Decorative Tile Techniques
The title of this article might suggest the use of expensive trim tiles or hint at exotic setting bed shapes, but since all tiles are decorative, the title actually refers to a set of basic principles that can help turn the most economical ceramic or stone tile installations into works of art.
To do this, accurately measure the square-ness of a floor or wall, perform a few simple math calculations, plot a precise layout on the setting bed, and cut and install the tiles with care. The bare essentials of this approach may be found on pages 29 and 30 of the 2005 ANSI A108 Handbook. This must-have-behind-the-seat-of-your-pickup item for professional installers forms the basis of the TCNA Handbook. In particular, refer to “4.3: Workmanship, Cutting & Fitting” for finishing details. While you’re in that neck of the booklet, take a few minutes to absorb the contents of another rather brief yet very important collection of specification, “4.4 Movement Joints,” which according to entry 4.4.2, “are a requirement for tile work.”
Measuring for Square, Layout and EstimatingSome of the most important skills required of an installer are the ability to measure and compute structural and tile dimensions, and to plot accurate layouts for installation materials and the tiles. Accurate tile layouts are comprised of three elements:
- Measuring the dimensions of the structure to be tiled
- Measuring the dimensions of the field and trim tiles (or the backer boards, sheet membranes or other installation materials)
- Plotting a layout to guide their placement.
Traditional layout and measuring methods are still effective, but for maximum accuracy, the most economical way to do it is with a laser device. Although there are a number of six-figure laser measuring systems ideal for estimating, I’ll be focusing on line-projecting lasers.
Quality laser squares allow an installer to assess the condition of the setting bed in seconds - more accurately than with spirit levels, carpenter’s square and string. To check the square condition of a floor, I make two marks at the ends of the baseboard extending the longest dimension of the floor (Illustration #1). The distance from the wall is irrelevant as long as the two marks are made at the same distance from the base of the wall.
Once a beam of a laser square is aligned to the marks, measurement of the room can begin with nothing more than a tape measure to provide a reading of a floor’s true dimensions and level of straight- and square-ness.
The setting bed on the left of this illustration can be finished with 43 tiles (36 whole and 13 cut tiles) requiring 14 cuts. Unfortunately, because the sliver cuts glaringly point out the straight- and square-ness issues with the structure, the eye’s attention is immediately drawn to the problem, with the tiles actually pointing the way. In the center, though, the same floor takes on a more balanced appearance because the larger cut tiles around the perimeter hide the tapered area without being too obvious. This version can be finished with 49 tiles (25 whole and 24 cut tiles) requiring 28 cuts. Another way to install the floor is with a diagonal insert surrounded by a border, shown on the right. The insert of this layout tends to focus the eye away from the uneven perimeter. This layout can be finished with 40 tiles (12 whole and 28 cut tiles) requiring 38 cuts. Obviously, the floor on the left is the easiest to install but yields the worst look of the three. The center floor takes more work and more tiles to mask the perimeter problems. The floor on the right requires more cutting, and considerably more effort, but because the diagonal insert is so prominent, this approach is the best way to mask perimeter problems.
Expensive tiles are one way to decorate, but by using inexpensive tiles and inlay techniques, more money from the tile budget goes to the installer.