Introduction:Over 20 years ago, unable to find any certified training in tilesetting and confused by conflicting information, I set out to find the best way to install ceramic tiles. Since boyhood, I had been attracted to the beauty of tiles, and as a young man, I would do whatever was necessary to learn the tricks and secrets of installing tile and mosaics over thick slabs of mud. No mastic jobs for me! I wanted sand, cement and tradition.
The creative exchange I had envisioned between the master and student quickly eroded when I took a job with a ceramic-tile repairman; with a mountain of damaged tiles, broken concrete and dry-rotted timbers to get through every week, I was not exactly basking in the glamour that some tilework can provide. But within a short time I learned my most important lesson about tile installations both plain and fancy: that the tiles were just a skin and not as critical to the durability of the installation as the selection and application of the materials and methods used to build it.
In removing and rebuilding thousands of damaged installations, I also learned that having the tiles installed over a mortar bed was by no means a guarantee of durability, and that not all tiles installed with mastic were doomed to certain failure. The important thing was to use materials and methods appropriate for the kind of use the installation would get. Working as a repairman may not have been glamorous, but it taught me numerous techniques and exposed me to a wide range of materials and situations. This repair experience ultimately became my best tilesetting ally when I decided to test my skills on new construction and remodeling work.
Sometimes on my own and sometimes as an employee for other companies, I worked on residential, commercial, medical, food-processing, industrial and military projects, and learned that the various markets for tile application required many different kinds of tile installers -- specialists -- and many different kinds of installations from the simple to the exotic. In spite of the range of choices and the level of detail, however, I also learned that every installation required minimum levels of planning, specification, execution and maintenance, and that overlooking a detail at any stage could prove costly. Some special applications require the very latest materials and the most skillful labor to produce, but at the heart of every ceramic-tile installation are the basic materials and skills that are required for even the most simple residential tile applications: a solid base, a strong adhesive, the right kind of tile and firm grout joints -- all installed with care and understanding. These are the basic materials and skills that you will find discussed in this revision.
A modest training program I directed convinced me to write about ceramic-tile installations. My own work experiences, questions raised by seminar and workshop students, and requests from retailers and distributors led to a string of articles in Fine Homebuilding magazine and the publication of Setting Ceramic Tile in 1987.
Since then, my work as a consultant requires that I continue to learn about tile installations, observe different installation techniques and sift through the ever-changing array of tiles, tools and installation materials. The continuing search for the best materials and methods is what drove me to begin writing this revision. Not just to bring the words and the phone numbers up to date, but to approach tile installation from a different perspective.
As a professional tile installer, I knew that no book or videotape could substitute for practical experience. But as an author, I was determined to expose the interested reader to the same kind of selection and application processes that every professional must develop to produce durable, attractive, low-maintenance tilework. To help do that, I decided to base this revision more on materials and techniques than on specific installations or projects. Much of the text and illustrations that first appeared in Setting Ceramic Tile can still be found within these pages intact, but all has been scrutinized, some has been altered to conform to industry standards or thinking and some has been eliminated. My intent was to condense the core of information found in the original book, bring it up to date technically and add layers of additional techniques that would allow the reader enough flexibility and confidence to go far beyond basic installations.
All the techniques described in this edition are based on those used by professional installers to ensure consistent, high-quality results. And although there is nothing tricky or secret about the techniques, and most are relatively easy to learn, every installer (novice or professional) needs to put together the right combination of techniques and materials to complete a successful installation.
At one time, this meant installing tiles over a setting bed of fresh mortar -- a process requiring considerable experience and training. Today, however, with reliable, ready-to-use cement backer boards (panels designed specifically for ceramic-tile installations) and other materials, the only special manual skills required for installing tiles are knowing how to cut backer boards to size and fasten them with screws or nails, knowing how to mix and spread adhesives uniformly with a notched trowel and knowing how to mix, spread, compact and clean grout.
Because only simple, basic skills are required for the thin-bed method, anyone in reasonable shape with a few tools and the time and desire can do the work. I emphasize time and desire because although the individual steps in most installations are quite simple, the entire installation must be orchestrated carefully, with a constant eye for details. Like any other handwork, tiling takes time and attention. (In my workshops and seminars, participants range from high school graduates to retirees, male and female, professionals and amateurs. By the end of the sessions, I hear the same comment over and over: I never realized there were so many steps; the actual setting of the tiles took the least amount of time!)
Successful tile installations are the result of attention to detail from start to finish: building on a sound structure, selecting appropriate materials, cutting no corners, being observant and seeing each step through to the end. After reading this revision, you should understand the basic concepts enough to assess your own abilities and expectations. Then, whether you decide to tackle an entire installation alone, get help on a portion of the work or turn the whole thing over to a professional, you will be in better control of the results.
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Soft-cover, 8 x 10 in., 260 pages, with color photos and drawings