and contractors do it – by smearing mortar on the floor with a notched trowel and then setting the tile into the mortar.
For the first row, we worked one tile at a time, since we had to contend with the floor register.
I used a rubber mallet to gently tap the tile into the mortar and to level it. I placed a wooden spacer next to the tile. Did I mention those spacers are made from Jatoba, aka Brazilian cherry, aka Stinktoe? Yep. Stinktoe spacers. Beat that, Home Depot!
Once that first row was done, we started working a row at a time.
We checked the level after each row.
Here’s another shot of Handan leveling the mortar with the notched trowel.
The notches on the trowel ensure a uniform depth of mortar: the teeth run along the sub-floor, while the notches level the mortar.
I gave Handan the honor of placing the last tile.
We then left the tile undisturbed for three days to allow the mortar to cure. When the tiles were safe to stand on, we (read: Handan) started applying the grout. We had bought a bucket of an off-white grout, thinking it would look nice with the tile and with the fixtures.
Handan started applying it…
She kept going, filling all of the gaps in the photo above plus several more.
Panic rose in my chest as I looked down on her work. I felt like I was staring at the porcelain equivalent of a 1970s man in a brown leisure suit accessorized with a white belt. It looked hideous.
Handan saw it, too.
“Does this look okay?” She said.
“I-I Don’t know.” I was terrified. Had we ruined it? All that work…
“Babes! I need to know…is this color okay?”
“Maybe? No? I don’t know!” GAH! I was in a panic. My ears rang with the Bee Gees and I saw bell bottoms when I closed my eyes. “No! We have to remove it!”
I ran to the kitchen and soaked a few towels while Handan started scraping the grout with a putty knife. That stuff sets up fast, and we were minutes away from disaster. We flitted about the floor like headless chickens until we had most of the white grout removed. I took a drive to Home Depot to buy a new color while Handan stayed behind to finish cleaning the remains of the grout. We had averted disaster, yet again, but just barely this time. The perils of poorly planned projects…
I arrived back with a darker shade of grout.
The color was perfect, and the job was a breeze.
Handan figured out that she liked to spread the grout with a combination of fingers and small putty knife. This allowed her to really mush it into the gaps.
Next, she followed up with a grout float to level the grout.
This is how the joint would look after passing the float.
To smooth the grout, she first cleaned the sides of the tile with a damp sponge.
And then she lightly passed the sponge over the gap.
A woman who loves to
We waited another two days and then I sealed the tiles. Yes, I used to be a professional fashion model. Now I’m mostly retired and only take the occasional safety equipment gig. Notice the haircut and beard trim.
Handan vacuumed up the remaining bits of grout and mortar.
And after a minute or so, I wiped off as much as I could with a dry cloth.
These photos have been carefully cropped to shield your delicate eyes from a severe case of plumber’s butt. Such is life for the chunky middle-aged handyman crawling around the floor like a milk-stuffed baby. Poor Handan, though. She had to endure the full fury of my crackstorm.
Exactly one week after this hare-brained plan was hatched, we finished Phase 1. We had a new floor.
Can you see the crack now? It’s way more visible to the camera than to the naked eye.
Here’s how things turned out around the register. Excuse the white flakes. That’s just stuff sanded off the walls that I missed with the vacuum. Don’t worry, you’ll get your flawless beauty shots at the very end of the project!
Once the floor was down and sealed, I started having doubts. All last week, my mind was sidetracked by doubt and uncertainty. Not about the tile. We both love the tile. But we hadn’t given proper thought to the colors that would go with this particular color tile. Our original plan was to have white wainscoting and light gray walls above. That wasn’t going to work, or at least it wasn’t working in my mind’s eye. We needed a new plan for the walls.