We are back to show Day 2 results of Lori and Zach’s bathroom! If you missed the first post on how to prep the bathroom on Day 1 by removing linoleum, molding, and toilet, check it out here.
Day 2: Laying Tile Using Mortar and Spacers
Now that our bathroom is prepped, we are ready to start thinking about laying tile! To secure the tile on the concrete slab, you will need mortar or what I refer to as “glue.” There are multiple types of mortar to choose from but in general the two main types you should be aware of are Thin-set Mortar and Mastic Mortar. For this project, we used Thin-set mortar because it does not require a significant amount of air to dry which is better for concrete slabs. Mastic Mortar is what you would use on vertical surfaces like a black splash because it is very sticky and immediately holds the tile to the mortar. It’s important to note that mastic isn’t a great choice where constant water exposure will happen (i.e. shower areas) as it does dissolve in water. For more information on selecting a tile “glue”, take a look here.
When buying thin-set mortar, you can either buy a dry, powdered mix that you will need to add water to and mix yourself, or you can buy a pre-mixed bucket. The benefit of the dry, powdered version is that it is cheaper, however, you will need proper tools in order to mix it correctly. If you lack the tools (drill, drill extension, bucket, and most importantly PATIENCE and ACCURACY in measuring), I would suggest buying the pre-mixed version. It is really not difficult to mix yourself though if you have the items listed above or you can justify buying some fancy new tools if you are going to be doing a number of tiling jobs! You will save money by buying the powdered mix and mixing it yourself!
We bought the dry, powdered mortar and mixed ourselves. Follow the instructions exactly on the back of the bag. We used a drill extension to mix the mortar. (Did I mention yet how Zach’s tool chest is enough to make any girl or guy on this planet jealous?! He has every tool under the sun!)
Before you start laying the tile, make sure your tile saw is ready to go! Set out your saw in a safe environment, add water to the tray below (if using a wet tile saw), and plug in to make sure you are ready to cut tiles.
Once your mortar is ready and your saw is ready….head to your bathroom because we are ready to begin! Now take a deep breath and get ready….
Using a large putty knife, spread the mortar a little larger than the width and length of one tile. Make sure it is relatively even but don’t stress about it being perfect because you are going to use a notch trowel to make it exact.
Using a 1/4″ square notch trowel, rake the mortar into an even layer by holding it at 45 degrees and putting the excess mortar back in your bucket. Consult YouTube if you are a more visual person but basically just make sure your mortar is level, even, and has grooves.
Once the mortar is set, lay your tile on top of it. We started in the corner near the shower because that was our most obvious focal point of the room, it would help us keep the tiles straight as we worked, and also because we could use the straight edge of the tile right up against the shower. We didn’t have quarter round molding to hide any ridged edges so we needed to make sure we had an exact straight line. You will eventually caulk the tile and shower edge as well once the tile is set.
Once you lay the tile down, press very firmly down (with all of your weight on large format tiles – like the 6″ or 9” x 36” tiles; for smaller tiles, press firmly enough to fully seat the tile) to make sure the mortar gets into the grooves on the back of the tile for optimal adhesive strength. Zach would even shimmy it back and forth to make sure the mortar or “glue” was thoroughly in the back of the tile grooves.
Press the tile in place exactly where you want it. Then take your putty knife and scrape up all excess mortar from around the tile. When you lay the surrounding tile, you do not want excess mortar to creep in between the spacing. We also want to remove any excess mortar so it doesn’t dry while we are cutting the next tile. You can do this with a Q-tip, toothpick (if the grout lines are really small), or a fancy tool like this.
Next we measured a difficult tile. This tile had to go underneath and around the door casing. Using a permanent marker and tape measure, we made marks on the tile so that we would know where to cut. The permanent marker surprisingly wipes off of the tile so no need to worry if you mess up. Be sure to test your permanent marker with a scrap piece of tile so you don’t permanently mark your tiles – but with the porcelain tiles we had it wiped right off with a little water.
Once our tile was measured, we went back into the garage to cut the tile. Instead of cutting the line out exactly (since it would be impossible to make the horizontal cut in the middle of the tile), we cut multiple straight lines up until the edge to weaken that area of the tile and eventually break off with a hammer. See pictures below.
Cutting sections to our permanent marking drawing….
Zach showing how to cut tile like a professional! The only thing he wanted me to mention is that you should probably wear eye protection when doing this :)
Once you have the sections cut, take a small hammer and gently tap off each tile piece. It surprisingly comes off easily. There are a ton of different ways to cut tile – everything from a wet tile saw like we used to diamond bit hole saws for plumbing fixtures to a roto-zip with a diamond bit. If you have a particularly difficult cut to make you may need to do a little research online to see if there is guidance on how to best cut the tile. An angle grinder with a diamond cutting wheel also works well.
This method doesn’t make a perfect edge but we had quarter round molding (i.e. trim) to hide the edge once we replaced it at the very end. Then we checked to make sure our cut matched the desired area before laying mortar down.
For each piece of tile, we cut one, laid it in the mortar, removed the excess mortar, and inserted spacers before cutting the next piece. We cut the tile in alternating long and short pieces to give the bathroom the wood floor appearance. Using an ear swab, we cleaned out any excess mortar between the tiles as we worked.
Repeat all of the steps above working your way toward the door. Again, because we wanted little to no grout showing, we used 1/16″ spacers to help us space the tiles apart and leave room for the grout.
Make sure to double check the ground is level around the toilet – otherwise you’ll have to shim your toilet so it doesn’t rock (which is what we ended up having to do!) To do the toilet circle cut, we did the same process as above. Measure with a tape measure and mark with permanent marker. They make straight cuts to the edge of your circle and hammer out gently.
You really shouldn’t walk on the tiles until they are completely dried (overnight) so make sure to start at the back of your space and work towards the door.
This was the picture at the end of Day 2. We had all of our tiles laid and spacers inserted. We let it dry overnight to allow the mortar to set.
I know what you are thinking….holy toledo, this looks hard! But really, it wasn’t too strenuous! You just need to have the time to do it :) We are looking forward to sharing the final details with you tomorrow!