The levee broke
OR
The land is the authority

I fight authority, authority always wins
— John Mellencamp

creek shoring project 1

My creek shoring project as of April 5th, 2008
creek shoring project 2

My creek shoring project as of April 5th, 2008 (you can kind of see the 1-2 foot drop in this picture)

We had some big storms yesterday and last night, and it was storming when I woke up at 7:00 this morning. As I was eating breakfast around 7:30, I looked out the window and saw large puddles of water forming in the backyard, but was comforted by the fact that the water was not flowing. That is, the creek had not risen over its banks, like it has on about 5 occasions since we moved here last June. At some point last fall or so, I discovered where the creek was flooding most. One part of the bank a little past the grape arbor had been consistently eroding every time it flooded, and had lost several feet of its bank. I thought that if I could shore up the bank here, that it would be less likely to flood. So in the spring I started the project, first putting some broken cinder-blocks, large rocks, and bricks in there, to provide some stability. Then I added in leaves, washed up branches (from previous floods), and mud, dirt, and sand (also from previous floods).

Empty cement pond

The cement pond after I had removed most of the mud and water. I tried to catch most of the incoming water in the bucket while I was working.
Clogged drain in cement pond

Clogged drain in cement pond.

I got most of the sand and mud from the small cement pond which had been completely filled in. This seemed like a win-win situation. I could clean out the cement pond and restore it to its former glory, and use all the sand and dirt for my creek shoring project. I worked on this over several months at various points when I found the time. The last week or so I became determined to finish it, and on Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon digging out the rest of the cement pond and emptying the water that was in it bucket by bucket into the creek. Dave did a very good job of designing the pond. It is fed by the spring in the hill (via an underground pipe, which must be at least 100 feet long). And it has a drain in the bottom of the pond which drains into the creek. The spring flows year round. This design solves many problems. It strategically directs the water from the spring instead of having it just make the hillside all wet, and it creates a pond which is not stagnant water, but is constantly being recycled. By sticking a pipe in the drain hole, one can set the desired height of the pond (similar to how a traditional toilet tank works). Unfortunately though, the drain had become clogged, and I could not find it under all the mud and water until it was pretty much completely empty. I figured that cleaning it out with my fingers or a stick would easily free it up. No such luck. So then I tried using a snake. Still no luck. I even tried using a snake from the other end, and that didn’t work either. So I finally gave up. My friend Sean hypothesizes that the drain pipe collapsed sometime in the last 15 or 20 years, which seems very plausible. So I guess I might have some more digging in my future.

flooding 1

flooding 1
flooding 2

flooding 2
flooding 3

flooding 3
flooding 4

flooding 4
flooding 5

flooding 5
flooding 6

flooding 6

Anyways, back to the creek. At 7:30 this morning, I was pleased that my efforts were paying off. After I finished breakfast around 8:00 and looked out the window again, my heart sank. The backyard was filled with water. The levee broke, and so did my spirit.

I went upstairs and got to work on my normal stuff, and around 10:00, decided to look out the window again. The flooding had stopped. I was quite surprised by this. In fact, the backyard didn’t even look that wet, so I went out to investigate. It turns out that my levee had indeed broke, but it was not completely washed out, and as you might be able to tell from the picture, the flooding would have been much worse had I not tried to shore up the bank. You also notice that there is next to no grass on the levee. I had been meaning to plant grass there very soon, since the grass roots will help prevent erosion. I guess this weekend I will have to make that my priority.

The other good part of the story is that we wisely moved the garden from the backyard (where it was last year) over to the side of the garage, where it does not tend to flood, and this was the case today. So I am still disappointed, but it could have been much worse.

Cement pond refilled

The cement pond has been completely refilled again from this flood. Until I get the drain working again, I do have stagnant water.
Debris washed up from the flood

Debris washed up from the flood
The bridge still stands

The bridge has not washed out yet.
Partially broken levee

Had I not done any shoring up, this bank would still be overflowing.
Close-up of levee

A close-up of where the levee broke.

Spring has sprung

Since we are getting pretty close to summer, I figured that we should finally post some pictures of spring. We started this post over a month ago, but have been pretty busy traveling, moving Clare to Colorado, and partying.
So here are a few pictures from the property when things were blooming.

Just do it

Clare and I (and I am sure many other people) are constantly impressed by the fact that Ellen and Dave built the house we are living in, and how they got so many things done. No offense to Ellen on this one, but Dave in particular seems to get so many things done so quickly, that we often ask him if he did something, only to find out that he already has done it. I think I have learned his secret — Just do it. It may seem simple (and a Nike slogan), but I will explain by example.

On Monday, I was waiting to say goodbye to Clare as she headed off to the airport to start her new job in Colorado. I was just looking around a bit, and I noticed that some of the wood siding on the garage was starting to bow out in several places. My first thought was: “I should fix that sometime”. Then I immediately thought: “why not now? It will only take a few minutes”. So I got out a ladder and a hammer, and started pounding. That worked some, but it quickly became clear that I need to put in a few new nails. So I grabbed some nails, and put a few more in, and was done in about 10 minutes. Now it looks better, and should hopefully be less enticing to insects and critters that might want to build nests there.

So that is the secret. When you see a little project that needs to be done, don’t wait. Just do it. Now.

The writing is off the wall
OR
Painting the bathroom

Goodbye orange paint!

Goodbye orange paint!

Last weekend (the 19th and 20th) we painted the bathroom. This is one of the last steps in our bathroom re-model, and one we had been very much looking forward to. I think one thing we have learned is that if we ever rent out a place, we will not let the renters paint, since they frequently do a very sloppy job. Though we are trying very hard, I sometimes wonder if we will be able to even get the house looking as good as it did the day Ellen and Dave left for Arizona. Bit by bit though, we are undoing and covering up the damage that previous renters had done, including, yes, writing on the wall.

Water stains on the ceiling

Water stains on the ceiling

On Friday night I did one final sanding of the drywall mud and washed the walls. I also took off the light switch covers (something the renters who had painted before us did not do).

Walls are ready for painting

Walls are ready for painting

Saturday morning we put a coat of Killz primer on it. We did the ceiling first, and then the walls. I did the trimming and Clare did the rolling. The ceiling is textured, so we used a nappy roller for the ceiling. We used the same roller for the walls with the primer, but then switched to different roller for the paint. We also tried out a little trick that our friend Tim told us. Instead of cleaning your brushes and rollers between coats, you can wrap them in saran wrap and put them in the refrigerator. We tried this with the nappy roller, since we were going to be using white paint on the ceiling, and the primer was also white. It worked pretty well. We didn’t use this method overnight though.

Rob trims the walls

Rob trims the walls

The primer coat took us a good 3 or so to complete. After that was done, we had some lunch, and took a little break. The primer claimed that it only needed an hour to dry, and it did dry very quickly. We probably gave it a good 2 hours or so. We used some leftover Killz ceiling white for the ceiling. I continued trimming with a 2″ brush for the ceiling, and Clare continued rolling. Once we were done with the ceiling, I switched to a 1 1/2″ angle brush for trimming, my father’s favorite. One definitely can get a lot more accurate with a slightly smaller brush. This coat went a bit quicker, maybe 2 1/2″ hours, plus some time to rinse out the brushes (in the newly re-installed laundry tub – more on that in an upcoming post).

Primer coat is complete

Primer coat is complete

We chose “ginger” for the walls, which is a beige-ish color — the same color we used in the livingroom and our bedroom. We liked it so much that we decided to use it in the bathroom too. We discussed some different colors, but we wanted to keep it fairly light, since the bathroom doesn’t get much sunlight. We also decided to go with a semi-gloss finish, as we had in the upstairs bathroom, since it is a bit more water-resistant than a satin or a flat, and is easier to clean.

No more water stains

No more water stains

Sunday morning we slept in a bit and had a leisurely breakfast, so I started trimming around 9:45 while Clare talked to her parents. I think she started rolling around 10:30, but it didn’t take long for her to catch up. After surveying the first coat, we decided not to put a second coat on the ceiling, but just to touch up a few places with a brush, after we had finished painting the walls. There were a few spots on the ceiling that were a bit thin, and also a few places where we had gotten some wall paint on the ceiling. That’s why we did it afterwards. We used drop cloths the whole time, and always had a wet rag handy in case we got some paint on the wood, tile or some other place we didn’t want paint, but there is nothing one can do about getting wall paint on the ceiling, except to cover it up later. (Again, former renters apparently did not have the forethought to wipe paint off trim with a wet rag, nor do many other people, as we have recently learned).

Walls are finished

Walls are finished

It really is amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to a room. There are still several more finishing touches to be done, but it is really coming together. Just in time for mowing season.

Mmmm. Ginger

Mmmm. Ginger

Now we know where we live
OR
The puzzle is solved

puzzle of the house

Jigsaw puzzle of our house. The piece circled in red (shaped like a house) is where we live. The pinkish portion south of the house is the town of Spencer

Among other great gifts such as quality screwdrivers and saw horses, my parents got me and Clare a fun present for Christmas last year – a jigsaw puzzle constructed from a geological map of our house in Owen County, Indiana. Clare pulled it out a couple weeks ago to give it a go. It turned out to be pretty challenging. Clare and Liz did most of the puzzle, though a few friends (Sam, Charlie, and Phil) and Aubrie and I put in a few pieces. One of the challenges was that it did not come with a solution. Now that is done, the question is what to do with it? Put it back in the box? After all that hard work? I guess so. At least now we know where we live.

Spigot
OR
Faucet

Tee valve

Tee valve

The bathroom is still a work in progress, getting closer to completion all the time. A week or so ago I set out to put up the last piece of drywall. This was possible once the washer faucets had been turned into the utility room, but there was one last project I wanted to complete. Our house did not have a spigot outside. I don’t find the need for water outside that often, but occasionally I do. Last summer I simply ran a hose through the window. But this required opening the window, and potentially letting in insects. I asked Dave and Ellen at some point why they didn’t have a spigot, and as always, they had a very sensible answer: they had a spigot on the cabin, and had problems with the pipe freezing. I had a solution to this though. I would have a shutoff inside the house, so I could shut off the water in the winter.

Hose in the wall

Hose in the wall

In fact, I decided to use the same shutoff I had been using last year. I had been hooking up the hose to the cold water faucet to the washer, which required disconnecting the washer hose. I had gotten tired of this, so I bought a Y-joint. I decided to simply run a hose from this Y through the wall and to the outside. Like most of my projects, it started with a trip to Pell’s hardware store. I got a 5′ washer hose (a steel reinforced one so it should last quite a long time). I also bought a 1 1/2″ wood drill bit to drill holes in the studs so I could run the hose through the wall. I decided to put the spigot right above the dryer vent, since there was already an additional board there. So I simply drilled a hole through the wood there, and then started feeding the hose through the wall. I then drilled holes in the studs to pass the hose through there as well.

Spigot is installed

Spigot is installed

Once I had the hose all hooked up (it was just long enough), I turned the water on and gave it a try. It seemed to work fine, so I finished by driving a couple screws into the wood in the notches in the faucet. Unfortunately, it was leaking, but I didn’t realize this until two days later. As it turns out, you can already see in the photo of the spigot that the wood looks wet. When I went to use the hose several days later, it was quite wet. Of course I discovered this right before going to bed, so I had all night to worry about it. The next morning I checked it and it was getting worse. I feared that I might have punctured the hose somehow. So I unscrewed the spigot from the wood, and checked the connections. It turns out that I had simply not tightened the connections enough. I had used 1 wrench, but not 2. I got them nice and tight, and let it sit for several hours. After waiting awhile it seemed that the wood block was drying out, so I drilled in some new screws in new holes. I can’t believe that I went so long without a spigot!

Spring Falls

Upper Cataract Falls

Upper Cataract Falls

A few weeks ago my parents visited us. One of the activities we chose was to check out Cataract Falls, which is only about 10 miles away from us. It is supposedly the largest waterfall in Indiana (by volume). We hopped in the car and were there in about 25 minutes. It was a sunny day, though quite windy, which made it a bit chilly. We spent some time looking at the covered bridge, which is the only one in Owen County, and admired the falls. We have had a lot of rain this winter/spring, so they were really flowing fast.

Lower Cataract Falls

Lower Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls actually has 2 sets of falls, an upper and a lower one (much like Tacquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula of Michigan). When we got to the lower falls, we were quite perplexed. According to their website, the upper falls drops 20 feet, and the lower falls 18 feet. We did not see any lower falls at all. The closest thing was the few ripples in the water seen in the picture here. We discovered the reason why later when we stopped at the general store in Cataract and looked at some postcards of the falls which looked very different from what we had seen. The creek was simply so flooded that the water in the lower falls simply rose to the level of the water above it. Pretty amazing.

Greenwells\' Falls

Greenwells’ Falls

Though Cataract Falls was very nice, we actually have a couple nice waterfalls on our own road, so I finally got around to taking some pictures of them. Our next door neighbors, the Greenwells, actually built a little waterfall on Fall Creek themselves, simply by piling up some rocks where there was already a bit of a fall. Apparently Tim Greenwell, their son, had started this process. At some point Vic also added some cement to the rocks, because he got tired of the neighbor kids kicking the rocks down.

Morgans\' Falls

Morgans’ Falls

The neighbors next to the Greenwells, the Morgans, have a couple natural waterfalls in the creek by their place. Clare is particularly fond of these, with good reason. You can really see the natural limestone on the sides of the banks.

The bread trick
OR
Pipes pointing into the utility room

This past weekend my parents visited, and we tried to keep them entertained by doing fun things like going to some waterfalls, and visiting a local winery. We were trying hard not to rope them into doing any work, but Saturday afternoon they made the mistake of asking us what projects we would be working on if they weren’t there, so we ran down the laundry list. So we ended up doing a little work, but we mostly stuck to having fun.

newly sweated pipe

Saturday afternoon my dad helped me get the blades off the riding lawn mower. I had already tried it once before by putting it up on cinder blocks and crawling underneath it, but I couldn’t get enough leverage. Our neighbor Vic Greenwell, who was the original owner of the mower, said that he had put the mower up on its back wheels and rested it against a wall. So we tried that. I ended up kind of holding it up instead of leaning it against the wall, and wedged a 2×4 in by the blade while my dad used the wrench to get the blades off. Now I just need to find the right replacement blades. (Walmart in town didn’t have the right ones)

Sunday morning we were thinking of what to do, since the winery didn’t open until 1 p.m. I convinced my dad to help me turn around the pipes to the washing machine. The washing machine pipes used to turn into the bathroom slightly, which is where the washing machine used to be. We moved the washing machine next door, and wanted to turn the pipes around so we can finish the drywall in the bathroom. I said it would only take an hour or so, and I was sort of right. After an hour, we had successfully cut the pipes, and sweated a coupling onto each pipe with the faucets now angled slightly into the utility room. To do so, we had to turn the house water off and drain the pipes. But we couldn’t get all the water out of the pipes, so we used the bread trick. Shove some bread down the pipe a little ways so the water doesn’t come all the way to the top of the pipe. If there is water where you are trying to sweat, the copper won’t get hot enough to melt the solder.

The bread trick worked just fine, except for the final part of turning the water back on and the bread coming out. After a minute or so the bread came out of the hot water pipe, but not the cold water pipe. I decided the best thing to do would be to wait awhile. We waited an hour or so. No luck. We went to the winery tour and tasted some nice wine. When we got back 4 hours later, we tried again. No luck. We started brainstorming different ideas. We tried sticking a coat hanger in it, but couldn’t get it past the first bend in the faucet. We tried backflushing it by hooking up the hot water to the cold water through a laundry hose. All no luck. I decided to wait longer.

the faucets now face the other way

Monday. No luck. I was starting to think it would never come out and I would have to re-cut and sweat the pipe, so I asked Clare to buy some more couplings. I also decided to ask Rich Dibble, Dave’s brother, who taught us the trick in the first place. He gave some similar suggestions. Dave suggested trying to put some acid in the pipe or something. Tonight I decided to fix it once and for all. I tried turning the water on and off a couple times, and tried back-flushing it. I also tried putting some vinegar in the pipe through the hose. None of this seemed to help. On Sunday my dad had mentioned that he thought that the faucet might not be working. I had disregarded this possibility as having an extremely low probability, since it had been working fine right before we started the project. He suspected that the faucet was not opening correctly. It turns out he was on the right track. I did not want to take the faucet apart on Sunday evening, because I feared that we might end up with a leaky faucet or worse yet a faucet that wouldn’t stop at all, and we would have to turn the water off to the whole house, instead of simply not having a washer for a few days. Today however, I decided to try taking off the faucet. I had the water turned on as I started taking it off, and this weird brown goo started coming out. I quickly turned off the water to the house, then continued taking the faucet off of the pipe, and grabbed a bucket. Finally the bread came out. It had been clogged up in the faucet. I got out the coat hanger and cleaned out some of the bread, then hooked it back up and flushed it out with the water back on. I did one more cycle of turning the water off and on, and put some teflon tape on the faucet. Then I hooked the washer back up and re-leveled it, and it seems to be working fine. I am happy that it worked out, but feel a little stupid that I didn’t try taking off the faucet on Sunday. Oh well. What is that saying about things ending well?

Phase 3 is complete
OR
Grout is down. Toilet is back in

New bathroom

New vanity, tub tile, floor tile, and floor mat

We finished putting the floor tile in the bathroom on Sunday, which needed at least 24 hours to cure. So we went to work like normal on Monday. I didn’t think I would have enough time to grout Monday night, so instead I put up the sanitary base on the wall between the tub and the vanity. On Tuesday I worked from home, so I started off doing the grout. I woke up around 7, had a quick breakfast, then mixed up the grout. We chose the same color grout for the floor tile as we used for the tub and vanity countertop — parchment. While I was letting the grout slake I got out the utility knife and razor blade and removed any mortar in the grout joints that I had missed with the pencil while laying the tile. I probably started grouting right around 8:00 a.m., and finished around 10:00 a.m.

New tile and grout

The new tile and grout

One detail that the Home Time tile video mentioned about grouting was that there would be a “grout haze” when done, which I would need to wipe off. I had not noticed any haze when grouting the tub or the countertop, but I definitely noticed a haze on the floor tile. I think I might have been a little more paranoid about wiping off the grout with the sponge for the previous tile projects, or maybe the difference lay in the fact that the floor tile is slightly textured, so it is more difficult to get all the grout out of the small dips in the tile surface, or maybe a combination of both. I had remembered that the video said to wipe off the grout haze with a clean towel, but I couldn’t remember when, so I went and watched part of the video again, and realized that they recommended doing it as soon as possible, and to simply step on the tiles, being careful not to step on the grout joints. So I spent 20 minutes or so doing that, and got off most of the haze, though I will probably have to go over it one more time.

Close-up of drain

Close-up of the floor drain. I tried to even out the edge with grout

After dinner on Tuesday I decided to put the toilet back in, figuring that the grout would have had sufficient time to dry. It wasn’t completely dry, so I was careful to not step on the grout joints. I took the rags out of the toilet drain which were preventing the sewer gases from coming up, and removed the rest of the old wax ring with a chisel (I didn’t need a chisel, but the wax is really sticky, and I didn’t want to scoop it up with my hands, so it worked pretty well). Then I spent a good 20 minutes cleaning the toilet, and then finally started to put it in. We weren’t sure exactly what sort of wax ring to get, so we got several — one deluxe wax ring, one deluxe wax ring kit (with new nuts, bolts and washers), and one non-wax ring kit. I decided to dry the simple deluxe wax ring first. Although the tile video showed putting the was ring on the drain hole, and then setting the toilet on it, the instructions on the wax ring said to put it on the toilet first, and then set it on the hole, so I followed the instructions that came with the ring. The tile video mentioned I might need some plastic shims to keep the toilet from rocking, but it didn’t seem like the toilet was rocking at all to me, so I didn’t worry about it (especially since I only had wood shims).

sanitary base

The sanitary base between the tub and the vanity

I did make 2 mistakes. When I got ready to put the nuts on the bolts, I noticed they were pretty rusty, so I decided to open up the package of nuts and bolts in the other wax ring kit, and then promptly realized that the new nuts would not fit on the old bolts. So I just stuck with the old washers and nuts, and wasted a dollar or two. The second mistake was trying a new gasket that sits between the toilet base and the tank. The old gasket seemed ok, but I thought a new one would be good. Clare had bought one at Pell’s that looked a bit different from the old one, but it did say that it was for a Gerber toilet, which is what we have. (Sidenote – Kathleen Harriman said she has toilet envy of our cool pressurized Gerber toilet, which Steve Harriman installed for us). I had quite a time getting the tank to sit right using the new gasket, and several test flushes, I realized that it was leaking just a bit from that seal, so I went back to the old gasket. Unfortunately, I had already put on the new $30 toilet seat at this point, and scratched it up a bit removing the tank. Oh well. Nothing I can do about that. After putting the old gasket back on it seemed to be leak-free. I then went around and caulked around the toilet, between the tub and the tile, and between the floor tile and the sanitary base. I am still not very good at caulking.

toilet back in

The toilet is back in, with a new seat, and some fresh caulk

We still have lots of work to do in the bathroom, but the 3 major projects are complete — (1) the tub surround, (2) the vanity, and (3) the floor tile.

Order of operations
OR
Tile is on the floor

putting in new insulation

Ready to put in some new insulation

So we finished the vanity about a week ago, and had planned to do the floor tile next. Part of our bathroom project involves building some sort of shelves/cabinet where the washer and dryer used to be, since otherwise we have some empty space, and also because we want to hide the plumbing where the laundry tub used to be. I had been thinking for some time that we would want to put the shelves in before tiling the floor, but we still haven’t really figured out exactly what we are going to do for that, and it started to seem like we might never get floor tile down if we waited. Eventually I decided that we could do the floor tile first, so we decided to do it this weekend, hoping that it will be done by the time my parents come to visit next weekend.

All the old tile is out

All the old tile has been ripped out. Now just a bit more cleaning to do.

The plan was to get all the prep work done Friday night, then put in the tile on Saturday, and grout Sunday. We left work a little later that we had expected on friday, and then we also ended up talking with the Harrimans for quite awhile. We stopped there to pick up the tile saw that they agreed to lend us, in exchange for helping them with their website. As to be expected, we got talking about our respective projects. They have more than we do, but hey, we are still novices. So we got home a little after 8, heated up some leftovers, then got working on getting the toilet out. That was actually no problem at all. I shut off the valve, then flushed the toilet, which got most of the water out, but not all. Clare had the brilliant idea of getting most of the remaining water out of the bowl using a cup, which worked quite well. A bit of water spilled when I lifted up the toilet, but not that much. After lifting the toilet off, we stuffed some rags in the hole to prevent sewer gases from getting out. We put the toilet in the foyer temporarily.

new drywall is up

New drywall is up

Then I got to work removing the rest of the old right around the toilet. I worked on this until about 10:30 or so, then decided I would finish up in the morning. In the morning I finished getting off the last bit of tile, and also worked on ripping out more of the drywall around the toilet that had gotten moldy. Clare and Liz were working on cutting the new drywall when I thought I noticed more termite damage on the nailers behind the old drywall. It turns out that it was not termite damage, but that some of the insulation was a bit moldy. So I ripped out about 10 square feet of the insulation and put in some new stuff, and a new vapor barrier there. Though I had poo-pooed the purchase two weeks ago, the staple gun that Clare bought came in very handy. Then we started hanging the drywall. Unfortunately most of the pieces were about 1/4 inch too big, so we spent quite a bit of time whittling them down with the utility knife until they would fit. This time, unlike last, I marked the location of the studs before hanging the drywall, which made life much easier. So most of Saturday was consumed with drywall and sweeping up the bathroom. Clare and I did get some of the tile out and talk about the best layout plan. We decided on doing full tiles by the doorway, which means we will end up with some pretty small tiles right by the vanity, but they should not be too visible. I finished the day with 2 round of mopping, so that the surface should be nice and clean, and the mortar will adhere well.

Clare cuts some tile with the tile saw

Clare cuts some tile with the tile saw

Sunday morning we got out of bed around 7:30. For some reason Clare wanted to shower, but I got straight to work (after a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee). The first thing to do was to finalize the layout, which involved setting some of the tile on the floor (without any mortar), and making sure everything was straight, then marking the position of the tiles using a chalk line. Once this was done, I could start measuring the first few cuts that we need to make. This is one way in which we deviated from the instructions in the HomeTime tile video. They recommended laying all of the field tile first, then waiting a day and laying the edge tile. Since we had so few field tile to lay, this seemed like overkill, and we were anxious to get the project done, so we can put the toilet back in. I mixed up the thinset mortar and began making measurements while Clare got the tile saw and tile cutter ready. Since the tile saw sprays some water around, we decided to do it outside. It turned out to be a nice day — partly sunny and 55 or so — but it was only about 35 when we started at 9 a.m. Clare was a real trooper though.

Combing out mortar

Combing out mortar

I probably laid down the first few tiles around 9:30. It is best to work in relatively small sections, so we made 2×2 or 2×3 boxes with the chalk line. I began by scooping some mortar out of my bucket with a margin trowel, then I used the smooth side of my notched trowel to comb it out. I chose a trowel with 1/4″ wide notches with 1/4″ spaces and 3/8″ deep. The tile video recommended 3/8″ deep for tiles 12″ or larger. Our tile are 13″ (actually 12 13/16″ — to make it easy to do measurements using a 3/16″ grout joint. We decided to use a 1/4″ grout joint). After spreading out the mortar with the smooth side, I then combed it out using the notched side. This gets the proper amount of mortar down. I filled one 2×2 box with field tile, then set a few cut pieces which Clare had cut very nicely. After I had set the cut pieces, I removed one of the field tiles, to check to see how well my mortar was adhering (also recommended by the Home Time tile video). According to the video, the mortar should cover about 90% of the tile. If it is less than this, then the mortar is probably too dry, or if greater than 90% the mortar might be too wet. I thought my test tile was more like 70%, so I added a bit of water to the mortar, and also concentrated on getting a consistent 45° angle with the notched trowel. I then replaced re-combed the mortar where I taken the test tile out, and put down a fresh tile.

test tile

Test tile. Is there enough mortar?

I continued laying tile for several hours, and Clare continued cutting tile. For all the straight cuts we used a simple tile cutter which scores the tile and then snaps it. But for the trickier cuts, we used the tile saw. The tile saw has a circular blade with a diamond edge. It is not jagged like a circular saw though. The saw sprays water on the blade as it is cutting to keep down the heat and the dust. Clare used one neat technique with the saw to get some rounded cuts, which we learned from the video of course. She made several very skinny cuts into the area that we wanted to remove, then nipped them off using the tile nippers.

fancy cuts with the saw

Clare makes a fancy cut with the tile saw using the many teeth method.

I continued laying tile until about 1 p.m. or so, at which point I decided I need a break, so Clare and I had some lunch. By this point we were mostly done, and had mostly field tile to lay down. As I started to lay tile after lunch I started realizing that the tile was deviating from the chalk lines. I began to get worried that the tile was not going to fit how we had envisioned. So I put down a few tiles and sure enough, it looked like we might end up cutting tiles by the doorway, which is exactly what we were trying to avoid. So I consulted with Clare, and we decided to just squish some of the grout lines instead of cutting the tile.

all the tile is laid

All the tile is laid

I finished laying tile around 3:30 or so, and then spent about a half hour cleaning up. Now we have to let the mortar set-up for at least a day. Hopefully we can grout tomorrow, then put the toilet back in soon.