Bring­ing It Back

Lay­ing a mo­saic tile floor.

Arts and Crafts Homes - - CONTENTS - by Mary Ellen Pol­son

FROM PENNY ROUNDS TO HEXAGONS, bas­ketweave to spi­ral, mo­saic tiles lend an early-20th-cen­tury sig­na­ture to any room, whether the foyer or the bath. Lay­ing a new mo­saic tile floor can be chal­leng­ing if you do it your­self, but a few tricks from the past can make any in­stal­la­tion a suc­cess.

First, pre­pare the sur­face cor­rectly. Mo­saic and most other types of tile can­not be set di­rectly over ply­wood. New tile should only be set over prop­erly in­stalled ce­ment board or pre­pared ce­ment. Make sure the sur­face is as flat and de­fect free as pos­si­ble.

Next, dry-lay the de­sign be­fore mix­ing any mor­tar. Mo­saic tiles usu­ally come in 12" x 12" sheets with mesh back­ing that lay down quickly. Even a pro, how­ever, will take the time to dry­lay the tile, then stack it in the or­der it will be in­stalled.

To help set the pat­tern, snap chalk lines down the width and length of the room so that they cross at your in­tended fo­cal point. Start­ing from the cen­ter of the room, line up the far­thest edge of a dry sheet of tile against the line. (There will be a match­ing sheet.) Align an­other tile sheet be­low it. You want the new sheet to match the seam width of the first sheet, but you also want to hit the chalk line pre­cisely. Keep lay­ing dry sheets un­til you’ve cov­ered about a quar­ter or third of the floor. Num­ber the sheets as you place them.

When you get to­ward the edges of the room, you may have to cut sheets to fit with a wet saw. Don’t worry about small gaps be­tween the edges of the tile sheets and the wall at this point. If you use a half sheet as you reach the end of a wall, use the other half to abut it when start­ing your next row.

Once you’re con­fi­dent that the pat­tern will work, mix up the first batch of mor­tar. Use one specif­i­cally rec­om­mended by the tile man­u­fac­turer, and mix only as much as you can use in the rec­om­mended work­ing time (usu­ally only about 15 to 20 min­utes). Try for the con­sis­tency of slightly warm cake ic­ing. Never add more wa­ter to the mix­ture if it be­gins to har­den; this will weaken it.

AP­PLY THINSET Be­gin lay­ing the tile. Us­ing your trial run with loose sheets of tile for ref­er­ence, choose the first tile sheet. Us­ing a notched trowel of the ap­pro­pri­ate gauge ( 1/8" or 3/32", for in­stance), cover a small sec­tion of the sub­strate with thinset mor­tar, enough for two side-by-side 12" x 12" sheets, for ex­am­ple. An­gle the trowel at a 45-de­gree an­gle to score lines in the mor­tar.

Lay down just enough thinset to cap­ture the tile with­out push­ing out above it. (This may take some prac­tice.) Lay whole sheets in a row against your chalk line, keep­ing the sheets aligned as you work.

LINE UP TILE Once the tile is in prop­erly, use a float or tap with a padded wood block to press the tiles lightly and evenly into the mor­tar. Ap­ply­ing con­sis­tent pres­sure will help avoid lip­page, where tile is higher or lower than neigh­bor­ing tile.

To min­i­mize vis­i­ble dis­crep­an­cies be­tween the seams where the tile sheets meet, use spac­ers (avail­able in 1/8" and

3/32" sizes). Stand up and care­fully eye­ball the ap­pear­ance of the tile be­fore the thinset dries. If you can tell where the seam is, you prob­a­bly need to re­set the sheet. FIT AND CUT If an ob­struc­tion like a toi­let flange is in the way, work around it, leav­ing room for a full sheet of tile. Once the rest of the tile is down, mea­sure the dis­tance from the edge of the near­est tile sheet to the flange at four points (top, bot­tom, both sides). Trans­fer these mea­sure­ments to the sheet you in­tend to in­stall, and use them to draw a cir­cle on the tile. Pop out any tile in­side the cir­cle with a util­ity knife.

For sec­tions less than a full sheet wide, cut the sheet to fit with a util­ity knife or wet saw, de­pend­ing on whether or not the cut will go through tile. In ar­eas less than one tile in width, score the tile on a snap cut­ter, then clip pieces off with a tile nib­bler and lay them in. Once all the tiles are in place, al­low the floor to dry for at least 24 hours. Stay off the floor un­til it’s ready to grout. a

ABOVE It may look un­touched, but this bath­room in a 1927 &RORQLDO 5HYLYDO ZDV VWULSSHG WR WKH VWXGV 7KH ƮRRU LV FODVVLF black-and-white mo­saic hex tile from Amer­i­can Olean.

8VH D ƮRDW RU WDS ZLWK D SDGGHG wood block to press the tiles lightly and evenly into the mor­tar.

Us­ing a notched trowel, cover a small sec­tion of the sub­strate with thinset mor­tar.

Keep the tile aligned as you work.

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