Break the inner seal
OR
Grouting and caulking.

Rob grouting

Rob grouting

The remaining steps after putting the tile on the wall are grouting and caulking. Tuesday night I spent about 4 hours grouting. It turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the project in my opinion. As we have learned, grout is specially colored mortar, which you put between the tiles to help keep them in place and keep out water.

Grout that fell off the float

Grout that fell off the float

The first step in grouting is to mix it up, which I did using a margin trowel. The Hometime Tile video which we learned much from said it is better to mix it a bit dry, so I erred on the dry side. Then I let the grout “slake” for 10 minutes, which is just to let it sit and let the powder and water mix on their own a bit. Then I stirred one more time, and used the margin trowel to put some grout onto my grout float and smear it onto the tile and into the cracks. This was much more difficult than it looked in the video. Probably 80% of the grout was just falling off into the tub instead of getting into the cracks. I decided that maybe it was still too wet, so I added a bit more powder. That was even worse. I resorted to shoving it in with my fingers (with gloves) instead of with the grout float. After tiring of that, I decided to try adding more water, and it got a bit better. Then I decided to look at the bag of grout again, and it said to mix with water or a latex additive for “enhanced performance”. I was beginning to suspect that I really needed the additive. Clare was in town at the YMCA, so I called her and asked her to look for latex additive at Walmart. No luck. So, I kept chugging along, slowly getting better at it such that I was only slopping about 40-50% of the grout into the tub. I let Clare try for awhile, and she started off about the same as me, so I promptly took over simply in the name of time-saving.

Side wall after grouting and caulking

Side wall after grouting and caulking

Thursday night I did the final step — caulking. I bought the caulk that my dad swears by — Polyseam Seal — which is an acrylic caulk with a silicone additive. I ended up buying a tube for a caulking gun as well as a small tube, because I wasn’t sure that we had a working caulking gun or not. My dad said that the small tube would probably be enough, but we ended up having some pretty big gaps in some places, so I ended up using both tubes. However, I did make one big mistake which made the job much more difficult. I started off with the big tube of caulk. I read the instructions and cut off the tip like it said, then started to squeeze the gun to start getting the caulk out. But it wasn’t coming. I kept sqeezing harder and harder but no luck. I began to think that the caulking gun was broken. So I took the tube out and realized that the caulk had started oozing out the back of the tube. So, I took a small putty knife, and started inserting the caulk with the putty knife and using my finger to smooth it out. This was not very accurate, so I ended up wiping a lot of caulk off of the tub and tile where I did not want it. I used the small tube to caulk around some of the smaller crevices like around the escutcheon and the soap dish. Nearing completion of the project, I looked at the instructions on the big tube caulk again and notice under number 2. Cut off tip to desired width. Puncture inner seal. !!!!! Man, now I get it. I had told Clare to start eating without me because I wanted to finish (having learned my lesson from the mudding and taping), and when I told her my story, she of course knew about puncturing the inner seal. Well, now I know, and you know what they say — “Knowing is half the battle.”

The wet wall after grouting and caulking

The wet wall after grouting and caulking

Don’t take shortcuts
OR
The tile is on the wall

cement board taped

cement board taped and mudded

We haven’t posted anything in a couple weeks not for lack of home improvement projects, but rather because we have been spending most of our free time doing them. In the last couple weeks we really started getting serious about finishing the tile around the bathtub.

cement board on wet wall

cement board on wet wall

In the last entry, I estimated that it would only take a few more hours to finish hanging the cementboard. Well, that was an underestimate. It took most of a day, largely because of some minor setbacks, such as having to redo the cut-outs for the pipes in the supporting 2x4s. I had them all done, then when trying to toeshoe one of them in, I simply could not get the nail in, and finally decided to pull it out and screw in the board. However, the board broke while I was trying to get the nail out. Argh! But, I eventually got all the cementboard hung. The next step was to mud and tape the cementboard, which involves putting thinset mortar on the joints, then embedding fiberglass tape made especially for cementboard. This was quite tricky, as the mortar kept falling off my putty knife. I also made the mistake of not doing it all in one step (dinner intervened). I ended up letting half of it dry, then doing the rest another night. Using this method I ended up going over some joints twice (because of the inside corners), which caused some humps. I also put a bit too much mortar on I think, but hopefully the tile won’t fall off the wall.

working out the tile patterns

working out the tile patterns

This past weekend, we finally got to put the tile on the wall. Clare and I spent most of the day Saturday chalking lines on the cementboard, measuring, and cutting tile. Our neighbors, the Greenwell’s, lent us their tile cutter, which was very nice of them. It basically is just a cutting wheel on some rods. You score the tile with the cutting wheel, then snap the tile. Clare started off cutting triagular pieces from the 4″x4″ tile for the fancy pattern we did. Then I started making some of the cuts with the 6″x5″ tile we had measured. I was initially very worried, because the first 2 tiles I attempted broke in the wrong place. Then Clare passed on the advice from her mother to snap the big tiles near the edge of the tile, which worked very well. Besides the tile cutter, we also had tile nippers and a rod saw in our arsenal. The tile nippers are a bit like pliers with a sharp edge, and are good for cutting off rounded pieces. But, after learning the hard way, they do not work very well for inside cuts. That is, if you want to leave all the corners intact, but cut out part of the middle of the tile, the only options are the rod saw or a router (and we did not buy a router just for this project). They make rod saws that fit into hacksaw frames, but we could only find a small one that came in its own frame. It is a small rod which is very rough, almost like sandpaper, but metal and rougher. It works pretty well, but requires a lot of effort. More on that later.

Clare setting tile

Clare setting tile

On Sunday, we finally got to putting up the tile. I would say that this was probably the easiest part of the job so far. We bought pre-mixed mastic to stick the tiles to the wall. You spread the mastic on with a triangular notched trowel, then simply stick the tiles in. The mastic is very sticky, so the tiles stick almost immediately. The tiles we bought had lugs on them, which are basically little pieces on the side that space the tiles automatically. There were some pieces that we had cut where we needed to use 1/16″ plastic spacers instead. We started with the longest wall of the tub, ensuring that the inside corners would not be as visible as if we had done it the other way around. I got several feet up the wall done while Clare had her weekly chat with her parents. Then she finished off the rest of the wall, and I worked on making a few more cuts we hadn’t gotten to the day before. The trickiest cut by far was the cut for the spout, because it consisted of a circle in the middle of a tile. For this I had to use the special drill bit that came with the rod saw. It probably took me about 10 minutes to drill through the tile, and then another 15 minutes to saw out the hole.

the tricky cut for the tub spout

the tricky cut for the tub spout

We continued working on the tile after a little lunch break. After finishing the back wall, I started getting worried about running out of tile. Sure enough, after counting out how many tiles we needed, we realized that we were about 5 tiles short of being able to finish. This was due to 3 factors:

  1. We ended up tiling all the way up the wall, which was not our original plan
  2. We decided to only do the fancy pattern on the long wall, which was not our original plan
  3. We probably ended up breaking more tiles than we had originally thought

So, Clare being the trooper that she is, drove all the way to Bloomington to get about 10 more tiles so we could finish that day. I stayed home and did a few more cuts, cleaned up some, and started laying more tile.

interesting cuts by the ceiling

interesting cuts by the ceiling

Another tricky cut was around the shower handle, which was a 4″x4″ hole spanning the middle of two tiles. I thought I had both done, but when I went to put them on the wall, I realized that I had accidentally cut the two tiles upside down, so I had to do them over again. I wanted to continue tiling before the mastic dried out, so I asked Clare to do the last one. Clare, being the ingenius one, decided to use a combination of the rod saw and tile clippers (which I advised against). Sure enough, the tile broke. I was of course a bit upset, and decided to do it myself. I got about 90% done with the cut using the rod saw, and then for some crazy reason, I decided to try to use the clippers for the last bit, and it broke again. So, I gave it one more try using just the rod saw, and it worked, but we wasted another 2 tiles and a good 30 minutes. So, the lesson of the day is: don’t take shortcuts.

cut around the faucet handle

cut around the faucet handle

The last few pieces included the edge pieces to go on the outside corner of the wet wall. We ended up using countertop edge pieces here, which fit very well. I had to cut 2 of them to fit up against the tub, and I ended up cutting the top one a little bit as well, which was another tricky cut with the rod saw. Clare helped me cut the last set of tiles for the top to fit against the sloped ceiling. Then we cleaned up a bit and called it a day.

The tile is on the wall

The tile is on the wall