Thursday, March 15, 2007

Grout Thickness Determined

When you want the right answer, it’s always best to go to the source. However, in this case the source came to me. I got an email the other day from Keith Beineman, the GM of Subway Ceramics. He was just checking in to see how things were going and wanted to know if I needed any advice or guidance before the tile installation started. Advice and guidance I could always use, but maybe a tile installer would be nice.

Keith told me that Subway Ceramics tiles are being installed in a house in Oakland, CA at this very minute. The work is being performed by a master tiler who is a board member of the Tile Heritage Foundation. Yikes! It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Keith told me that this person will be documenting his installation as he goes so that they may be able to share his knowledge and methods with other installers. Oh, how I would love to be a fly stuck in the thinnest on that wall right about now.

At the time of Keith’s email on Tuesday I couldn’t really think of any questions off the top of my head. I went over my preliminary wall preparations with him, mentioning how I would level the wall and finish up the cement board. He didn’t email me back in horror over what I wrote, so I’ll assume I’m at least headed in the right direction. Then I got a comment from Kathy asking how far apart I planed to space the tiles. It dawned on me that I never really decided that, so I sent Keith another email asking him what he thought. They are his tiles after all.

His advice came the next day. As he put it, the Subway Ceramics tile is able to be installed with 1/16" nominal spacing for that period style. Often the installers of that period used a length of string placed on the top of each course of tile they laid to space the tiles vertically and prevent them from sliding down on one another. He said that mortar will not hold a tile to the wall like mastic, but that I should only use mortar in a bathroom installation.

He went on to say that I can space the tiles horizontally by eye to match the horizontal spacing when using this string method. He advised that I “block the tile” (block of wood and a rubber mallet?) to even-up edges and to maintain an even, planar surface. Any lapping of tile will be accentuated since the tile edges are so square and flat, and the spacing is so tight.

So there you have it. Not exactly no grout, but a 1/16-inch grout lines. I love the idea of the string method. I would have never thought of it.

In other news, I finished up the framing and went and purchased the cement board. That stuff is as heavy as it is expensive. I was going to cut it today, but I never got to that. It was funny that while I was at the hardware store I looked a few books about tile installation. Mainly I wasn’t sure about the best way to cut and hang the cement board. Every book I looked in had a different approach. I settled on a carbide grit jig saw blade, for smooth edges, and a 2-inch galvanized roofing nail. I’m using nails instead of screws mainly because I live in earthquake country. Screws lack vertical shear strength and the heads can snap off. This is going to be a lot of weight on the wall and I would hate to see it come crashing down with the first 5.5 after I’m finished.


Ryan said...

Just a quick suggestion...

I would supplement the nails with a healthy bead of construction adhesive to hold the cement board in place.

I read every morning over breakfast, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Score and snap works pretty well with the cement board as well and has the advantage of not kicking up a lot of dust. Use a straight edge and a sharp utility knife with extra blades as they dull fast.

If you haven't found it already, is where the tile guys hang out and are very helpful for DIYers. Check out the tile forums.


Greg said...


Yes, I think the construction adhesive would be a good idea.


Yea, this is one of those things where you ask 3 people and you get 3 different suggestions. The logic behind using the jig saw is that you get a cleaner cut. Normally, this might not be an issue if you are doing a floor or entry way. For a bathroom, especially around a tub, you want good tight seams. Even in the books I mentioned, the guys who used the utility knife method said they would clean up the edges with a rasp or sander because it's not a real clean break.

John said...

I've used a jigsaw and a table saw to cut concrete board. Both gave a good, clean cut. The table saw was much quicker, but the dust was terrible. I'm glad I cut it outside instead of inside.

Anonymous said...

Try both and use what you like best. You could also use a circular saw. On the tight seams, not too tight. Most installations want a 1/8 inch gap between boards that you will fill with thinset and reinforce with fiberglass mesh tape.


derek said...

A hole saw works well on cement board too. The screws I used are a lot stronger than drywall screws, and corrosion resistant, I have no idea about their sheer strength. They're called "Rock-on" here.

Greg said...

The carbide grit jig saw will be the main weapon, I think. For some smaller pieces, I can use the score and snap method. That is what I did the last time I worked with cement board. It works ok, but I found the edges to be less than straight and smooth. Mainly it's around the tub I need a clean, tight fit. I also have a 1.25-inch carbide grit hole saw left over from the marble work, and several masonry drill bits. Those should come in handy for water pipes and drains.

Mark said...

When I did our shower I used the score and snap meathod. Never again. I'll take the dust happily to avoid the hassle of the scoring. My carbide knife was useless/

To second what Ryan said. Use adhesive. We used PL premium. The stuff is awesome. Given I built the shower next to a laundry closet on our second floor and when the washer spins down the whole second floor shakes. (still wigs me out) I built the framing of the shower like a tank. Used marble tiles and wanted to be sure they would not crack. It was advised to use the PL so we did. The better portion of a year later all the tile is still perfect. Just a little cracking here and there in the corners of the grout. Nothing you can see without looking and I attribute it mostly to the added weight having settled.

Griffin said...

Any word on the master tile installer's write up/documentarty of the methods he used? I'm about to install the Subway Ceramics tile myself and want to make sure I learn from someone who's done it before.

Any suggestions you have would be great too.

Thanks for all your blogging on the tile job!

Greg said...


Boy, I don't think I have anything else to add. I wrote so much about the tile installation already.

You know, just take your time and keep it straight. If you screw up, chisel it off and do it over. That's what I had to do in one small section.