Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Count & The Amount

I’ve cleaned the house as well as it’s going to get cleaned for the impending family visit. Saying it’s clean is a bit if a stretch. It’s definitely clean-er. I’ll just say that’s its clean enough. My family is well aware of what I’m doing here and they’ve been here several times in the past few years. Even though the house is far from finished, it’s the best it’s ever been, so I can get away with it not being spotless. It’s all relative.

I really couldn’t do any work inside my clean house, and I was kind of tired of cleaning, so I turned my attention back to The Oberon Saloon tile. To date I have 40.5 sq ft of ready to install tile. There is another 45 sq ft that has been through the surface cleaning operation, but still needs the grout removed. Finally, there is another 30 to 40 sq ft that still sits as it was the day I pried it off the floor of The Oberon Saloon.

I’m not going to sugar coat this in the least. Removing the grout is just about the worst possible job imaginable. At one point today I was actually looking back fondly on paint stripping activities I’ve had in the past. It’s that bad. When I was searching for salvaged subway tile I was getting prices that started at $30 a sq ft and went up to $56 a sq ft. I now know why. Cleaning the salvaged tile is just the worst.

My tile, of course, is the 2-inch hex encaustic floor tile I salvaged from the 1902 Oberon Saloon. There is a two part process to cleaning it. First the surface is cleaned by soaking it in bleach for a week. That’s turned out to work well and not be too over-whelming. The next part is to remove the grout. It first seemed like it was going to not be too bad as well, but that was early on.

I bought a bench-top belt sander and that seemed to take the grout off well. The problem is, the belts wear out quickly. The coarsest belt they make for my sander is 50 grit. It does really well for the first 3 or 4 sq ft of tile and then after that it starts to degrade quickly. After about 6 sq ft it is like using a 100 grit belt. It just takes forever to get the grout off.

I got a comment from someone suggesting I use tile nippers, which I did. These work well too, but only when the grout is thick on the tile. And remember, there are 6 sides to each tile. When the grout is thick, say an eighth of an inch or more, you can snap all the grout off with one pass. It’s very satisfying when that happens. Most of the times it is not that thick though. Back in 1902 the style was thin grout lines, and most of the time there is a minimal amount of grout on the tile.

You would think it would be easy for the belt sander to get off the thin grout. You would think I could use the nippers on the thick grout and the sander for the thin stuff. You would think. Honestly, I try and do that, but there is this urge to try and get it all with the nippers. When you lock on to one of those thick chunks of grout and the whole thing snaps off cleaning with a sharp Pop!, you want to experience it again. You get to a tile with minimal amounts of grout on it and you think, if only I can get these nippers on that hair-line edge I will not have to spend so much time at the sander. It’s like an addiction.

Working with the nippers has other problems as well. You must hold them awkwardly and you seem to use muscles in ways they weren’t intended to be used. A half hour with the nippers is like doing 50 push-ups or something. I don’t know why exactly, it’s just very unnatural work.

I’m not sure I can continue working like this. I haven’t even de-grouted half the tile and the system seems unmanageable at this point. I have two thoughts so far. One, go back to the original idea of the dremel tool. I’m not sure how well this would work. I’m thinking at first I could add it to the repertoire of the nippers and sander and use it for the thin grout in the pre-sander part of the operation. I would have to invest in a dremel tool and some accessories.

The other option is to change belts more frequently. I have another 80 sq ft of tile that needs to be de-grouted. If I change belts after every 3 sq ft that’s 27 belts. The belts run $4.50 a piece, I think, so that’s $120 for belts. I’m not sure what a dremel tool costs, but I’m guessing once I buy the tool and enough abrasive accessories to do the job I need to do, it’ll be more than $120. Also, I bet if I went on-line I could find the belts cheaper if I bought in bulk. I think that’s what I’m going to do.

It’s a small price to pay, really. That is, if this works out with the tile. As I was working away with the nippers today I was adding up how much time I will have spent on this tile. I think once it’s installed I’m looking at about 3 hours per sq ft, if you include the salvage, cleaning, and installation. At $15 an hour that works out to be $45 a sq ft, which is in the ballpark of the prices of salvaged tile I was getting. Of course, the big difference is, as my Favorite American Patriot once said, a penny saved is a penny earned. And I will get a cool tile floor to boot.

Damn the grout. Full speed ahead.


Anonymous said...

Have you considered trying a bench grinder? Using a homemade jig to hold the tile and keep your fingers out of the wheel.

Maybe piece of wood with a dado in it at the thickness of the tile for depth and the width of the tile for size across. Make it with a back piece on it to stop the tile and then the length would allow a bit of the tile to stick out. Set it on the table and slide the tile into the wheel. I wouldn't try it bare handed though unless you don't want to have to cut your finger nails again.


Greg said...

That's not a bad idea. The jig would need to be done very well. I bet the grinder would not be very nice to the tile should the two touch.

I did find belts for me bench-top belt sander for about $2.50 (about half what I'm paying now), and I found some that were 30 grit. The coarsest I can get now is 50 grit.

Anonymous said...

Two from the bottom
One hundred and twenty dollars

Former old Bay Area resident

Greg said...

That's it! Dialing For Dollars!

Only I saw it in Houston when I was a kid.

slateberry said...

At least it wasn't 1" hex tile. that'd be one killer perimeter-to-area ratio!