Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.

Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.

This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.

It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tile on Front Porch

The concrete slab for the new front porch was functional, but looked unfinished.  I always intended to cover it with surplus quartzite stone tile donated by my brother, however, and that's what I've been doing.  I took stock of that tile when ready to start the job — I had large foot-square tile and small rectangular tile.  My initial thought was to do a border of large tile, then an accent strip using the small mosaic tile (three or four tiles wide), and then have a center field with large tile put down in a diamond pattern. 

That plan changed when I discovered I did not have enough of the large squares (but had lots of the mosaic tile).  So I experimented, putting down tile in different patterns dry.

I would try to put down as much of the tile as possible without cutting, but needed to cut the large squares to cover the front and sides of the slab.  I used my wet, sliding-table tile saw to do that (and later, to cut the small tile when I reached the front of the house).  The basic process was to mortar the border and let that dry, and then fill in the field with the small mosaic tile, which came in foot square sheets (bonded to a flexible mesh backing).  There was some slight variation in the sheets, and spacing of individual tiles; the trick was to try to even them out as much as possible.

I used a notched trowel to spread the thinset mortar.  For the large tile, I also skim-coated the back of the tile, since none of them were really flat (this being a "natural" stone product.

The edge of the porch tile was sharp, so I beveled the hard corner with a diamond grinder.  Perhaps not pretty, but nobody is going to inspect too closely. 

Here is a photo of the tile all down.  Because of the "drift" of the sheets across the width of the porch, and my inability to adjust the spacing of the tile within individual sheets, the gaps ended up being too big as I closed in on the other side.  So I then pulled the individual small mosaic tiles off the backing, and placed them one at a time, which gave me more control of the spacing.  Probably should have done that sooner, but then again, normal people aren't going to get down and inspect the tile spacing (unless obsessive/compulsive).

When the mortar was sufficiently cured, it was time to grout.  The question was then — what color?  I thought a medium gray — something that matched the average color of the tile.  I had half a bag of "new taupe," and the little color label looked like a medium gray, maybe with a little earth tone.  At that stage, I thought I would seal the stone tile, which will bring out its deep earthy colors, so I thought the "new taupe" would do. 

The basic procedure for grouting is to mix the grout with water, wait ten minutes, mix the stiffened mixture some more (which makes it more compliant and smooth), then spread it and force it into the gaps with a grout float held at a 45˚ angle, more or less:

When that is done, scrape off the excess with the float held closer to 90˚ to the surface.  With regular smooth ceramic tile, that removes almost all the excess grout, but because the surface of this natural stone was rough, there was more grout left on the surface that needed cleaning off.

Cleaning the grout off the surface is done with buckets of water and special small-pore grout sponges.  Submerge the sponge in the water, squeeze almost all the water out (you don't want water running into the grout that's in the gaps), and wipe over the surface.  Clean the sponge in the bucket and repeat, again and again, until the surface is pretty clean.  Then do the same thing with a bucket of clean water until there's no grout on the surface of the tile.

The grout tends to lighten as it dries out, over a period of days.  Had I to do it over, I would have used a lighter, gray grout, but it looks fine, and the look will be different after sealing.  In the meantime, this is it:

The empty square in the middle is for a decorative tile that I will make after my pottery studio becomes operational (a future post).

Concurrently with this work, I have been laboring diligently on the new kitchen countertop, but that's going to take another couple of weeks to complete (although good progress so far, just lots of steps).  The next post, however, will be about my little bonus project — three test drawers for my platform bed (out of eleven). 

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