Sunday, March 18, 2012

DYI Tile Course – A fun day learning how to ruin my new kitchen …


About ruining the kitchen. The course was great. Part of the continuing education series at Algonquin College in Ottawa, the course helps those of us who want to try changing our houses on our own with knowledge and skills that may very well allow that.

I have a huge kitchen renovation that needs one last major detail. That being my counters and backsplashes. My vision for these is a slate-like tile in a very dark color. I just like how that looks. I also love the look of a tiled counter with Schluter edging. Very cool.

I arrived a bit early and found a note on the door of the class telling me where to go. That is, giving me the room number for the new class. It turned out that the room number was misleading, in that we had to switch buildings. I was traveling with 3 or 4 other students by this time and someone gave us the low down an where to go. We walked for a long time, twisting and turning down corridors and – miracle of miracles – we found it. Only 4 minutes late.

The instructor began shortly thereafter by gathering info on the projects that the students were working on. Most were floors or backsplashes, but three included fireplace refinishing (I was one of those and these were the first he ever had in the class) and I was the lone kitchen counter. I have all those requirements, of course, because after the counters and backsplashes are done, I need to do something with the fireplace and then replace the floors in the foyer, powder room and mud room at the entrance to my house.

After he understood what we needed, he began discussing the job and looking over the tools. One entire table is covered with every tool that we would normally be expected to use. Plus mastic, thin set and grout. And of course wall and floor tiles.

About 20 feet away were the two different types of tile saws that we would learn to use.

The one on the left costs about $65 while the one on the right is closer to $250. I like the one on the left, since you can cut holes in the middle of tiles easily and it will do everything else that we need.

Here’s what it looked like as I set up my test cuts. These are 75 cent tiles from Home Depot, so we were encouraged to practice.

The exposed blade of the one on the left made a horrific mess. There is normally a guard on the table type, but it must be removed when cutting holes inside tiles. Interestingly, tile saws are not sharp, so it is quite difficult to injure yourself with one. You have to be trying.

The one that looks more like a chop saw sprays water directly on the piece being cut, and the water is recovered in the pool. But it gets the tile really wet.

Another view of the table with all the goodies.

In keeping with its use as a construction classroom, there are minihouses in here that were built by the full-time students during the week. Mo (our instructor) had asked them to do it and they used it as a course credit.

Here’s the house that we will use for out floor tiling exercise.

Back to practicing. We drew a little pattern on small 6x6 bathroom wall tiles in order to practice the four techniques he wanted us to know.

The pattern was simple:


Each marked part was to be cut out with the designated implement.

So what happens when you cut the hole in the middle first, and then try to use the tile cutter on it?

The pressure of the cutter was too much. Lesson learned. Of course, as it was mu first attempt, I also weakened the underside of the tile along that line by cutting to deeply as I searched for the spot where the hole should be. (Dirty minds need not apply.)

Note that, despite being rather hacky in the middle hole (my first one was far better), the escutcheon that goes around the pipe will cover it. After the practice, we broke for lunch. I scarfed my low carb lunch (3oz can of lemon pepper tune and an apple) and off I went for a walk. Someone had dropped food and a couple of sh-thawks (Gulls) were amusing me as they wandered about trying to eat it.

I found a very interesting brick wall … at least for measurebators.

After lunch, we got down to business. It takes a bit of time to get used to the movements you must make when tiling, but it is not really difficult at all. Attention to details is the thing that we have to really work on. Mistakes show, really badly.

This is where we ended up after most people got a turn on the trowel. Mine is the tile second from the left, second row in from the front. Touching the wall on its left. I know you are impressed.

When we got to the wall practice, he showed us how to put mastic on (turns out to work exactly the same) and showed us how fast walls go up. You can do one in minutes if you have all your cuts ready.

There was a receptacle drawn on the wall, the higher one of the two in the following image, and I grabbed a tile and went to the tile cutter for more practice. My measurements were perfect and so were my cuts. I am definitely ready to do walls and backsplashes.

After the practice was done, we all sat down again and Mo fielded questions.

All in all a great course. There is no substitute for the hands on practice you get in one of these courses. The fee (about 100 bucks) is very low when you compare to the two grand it would cost me to get someone to do my counters and fire place. It would be faster, but there is great satisfaction in completing something yourself.