Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Hybrid Dwarf

I was like a cross between Sleepy and Grumpy all day yesterday. Just not in a good mood and I felt like I could doze off at any second. I ended up going to bed at 8:30 last night and slept 13 hours straight! Man, that felt good.

When I’m like that, the whole world can seem a bit distorted. It doesn’t take much for me to get frustrated with things. I was stressing out on the bathroom all day. It wasn’t anything in particular, just sort of stressing on the whole project. I was worrying about how much money it’s costing and how long it was taking. What if it doesn’t turn out nice. Will it be an embarrassment.

Last night I was flipping through the channels and I came upon the movie Something’s Gotta Give, with Diane Keaton and Jack Nickelson. It was one of the scenes in the movie where they are standing in the kitchen of that fabulous beach house in The Hamptons, or wherever, owned by Diane Keaton’s character. In real life they probably spent more on that kitchen than I’ve spent on my house and the entire restoration up to this point, combined.

Anyway, Diane Keaton is standing in front of the sink and there is a subway tile backsplash. I immediately zeroed in on the tile. It was perfect. Over the next few minutes there were several long takes of the tile and I scrutinized it for flaws. There wasn’t one. I then started to panic over my tile in the bathroom. In my mind it became a moonscape of tile. Any subtle flaws of my tile installation became magnified in my mind. Tiles were sticking out a half inch from the wall. Others were tilted at a 15 degree angle instead of being perfectly level. It was an embarrassment and I was horrified. How could I have been so stupid to think that I could tile a bathroom like that. I was going to have to rip it all down and start over.

I panicked and ran to the bathroom. I flipped on the light and studied the room for minute. It wasn’t too bad. I calmed a bit and looked closer. There were a few areas that I wasn’t completely proud of. On the sink wall there is the occasional tile here and there that is not completely flat with the surrounding tiles. This was due to my lack of experience with the notched trowel. Even so, you had to study the wall to notice. If you got up against the wall and looked down at the floor you could notice it. So long as nobody does that, I’ll be fine.

I also didn’t like the base tile along the back wall. I should have had two half tiles at either end instead of full tiles. The first rows of field tile on the opposing walls ended in half tiles. This meant that the first row on the back wall had to start with full tiles. So what ended up happening was that on the back wall, I have a full field tile on top of a full base tile on the first row. They should be off-set. It’ll be behind the tub, so no one will notice.

Getting the thin-set on was another challenge for the sink wall when I started. I have seen a few DIY shows over the past year where they do tile installations. On these shows they snap a chalk line for an area of tile and then go to painstaking levels to make sure that they only get the thin-set in the lines that they are working on. It’s like first grade coloring all over again. I tried doing this at first, but I found it very difficult to get an even depth of thin-set in the area that I was working on, while at the same time keeping it in the lines.

The notches on the trowel are designed so that as you drag the trowel along the wall, the low part of the notch rides directly on the walls surface, and the high part of the notch will leave the remaining thin-set at a uniform thickness on the wall. This ensures that the tiles will all be at the same level off the wall. They will all sit flush with one and other. In order for this to work it’s important that you get enough thin-set on the wall in the first place. If you have thin areas, they will remain thin even after you drag the trowel over it. Then when you put the tile on it will be a minute fraction of an inch lower that the surrounding tiles.

I quickly gave up on trying to keep the thin-set in the lines. It was just too hard and causing problems, and was just too slow, as well. Instead, what I ended up doing, was purposely going outside the lines. I would spread the thin-set several inches outside the lines and then scrape off the remainder after the tile was in place.

Also, I found it very difficult to drag a trowel full of thin-set horizontally across the wall. Inevitably, large globs of thin-set fell to the floor, and more often than not hit some of the previously set tile on the way down. It was a mess. I worked with a 6-inch high section of wall at a time. This was enough for two rows of tile. Working with smaller amounts of thin-set on the trowel, I applied it in a vertical fashion to the wall. Once I had an area covered with thin-set, I then dragged the trowel horizontally across the area. I made two passes over the area, first the top part, and then the bottom part.

After that, I ran my finger along the bottom of the freshly troweled area, just along the top of the previously set row. This removed any thick areas where two tiles would meet, and ensured that the thin-set wouldn’t squish out between the tiles. When I put a tile on the wall I tried to get it so it was in direct contact with the previously set tile below it, and the one to the left. I then squished it in to the thin-set, gave it a firm wiggle back and forth, and then put in the spacers.

Unfortunately, I missed one of the spacers. There is one tile that droops a bit. You can see it in the picture above. This tile also happens to be in just about the worst possible place. It’s about 18-inches up and is directly across from the toilet. That’s right, from now until the end of time, when ever I sit on the toilet this tile is going to be mocking me. I’m seriously considering trying to chisel it out and replace it. I’ve never done this before, so I’m not sure how easy or hard that will be. I’ve decided to wait a while and make sure the thin-set is cured well because I don’t want to inadvertently loosen any surrounding tiles.


Leslie said...

Oh, please, the tile in the movie is molded plastic that comes in 4x8 sheets with grout added to make it look real.

(No I really don't know this, but I DO know that there are lots of things used on movie sets that are made to look like luxurious expensive details that in fact are temporary plastic fakes.)

But I feel for you about a small error being right where you can't help but see it every day. More than likely 99% of the poeple that visit (even those who spend an extended time sitting on your toilet) aren't going to notice this, but even though I would sincerely encourage you to just leave it and don't worry about it, the reality is that if it were me I'd probably take it out and redo it, because it would drive me batshit crazy.

Anonymous said...

Try taking a diamond blade in an angle grinder and cut a x through the tile. Careful on the end of the cut that you don't get into the adjoining tiles. Maybe stay back a bit. Jam a screwdriver in the cut and pry the pieces up from the thinset. Use the cut tile for a fulcrum and pop it off. Scrape off the excess thin set and you're good to go. Less stress than banging with a chisel.

Anonymous said...

Hey Greg,
I grew up in a gorgeous 1920's four square-ish house with rich details throughout. Every bathroom had those square edged subway tiles that had been set by hand and were a toothpick space apart. (And penny hex tiles on the floor). And all 3 of them had at least one crooked tile. I never minded staring at them. I'm a perfectionist when i do bead work or knitting, but i've heard that perfection is an insult to God. I'm not sure if it's really a Native American tradition to purposefully hide a flaw in plain sight, but if it makes you feel better, borrow that idea. Remember, perfection is the enemy of the good.

Greg said...

Hmmmm, a great solution to fix it (there is a diamond blade in my grider right now), and a great reason not to.

What to do. What to do.

StuccoHouse said...

I think the one tile drooping a bit is cool. Of course, once you grout you probably won't even notice it. My bathroom hex tiles were laid by hand....and the space between them varies quite a bit.

I've paused during that film to see the house too. also like the beach glass.

Mark said...

It is easier to pull the tile now vs later. The more it sets the harder it will be to pull. Likely it will remain somewhat wet for a few weeks then be rock hard. The more it sets the harder it is to scrape off the backer board and reset it to a clean surface. Or live with it. You will be one of the only people to know it is there especially if you do a white groute.

Anonymous said...

You aren't by any chance a Virgo? I am and I also tend to want everything perfect. It can drive a person crazy!!!Or a spouse LOL

Anonymous said...

I agree with the person who suggested taking the Native American perspective. That's how I get myself past mistakes in my crafty handiwork. A fellow knitter once told me that errors "let the demons out." :-) Plus, it's got character.

That said, if you can remove and replace your slightly crooked tile easily, I suppose there's no harm in doing so. The base tiles that bother you (but are conveniently less visible) will take care of any demons!

Ignatz Ruksfrotz said...

More sense to leave it be, but peace of mind can be worth it.

I obsess over wood floors to the point of cutting and fitting the entire thing before nailing it. Gone so far as to hide joints under doors and in closets.

Lose the tile, your sanity is worth it.