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Unread 01-28-2019, 08:37 PM   #1
n0083
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How Can I Improve Tile Setting Efficiency?

Theoretical tile scenario. No tile cuts, 3hx6w subway tile, stack bond pattern, on wall, with wide dimension going horizontal, applying more tile above already dry and set tile.

My process is as follows (no assistant).

+mix thinset with drill and mixing paddle for a minute or two.
+wait 10 minutes for thinset to slake.
+mix thinset with drill and mixing paddle for a minute or two.
*clean mixing paddle with shop towel and a little water.
+use margin trowel to get all thinset off the bucket walls and into a solid mass (improve pot life). leave margin trowel in bucket.
+adjust laser level.
+use margin trowel to scoop thinset on to hawk
+with hawk in one hand and margin trowel in other, apply thinset to wall.
+using hawk organize remaining thinset on hawk (to be used when back buttering) and keep margin trowel relatively clean.
+set hawk on top of thinset bucket with margin trowel on top of hawk.
+use notched trowel to make single vertical direction ridged thinset bed with thinset already on wall from previous step.
+use margin trowel to clean off excess thinset from notched trowel.
+place notched trowel in shallow tray of water.
*remove small height of thinset just above the top edge of already set tile using either margin trowel or some wood shims (doing this to avoid squeeze out on the new tile's bottom edge). scrape excess off margin trowel onto hawk or if using wood shim into shop towel.
+place spacers on top edge of existing set tile, in area where thinset was just removed.
+use margin trowel (resting on the hawk), with thinset already on top of hawk from previous step. As the hawk rests on the thinset bucket, margin trowel in one hand and tile in another, scrape a bit of thinset onto margin trowel and back butter tile (I'm putting on relatively thin layer here, just enough to fill the tile's backside grooves).
+set tile on wall in position, collapse ridges by moving tile slightly horizontally (vertical ridges), and pushing into wall.
+if mortar comes out of grout gap on bottom edge or side (if another tile is on the side, scrape grout gap clean either with spacer already in position (and replace spacer) or with wood shim. This scraping out of the grout line usually leaves the tile edge with mortar, use slightly damp sponge to clean tile edge, but spacers in the way makes this difficult.
*top edge of tile just set likely has excess mortar. This excess mortar will make the grout line of the next tile above it a pain to clean, so using margin trowel or wood shim, remove excess mortar trying hard to keep the ridges continuous without blocking the air escape route...i don't just scrape the top tile edge horizontally which would create a horizontal ridge...this is the part that i suspect is the least inefficient.
+repeat process.
*when ready to apply more thinset to the wall, repeat the process, but this time when i go for the notched trowel, i first "quickly" dry the notched trowel so as not to be adding water to the thinset (remember the notched trowel is sitting in a shallow tray of water).
+also periodically rinse out sponge in small bucket, dump dirty sponge water into larger container, and replace small bucket with clean water (bucket of clean water is on stand-by). Periodically clean hands with shop towel (wearing latex/nitrile gloves).
+Every half hour switch the edge of the hawk...after 3 or 4 edges of the hawk and the pot life of the mortar is about spent.
+then clean hawk, both trowels, and mortar bucket using sponge and shop towels to dry tools.
+Repeat process.

Takes me about 2 hours to put up 24 pieces of tile (5 minutes per tile).

Even with this process my tile is still has a bit of thinset on the edges and this is theoretical...not having any cuts.

The annoying parts have an asterisk (*) above and are (1) removing the excess thinset that oozes out on the top and side edge (edges where there is not current existing tile) after each tile is set, (2) drying the notched trowel from the tray of water for each use, and (3) cleaning the mixing paddle. Cleaning the mixing paddle eats up the first 5 minutes of the mortar's pot life (annoying). I could just set the mixing paddle in a bucket of water, but worried about rust and...then i have a bucket of mortar water to deal with...

When i set the tile i try to start with the tile against the spacer and set the tile by slightly pushing away from existing grout lines so to avoid squeeze out. This seems to help protect existing grout lines, but still cannot seem to avoid the excess build up on the top and side of the tile (where the next tile will be set). Maybe I'm using too big of notch trowel and/or pushing the tile too far into the thinset, but I do want to collapse the ridges...any collapse is going to cause excess build up on top and side, no?

If not using a tray of water, how to keep trowels from getting dried mortar?

Thanks for reading and helping.

What part of this process could be changed/improved? All of it?

Not a professional (you probably already guessed), just a DIYer hoping for his shower surround to be finished this decade.
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Unread 01-28-2019, 09:02 PM   #2
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One of the things we do is to have 3 buckets in the thinset mixing area. One bucket is nearly full of water used for filling thinset buckets so its ready when needed. A bucket to mix thinset in, and a third bucket which is filled about 3/4 of the way with water but it also has small rock, pea gravel, or sand in it. After mixing thinset, the mixing paddle goes into this bucket and spun forward and backwards to clean the mixing paddle.
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Unread 01-29-2019, 12:01 PM   #3
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I struggled with the same dilemma a while back. If this isn't something you do on a regular basis, then just take your time. Efficiency without significant pass experience opens you up for error.

At one point, I was down to 3 sq.ft. per hour.

See here:
https://www.johnbridge.com/vbulletin...t=87806&page=2

You're hitting 1.5 sq.ft. per hour. But you are using smaller tiles that requires more adjustment and alignment. Next time, pick bigger tiles if time matters.
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Unread 01-29-2019, 05:17 PM   #4
n0083
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Thank you Houston and Joe.

Houston: Using the pea gravel to clean the paddle sounds like a cool trick. When do you eventually clean the pea gravel and dirty water mortar? End of day or end of job? Do you use the pea gravel again for the next job or start fresh?

Joe: Thanks for the reply, link, and encouragement.
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Unread 01-29-2019, 06:15 PM   #5
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John. Just seems to me that you are a tad anal about cleaning as you go. I clean at the end of the day and have done so for many years. Don't stress too much about the minutiae. Where you set the margin trowel and how often you clean it eats up time....I don't use a margin trowel or a hawk to put thinset on a wall......your trowel works just fine. 24 pieces of tile oughta go up in about 10 minutes or so.


After use, drop the mixer in a bucket of water....spin it and clean at the end of the day. A denture brush easily cleans out the morter between the tiles. Keep it in your clean out bucket of water.
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Unread 01-29-2019, 07:48 PM   #6
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I place a 5 gallon bucket paint screen over the top of an empty 5 gallon bucket, then pour the thinset / gravel mixture over that screen to wash out the gravel.

Eventually you will wear out the gravel bucket.
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Unread 01-30-2019, 10:03 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laz
24 pieces of tile oughta go up in about 10 minutes or so
Laz, you’re hired. I don’t pay moving expenses tho.
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Unread 01-30-2019, 09:30 PM   #8
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10 minutes includes a 7 minute union mandated coffee break.
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Unread 01-30-2019, 11:56 PM   #9
n0083
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I ditched the hawk, went straight from the bucket to the wall. This was nice, one less tool involved.

I like the idea of just using the notched trowel and ditching the margin, but had a few problems.

The notched trowel is awkward to scoop out the mortar in a round bucket especially with as little of mortar i mix up per batch (due to my slow pace)..really need a square bucket.

When I used the notched trowel to go from the bucket to the wall, i would get excess mortar wrapping around the edges of the trowel while keying the wall. This mortar wanted to fall down. Maybe i was trying to put too much up on the wall at once. Just seems i have more control with the margin, but it does feel like i do things twice (once with the margin then again with the notched). How do you clean the excess mortar off of the trowel without a hawk? Are you using the top edge of the bucket? I tried that, it created a mess. Also, it limited the future spots to grab the bucket.

So, I reverted to using the margin trowel to get the mortar out of the bucket and on the wall and to clean excess from the notched trowel.

I ditched the tray of water. Where do you set the notched trowel after you've got your bed of mortar set? Maybe you keep it in your hand as you are using it to back butter. I've been using the margin to back butter, perhaps I'm just not comfortable with the notched trowel yet.

I tried just keeping the tools in the same bucket as the mortar...a bit more of a mess, but cleaning the bit more of a mess at the end was better than drying the trowel before each use.

I started putting the spacers in after i set the tile. This allowed me to start the tile close to the already set tile and set the new tile by pushing away from the already set tile (reduce squeeze out).

I started setting several tiles in a row, then clean, then space. This seemed to work a lot better. Cleaning didn't have spacers to deal with.

As for the top edge's excess mortar, i got a smaller sponge and wiped across the top edge in a quick motion...destroying about 3/8" of ridges along the top edge. This was obviously quicker, helped reduce the squeeze out for the next tile, but I'm sort of worried about destroying those mortar ridges where the next tile's bottom edge will be. This is probably my biggest issue. How do you limit the squeeze out at the top of the tile when setting it. If i don't clean it, when i set the next tile it just creates more of a mess in the grout line that is now harder to clean. I need a solution for this. My first thought is, maybe don't push the tile in so far, but one needs to collapse the ridges...

How much mortar can be in the grout line? If the tile is 1/4" thick, how much of that can be filled with mortar? Restated, how much depth does the grout need?

I really want to watch a time lapsed video of a pro setting tile. A lot of videos show a mock-up on a table or the bucket is out of frame or they edit out the parts i'm interested in, where did he set that tool? when did he change his water? how crusty are his tools getting? When did he readjust the laser? is this the same batch of mortar? Is he measuring and cutting these tiles as he goes or before he mixed the mortar?

As far as cleaning the tile at the end of the day...hard to use a sponge when all of the spacers are in the way. How do you do that?

I like the idea of a denture brush.

Can you elaborate more on your clean out bucket of water? What all is in that bucket besides the denture brush (e.g. a sponge...anything else)? Do you rub the brush along the edge of the bucket a few times before you use it to avoid filling the grout lines with water? How often do you change that water?

Thanks for the discussion.
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Unread 01-31-2019, 12:29 AM   #10
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I just keep the brush floating in my water bucket with the sponge. When I go to clean out a grout line, just knock off excess water on the rim of the bucket, clean the line and swish it around in the water...drop it back in.

Clean the margin trowel with the wet sponge as needed.

You can order a "bucket trowel" at most online tile supply houses. It's like a margin trowel, but about three times wider. Great for scooping up morter for floor and wall applications...then back in the water bucket.
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Unread 01-31-2019, 11:19 AM   #11
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John,

Being an engineer myself, I'm just wondering if you are also one? Sure seems like it...

Dan
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Unread 01-31-2019, 12:00 PM   #12
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John, if you're using a hawk to hang wall mud, don't ditch the hawk. Keep using it until you get the hang of it if you want to hang mud faster.

I'd trade the spacers for wedges. In about an hour or so the thinset will firm up enough to hold the tiles up. Pull the wedges and sponge the wall. Of course, it helps to keep thinset off your fingers as you're tiling.
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