Tiling the hearth: prep part 1

That’s right, this is going to be in parts.  Because I did it in parts due to some delays and well, let’s just say it, mistakes.  But that’s OK, because I learned some things and it is turning out well.

When we left off last time in the story, Matt and I had demoed the old tile and mastic.  My wood floor issue had mostly gone away.  I’m happy to report that after purchasing a rubber mallet and using said mallet to tap the errant floorboards into place, the cracks are gone.  Woohoo!

Now our concrete pad was too low and we needed to bring it up.  We again followed the advice of This Old House.  Adding my own flare to the process, I taped some cardboard around the edges so the concrete wouldn’t be right up against the wood floorboards.

Matt made a screed (just like in the TOH article linked above - see that for instructions on screed usage for this particular purpose).  It worked well.

Used some tools we scored for $1 each at an estate sale a while back (except the mixer attachment for the drill, which we bought at HD) to smooth everything out.

And could have done a better job of smoothing it, but it was OK.  My main concern was that it not be too high, because you can always add more but it’s not so easy to remove material.

Meanwhile, the boys were doing their part by napping just a few feet away in their crates, where they could not step in any wet concrete or get into dirty tools before we could clean them.  What good doggies.  They really make it easy on us.

Earlier that week we had ordered and received our tile.  We decided on a 12-inch slate called K-rust.  The sample had some rust colored speckles on it, but what we received was a bit different, as can often happen with natural stone.  A little bit of rust, some yellows, some gold, blue-grays, and one with tons of red.  Eventually we decided we liked the variety even better than if it had all looked like the sample.  We ordered 40 square feet, knowing we needed 7.5 for the hearth and probably 25 for the entry pad (did anyone guess that was the additional project we wanted to do with the same tile - kinda like this?) plus some extras.  After pouring the concrete pad for the hearth, we laid out every tile on the floor to decide which ones would go in the hearth and which ones would be saved for the entry pad at a later date. 

With some cardboard underneath representing thinset, we dry set the tiles in the hearth, overlapping the front row on top of the back row to get a sense of what it would look like.  We left the back middle spot open because that will be fully covered by the fireplace insert, so we didn’t care as much about which tile goes there. 

Later I did it with the tiles leaned up against the brick so we could see the real orientation of the tiles.  We wanted to use the factory edge up front and cut the back edge, which will be hidden once we put a wooden facade over the brick.  I also numbered the tiles so we would know where each one went and in what orientation.

Matt cut the back row tiles using a wet saw. I had to make a special trip to the hardware store for a grease pencil to mark the cut lines.

Later, Matt also cut the Schluter edging we bought using a hacksaw and a miter box.  And lots of clamps.  This edging was recommended by several online discussion forums and the tile store person.  It makes a nicer transition between the tile and wood floor, protects the edge of the tile, and allows some room for expansion.

This all happened a week after the concrete, which was a week later than we intended.  Here’s why.  The day after the concrete was Saturday, and I was supposed to go pick up that Schluter edging from the tile store.  We didn’t want the standard gray metal one that they have in stock, so I had the tile guy order the “brushed antique bronze” finish that I thought would best fade into the background.  I called on Friday, and by good fortune the truck driver wasn’t yet past the place that had the edging, so it would be in Friday afternoon instead of Monday.  That was great, because then we could tile on the weekend.  But somehow I forgot all about picking up the edging until 4:01 pm on Saturday, and they close at 4.  Plus all day Sunday.  I don’t know how I could have been so excited about this piece of metal one day and then completely forget to pick it up the next day.  Yet that is what happened.  We shrugged and proceeded to go play at the dog park instead of tiling.

Our saga will continue soon.  I’m sure you’re right on the edge of your seat.


p.s. Check out the full Hearth tiling project recap.