Preparation and planning are the most important aspects of ceramic tiling. It is absolutely-essential that all surfaces are sound, dry and flat. Dry means that there must not be any dampness in the wall. If you have any reason to suspect that there might be dampness in a wall, first deal with whatever is causing the problem. If necessary, call in an expert. If you hang tiles on a damp wall, they will soon fall off.
A wall might appear to be flat, but often there will be sufficient bumps and hollows to make it difficult, if not impossible, to hang the tiles neatly. The quickest way to find out if a wall is flat is to use a 2m (6 ft) long piece of wood that you know has a perfectly flat edge. Place the wood in various places on the wall vertically, horizontally and diagonally, and see if there is any noticeable ‘see-saw’ movement or if large gaps appear between the edge of the wood and the wall.
If you find a hollow, you can make it flush by using filler or plaster. If a wall is really bad, it can be faced with plasterboard or you can call in a professional to replaster it.
If you have a nice flat surface, remove any wallpaper or flaking paint. Old gloss paint (identifiable by its shine) has to be rubbed down with coarse glasspaper or an electric sander. The idea is to remove the shine and key the surface. Old ceramic tiles, provided that they are fixed firmly and are flat, make an ideal surface. You can refix the odd, loose one with ceramic tile adhesive after chipping the old adhesive off the wall with a chisel and hammer.
Have a look at tiled rooms in brochures and catalogs. Notice such things as equal-sized tiles either side of a window, no small strips of tiles cut to fit into a small space above a sink or bath and so on. This does not happen by luck; it is due to careful planning.
Notice, too, that the grout lines between the tiles run continuously around the room from wall to wall. They will even be aligned on items such as the side of a bath.
To plan a room, you need a gauging rod – a piece of wood about 2m (6 ft) long. Mark it off in tile increments according to the size of tiles you are using – normally 110mm or 150mm (4.5in or 6 in). Allow also for the joints between the tiles – a plastic tile-spacer can be used for measuring this.
If you hold the measuring stick on the wall all around the room, both horizontally and vertically, then you will soon build up a picture of how the tiles will best be placed. You will also, of course, establish the all-important starting point on each wall.
Few rooms work out perfectly. Inevitably, there will have to be a compromise or two. For example, in order to leave equal size tiles either side of a window – which is important to give the room a balanced look visually -you might have to accept a narrow row of tiles alongside a door frame. It’s very much a case of taking each wall on its merits.
Do remember, however, that the horizontal join lines are continuous all around the room.
Having decided how the tiles are going to be best arranged, you need to establish the starting point for the first row of horizontal tiles and the first row of vertical tiles. You always start to tile near the bottom of a wall and near a corner. You never start to tile at the bottom of a wall, on a skirting board, alongside a door frame or window frame, in a corner or so on.
None of these places can be relied upon to be perfectly horizontal or vertical. Use your spirit level to establish true horizontal and vertical lines, and fix a batten to the wall on your horizontal starting line, which is your guide to laying the first row of tiles. The batten will be removed after 24 hours, when the adhesive has set.
Fix the batten with masonry nails (wear eye protection) hammered partly in. The top edge of the batten should be one tile width above the lowest point of the skirting or floor. That way you will not have to fit any thin slivers of tile into the gap when the batten is removed. The same principle applies to the distance of the vertical batten from the corner. For your vertical guide, you can fix a vertical batten to the wall or rely on a pencil line.
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