Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Oh the Mortar and the Moaning

It is Wednesday, September 18th (I think)

Next step is the part I was dreading the most. Mortaring the floor tiles.

A friend loaned us his tile cutter, probably one of the lower end models that cost around $50 or so. My brother struggled with it to try and make it work with our unusual-sized 13-inch tiles, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not get a straight cut all the way to the other side. So we decided, we need to invest in one of our own knowing that we had other renovation plans in the wait.

We went to Home Depot and bought this Ryobi wet saw tile cutter for $240. Since the box was clearly opened, they agreed to take off $40 from the price for us.

The first thing right away that gave my brother a sigh of relief was that he no longer had to be hunch on the ground. This came with a stand! Second was that nice straight cut was almost effortless with the way the machine was designed. This is why being under-budget is so awesome -- so we can buy new toys for future renos!  Yippeeee!

And so the tiling began.

We started with the portions that took full tiles. The picture is deceiving since we decided to lay the tiles diagonally.

My brother and I tried our best to mix the mortar to its proper consistency and kinda failed the first time. It was way too goopy and lost its shape after the serrated part of the trowel went over it. What ended up happening was the tiles would move after they were placed down. So we had no choice but to pull up all the tiles we laid (about 7-10 of them) and start again.

Here's the thing with placing down tile that you have to pull up later. The tiles are not malleable so picking it up in its stiff form with goopy wet mortar is kind of like trying to pull a massive suction cup off a smooth surface. It definitely worked out my arms and back -- not that I cared for it much. So don't go too far or you will have lots of hard pulling to do.

And in the darkness of the back patio, I was spraying water over the tiles to remove as much mortar as possible, while my brother mixed a better batch of mortar. Boy, did I wish it was a hot summer day!

So when my brother and I finally put enough powdered mortar to get a nice stiff paste, we ended up with a massive bucket of mortar. This meant, we had to keep going until the mortar was done. The clock struck 10pm, and we were still going. It would have been nice if we could have mixed a little mortar at the beginning to test it out, since we were complete noobs to this process.

Well, the nice thing about laying a good portion of the full tiles the night before is that it is strong enough the next day to walk on and makes it a lot easier to measure the cut pieces along the edges.

And this is where finally my forte was... or at least I thought. Not as easy as it looks.

 There are three things that made our tiling work that much harder:
  1. The tiles were of an unusual size and of pretty substantial thickness (good enough to use in outdoor patios). So we were working with big dense piece of porcelain.

  2. Because of the cork underlay, we were instructed to install the cabinets first before laying the cork and tile down. This meant having to cut very unusual pieces to fit around the various parts of the cabinetry.

    If we were allowed to place the tile down first, we would have ended up with just a bunch of small triangles to fill in all the edges.

  3. Our choice to use a diagonal layout to hide the flawed perpendicular angles of the walls (which I still agree with despite the extra work) meant we were doing way, way more cuts.

But ya know, sometimes taking the harder road means not having to be reminded that you took the shortcut every time you look down at a flawed floor. I am pleased with the final result.

With my other brother visiting us from LA during the tiling process, we of course had to enlist him to help out. Why? Because apparently I'm still too much of a wimp for this kind of intense and continuous manual labour. And an interesting comment popped up as I moaned and groaned and verbally cursed and despised the kitchen I was building while I was pushing the mortared tiles down to try and get it flush with the tile beside it:

Brother #1: Clearly Somi has never gone tree planting. (a BC summer job to help re-forest our greatest natural commodity).

Brother #2: Oh that's right. If you have tree planted, this work would seem easy compared to that.

Somi: What do you mean?

Brother #2: The first year planters, sometimes you had complainers, and because the work is so hard and the environment is so rugged and unforgiving, you stay away from anyone complaining because the last thing you need while you're working is to be reminded how freaking hard it is.

Somi: Oh I see. (Let's out a big *SIGH/MOAN*)

Brother #2: Like that, that's what I mean.

Wow, standards are high! But it was a little wake up call to how my demeanor could make the job much harder to accomplish.

What ended up happening is I measured and penciled the cuts that had to be made, numbering each one to a place on the floor where it belonged -- by myself. Then my two brothers (God bless them!) took it on themselves to do the cutting and mortaring.

Did I mention that I think my brothers are the greatest brothers in the world? I mean it!

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