Recently I took my children to see a family friend who owned a farm in the Mississippi Delta. As I expressed my concern to him about the shrinking availability of land suitable for farming, he informed me of the incredible advancements in agricultural technology. In fact, he told me on his land alone, technology had enabled him to yield 12 times the harvest of his forefathers in a given year. I found that information to be amazing. Think about it. Technology is changing the world in which we live every day. The challenge we face is to utilize what is available to us. It applies to both our personal and professional lives. Of course our biggest challenge is also our best opportunity.

In the past few decades, the ceramic tile industry has been on an incredible growth curve. Industry experts now lament the fact skilled labor is falling behind consumer demand for the product. At the National Tile Contractors Association, we recognize this and are committed to doing something about it; however I think it is important to bring up an interesting point.

If our current workforce today takes advantage of new technology available in our industry, they can increase productivity and alleviate some of the pressure to satisfy consumer demand.

There are many ways for tile contracting companies to take advantage of technology. It applies to all aspects of our businesses, including estimating, invoicing, management of account's receivable, job costing and marketing, to name a few. Another vital area to improve the way in which contractors do business is to utilize the most efficient and innovative tools available on the market today.

Staying on top of the latest trends in tool innovation is not an easy task. One ideal way for readers to do this is to attend annual trade shows like Coverings and Surfaces. This is an outstanding opportunity to witness firsthand live demonstrations of products that can save your company time and money. Every year I have a contractor stop by our booth and tell us they paid for their entire trip by purchasing a tool that changes the way they do business.

Examples of products that are changing the way contractors install tile and stone may include:

Speed and Comfort

Many products are now being designed to increase speed in both installation and grouting. One such company who patented a unique product is Racatac Products Inc.

The Racatac not only increases performance, it is potentially invaluable in protecting you and your employees' knees and backs. The attached, floating-like kneepads allow your knees to rest and move freely. They eliminate direct pressure on your knees, circulation problems, and the discomfort of wearing kneepads with straps.

Instead of sitting back on your heels, the fully adjustable seat provides support, leaving your feet free to control your movement. Although this tool is used in many industries, it was invented and designed by a flooring installer.

Strong, lightweight aluminum construction, adjustable seat, and tool tray are some of its unique features.

Left-Handed Trowels

With hundreds of variations available, trowels are produced to suit every need. One such company who has been successfully producing quality trowels is Marshalltown Company. They recently launched the new left-handed trowel now available for southpaws. Marshalltown's DuraNotch Trowels include the NTCA developed U notch patterns for proper gauging of thinset mortar and have teeth that are hard chrome plated for extra long wear.

Wash Bucket Systems

If an installer is not using a wash bucket system, they are probably wiping the tile an average of 4 - 6 times before it is cleaned sufficiently (a light haze is generally acceptable). A wash bucket system will save roughly 50% or more on cleanup time when used properly (usually 1 or 2 passes!). According to Ron Rongholt, National Sales Manager of Raimondi Tools USA, who makes wash bucket systems for cleaning grout, this is due to several factors:

1) More of the surface of the sponge is used to provide a larger area being cleaned per pass.

2) The grout and sand is not being stirred up in the water so it stays relatively clean.

3) Less water is used in the cleanup process. This translates into less time changing water or redressing joints that have become washed out.

Laser Technology For centuries, man has been content with the simple carpenter's square, and only in the last 100 years has he improved it with the addition of measurements on the two sides. Dot lasers were introduced into the construction industry about 20 years ago, but it took most contractors in the acoustical ceiling industry almost ten years to realize the tremendous savings they offered even at initial investment costs ranging from $3,000 - $5,000. Years of design changes have brought the cost down to an affordable range that even the individual professional can afford.

Laser products, such as the SL-24 from Laser Products Industries, are changing the way the trade lays out a room for an installation. Lasers can also test for deflection, ensuring a tile contractor does not embark on an installation that can be improperly suited for ceramic tile or natural stone.

Tile Cutters

There are many quality tile-cutting machines being produced today. One caution to consider when purchasing a cutting machine is to take into consideration the size and types of material being specified in your market.

Porcelain tiles are becoming more and more popular in the United States. They can vary in size and thickness. This can create a challenge for installers, especially on a diagonal installation. Tile contractors are urged to test the tile cutter prior to purchase to ensure it performs as advertised. New features, such as Sigma Tile Cutters being produced by European Tilemasters, are now being invented to help the mechanic properly finish a job. Sigma cutters also have adjustable swivel measuring bars to cut tiles at angles without speed squares, and lightweight machines made out of cast aluminum. North American Tile Tool Company (NATTCO) recently introduced hole-cutting kits available in a variety of sizes to put a quality finishing touch on those difficult cuts.

Technology has improved so significantly that today quality tile cutting machines can cut just about anything: glass mosaic, pavers, quarry, saltillo, porcelain and even some marble and granite can be successfully scored and broken cleanly.


It is vitally important to mix thinsets and grouts properly. Mixing at speeds in excess of 300 rpm can severely hamper the project. Technology today allows for proper mixing at the right speed all the time, eliminating air entrainment and creating good, consistent mixing production. Karl-Dahm recently introduced a mixing tool that is heavy duty enough to be used for thinset mortars, grouts, and epoxies.

It properly mixes the entire contents in the bucket, eliminating buildup on the sides and bottom of the pail.


Some manufacturers and suppliers are not only working hard on innovative tools for the trade, they are offering products that can add a touch of professionalism to the contractor's business.

For example, the Beno J. Gundlach Company recently introduced the Professional Tile & Stone Setter's Invoice Book. Each invoice gives a complete breakdown of all job costs. It has a wrap around cover that separates invoices when writing on them. Each book contains 50 sets of two-part carbonless invoices. This is a great way to keep track of your invoices.


It is important to note that these are just examples of some new products available to the trade. As our industry continues to grow, tool manufacturers will consistently introduce products to help tile contractors do the job faster and more effectively. The challenge facing contractors is to stay abreast of all that is available in today's market. To fail to do so may eventually be catastrophic to your business.