Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tiling the Fireplace

Well, it turns out I didn’t get a chance to take enough pictures to do a full tutorial and it turns out that this experience did not at all make me an expert to post a full tutorial. Tiling this fireplace was a lot more stressful and panicky than I expected. :) So instead of a tutorial, you will be getting a  journal of our actual, non-perfect adventure into tiling.


Mixing the mortar wasn’t bad at all. Here’s Grandpa showing off its perfect consistency.


We used this metal tile trim around the fireplace to give the tiles (and our cut edges!) a clean finish. It really came in handy when our tiles started sliding down the wall. :)


Even though we fully understand gravity, we started with the top center of the fireplace because I wanted to make sure that we got the pattern of the subway tile centered, since I figured that’d be the first place your eye would really be drawn to. If we had used a more random mosaic tile (and something smaller, where an extra inch of tile here or there wouldn’t be noticeable) we could have just started from the bottom and worked our way up like smart people.

Of course the tile began sliding down the wall. I knew it would, I had read it so many times, but somehow I was still panickingly surprised and unprepared for it. Thank goodness we decided to use that metal edging! We propped the whole thing up with a 4-foot level and a piece of trim Grandpa cut to 4 feet.


At this point, we clearly needed a humongous coffee break.

Next, we needed to start work on the sides – making sure that the pattern would line up with the top and the bottom.

Because our cutting guide on the wet saw only went out to 7 5/8” and our 2”x4” tiles were on 12” x 12” sheets, we had to figure out how to free hand cut the tiles in half. Grandpa lined up the full tile that we wanted to keep against the blade (it was noisy and the edges got shaved a little, but nothing that you notice) thereby using the full tile as the guide to cut the next tile in half.

Here’s a picture of our cutting mark – to help us visualize.


Once that was done, we planned on having the tile extend about 8” on either side of the fireplace, but as I just said, the cutting guide only went out to 7 5/8”, and we wanted that guide to make sure we got straight cuts. So we went back to the fireplace and measured. We determined that (on the right side) we’d need 6 5/8” of tile to line us up with the existing tiles, so we went with it. (On the left side, it was 6 3/8”. Thank goodness we measured both sides. You can kind of tell, (I could tell that day, that’s why I measured again), but in general it’s not too noticeable, so we stuck with it. :)


Then, with some more measuring, we realized that we’d have an inch or so between the last full tile and the floor (which would need room for grout lines). We decided that instead of making what seemed like a million small cuts, we’d make a mid-project run to Lowes to buy some 3/4” x 6” border tiles that I remembered they had. Those tiles were a lifesaver! We used them as the bottom row of tiles.


(They also came in handy in another mis-measured spot that I’m choosing not to point out to everyone.) ;)

After that, we were ready to finish tiling the remaining 3 sides of the fireplace. It was stressful but really fine. The tiles kept sliding down as we worked our way down to the bottom; we had to work hard pushing the tiles up to get everything to fit where it was supposed to. Let me say, thank goodness for the person who invented tile spacers. They were another lifesaver! They were so so so helpful.


The bottom and the last side were much easier since we weren’t fighting gravity with the tile, though I did end up messing up the pattern a bit at the end. Oops! I should never tell, but it bugs me, and I didn’t notice until the mortar was dry. Boo. That last side though, was when I realized what tiling really should be like – when you work from the bottom up, it’s much more bearable!

Anyway, it’s done and I’m happy.


And we learned a lot:

Even though the mortar bag tells you to only mix up what you can use in 10 or 15 minutes, and that’s true, they also tell you to let the mortar slake for 10 minutes, which makes the mortar really workable for 20-25 minutes. We found this to be true and helpful, but not until the end. Before that, I was so worried about having the mortar dry up on us, that I was working too quickly, and the mortar wasn’t really set up yet. I think that’s one reason our tiling was sliding down so much (and working against gravity of course.)

Really, work from the bottom up. Plan ahead so you can. Now of course, the part over the top fireplace would have not had support underneath it in any case, so from that I learned to avoid having a fireplace be your first tiling experience.

Level the substrate before you start tiling. These seems super obvious, our cement backer board wasn’t that out of whack, and I thought I could just do it as I went along (adding more mortar underneath some spots, smoothing others out). But since we tiled the top, and then took a break, I didn’t realize where some of the uneven spots were until we started adding tile, and by then the mortar under the previously set tile was dry and therefore unable to be moved. Boo.

I also learned that although smaller tiles can be more expensive, and some may look trendy, I can see why they are popular with first time tilers. A lot of our measuring mistakes and issues wouldn’t have been so bad if we were using smaller tiles.

Again, though, I am happy. :)

I’m working on finishing the wall around it, and I’ll be back with more on that when I’m done.

(Even though my tile job is far from perfect, I’m sure it’d be worse if I hadn’t gotten tiling info from Young House Love and The Floor Elf.) :)

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