January Sabbatical – DIY – Tiling a hallway floor

This past January I decided to take some time off to get away from the world of software stacks, marketing campaigns, challenging clients and fast-paced agencies. I was originally planning on honing my skills at Street Fighter 4 but things changed when I dabbled in a B&Q DIY course. Then attending another one. And another one. Until I took all of them. I then embarked on a DIY project at home to take in some of the things I learned. My project involved tiling the hallway floor of my Sutton home.

 

Before: After:
My Hallway - Before Tiling Hallway - After tiling

 

Here’s what I learned:

Existing flooring:

  • If you’ve got concrete flooring its going to be more straightforward – it will likely be level.
  • If you have timber flooring, make sure you rip out any stray nails and replace them with screws. Nails tend to get raised over time because of natural movement so you really do want to replace as many nails as possible with screws.  Always drill pilot holes and you really do want to get an electric screwdriver – life is far too short.
  • This guide will tell you what the different types of nails you’ll be pulling out are.
  • Carpet tacks and any other weirdness should be removed. Inspect every floorboard to make sure you don’t have any creaks/squeak, abnormalities like raised floorboards etc. If you find any, correct them.

Underlay:

  • You’ll need to put underly above the floorboards and below the tiles. Typically you’d use plywood. The thicker the better – most tradesmen advise at at least 12mm to be on the safe side. I ended up with a product called No More Ply – a cement based substrate which acts like ply and is touted as more durable. Make sure to prime whatever you use and potentially even use PVA.
  • For cutting ply or No More Ply you’re best off using a jigsaw. Ply is fine to use wood blades. For ‘No More Ply’ you’re definitely going to need Tungsten Carbide blades which are specifically marked for ’tile cutting’.

Key Tile location:

  • There are various formulas for calculating where the key tile should be. You basically want to be sure that:
    • it looks right, given the typical perspective a person takes when entering the room.
    • You don’t end up having to cut too many tiles into tiny pieces because that can be a pain in the backside.
  • Look up ‘finding the key tile’ online to find guidance on this.

Adhesive:

  • If your base layer is wooden floorboards you’re going to need a flexible adhesive. Mixing can be done by hand, but seriously if you want to make your life a hell easier you want to buy yourself a mixing drill. And while you’re at it, get yourself a cheap bucket because unless you’re fairly meticulous about cleaning up and wasting a ton of water the bucket will be a write-off.
  • The consistency of the adhesive after a good mixing should be peanut-butter like. Not runny, you should be able to pick up a scoop of the mixed adhesive and it shouldn’t dribble off the trowel.
  • If you’re a newbie, mix only a small amount, and apply that small amount laying only a few tiles.
  • You’ll want to work the room in such a way that when you lay tiles you don’t have to work on them in order to get out of the room.
  • If your floor is a little wonky, you’ll want to pack in more adhesive underneath some tiles to level it a bit – make sure to use a spirit level for assistance. You could even try using a leveling compound but I didn’t do that).
  • I used a fast setting adhesive (3 hours) but in hindsight I would definitely use a longer setting one for this first project as you’ll definitely make mistakes and it gives you time to rectify things.

Cutting tiles

  • I tried cutting 0.8mm ceramic floor tiles with a jigsaw equipped with tile blades (Tungsten Carbide) and it was as effective as attempting to cut through rock with a butter knife.
  • I tried one of those tile cutters that you use to score the tile and then split apart – that was found to be inaccurate at best, and ruined tiles at worst.
  • Do yourself a favour and buy a cheap diamond blade wet saw. Either that or rent out a larger industrial strength one. You won’t be able to complete the job without one.

Grouting:

  • Grouting is a fairly straightforward affair. Mix only a small amount, and lay that out. make sure you use a grout finisher or some sort of ball tip so that you can create that nice grooved effect on the tile.
  • If you’re mixing a small amount you can get away with using a quick setting grout. Just remember that you shouldn’t use the floor for at least a couple of days after you’re done (refer to your grouting product instructions for this).

Generally:

  • If you live near a B&Q, check out their DIY courses (they call them ‘You Can Do It’ classes). You get to play with all kinds of power tools, trash materials that don’t belong to you and meet all kinds of interesting people.
  • Check out YouTube – there really is a wealth of info that’s worth reviewing to see how other people do it.

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