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Old 05-31-2010, 05:53 PM   #1
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Terra Cotta tile questions...


I think this one's for Bud...

I will have several hundred square feet of terra cotta tile to install on four different floor areas.

The tile is either octagonal or square, as you can see from the attached photos. The octagonal tile has an "M" pressed into the back and the square tiles have an "X".

Maybe that's where brand X comes from?

Thus far, we have put two coats of sealer on the surface of the tile, being as careful as we could not to get the sealer on the edges. We were advised to be careful about this to avoid grout adhesion problems.

I believe the floors are more than adequate as far as strength (deflection) goes. On the smaller floor inside the front entrance I have Easyboard to put down, but not yet installed. It is on hand though.

The solarium has a cement backer board already installed.

The third floor, which will cover the dining area and kitchen only has plywood yet, as does the breakfast nook, which is the fourth floor.

Any advice concerning cutting, the thinset I should use, spacing, grouting, backerboard or anything else will be most sincerely appreciated.

I have never installed any terra cotta before. Just porcelain, ceramic, slate and marble.

If it's any help, this information is on the boxes: LOSETA de BARRO, Clay Tile Hand Made, Tapa manejese con cuidado, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Since my Spanish is basically limited to "Dos cervesas por favor, senor" I am none the wiser as to what this may mean.

Permit me to thank you in advance for any assistance...
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Old 06-03-2010, 08:48 PM   #2
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Terra Cotta tile questions...


Hey-hey, nuthin speedy about me. In fact my wife has said for years that I am half-fast! I think that's what she says.

OK, terra-cotta ("clay of the earth" or something like that).

I lived in Texas thirteen years and saw and installed a lot of terracotta tile. I love the stuff! In Nebraska however, I haven't seen much here at all and haven't installed any in about fifteen years.

Terracotta has been used for thousands of years and was once upon a time baked in the sun. You can still get terracotta made the old fashion way as far as I know but you have to be willing to give up an arm or a leg or maybe both I think.

Terracotta like Saltillo was at one time produced by residents of Mexico. It was molded in their yard and sun-baked. Then it was sold to a government agency that in turn sold and distributed the products throughout the world. Historically it also comes from Spain and Italy.

OK, here's what I know about the subject.

Terra cotta is (as tiles go) generally a very soft tile. Therefore it should be installed using the same recommendations as natural stone tiles. That means the substrate is required to be twice as strong as that that would be required for ceramic tile. Substrate Deflection: (ceramic 1/360) (stone 1/720) and a double layer of plywood is required. This is from the Marble Institute of America (MIA) and The Tile Council of North America.(TCNA) Tile installations in Canada are of course covered by a Canadian organization whose name escapes me at the moment but I have always been told the Canadian Specs go hand in hand with the American Specs.

From what I see in the pictures those you have are the "Real McCoy". In fact the letters stamped on the back are probably identifying the family maker. There are other tiles available that are made to mimic the real thing but in truth nothing has the charm and warmth of the real terra cotta and Saltillo tiles.

Hold one those tiles by a corner and rap on it with a hard object and it will sing to you. In fact that's how you detect interior cracks and fissures in a terra cotta tile. If it is cracked it won't sing.

OK OK OK, I'm getting carried away.

As I said the sub-structure must be sufficient to support the weight as well as measure up in the deflection department.

Next, most of the tiles will be distorted in a charming way. Usually in the form of a slight crown. This isn't a problem but of course you usually can't simply spread the thinset and set the tile knowing it is fully supported. Chances are it won't be. So the thing to do in my opinion is to first use a large notched trowel, either 1/2" or 3/4"X. Generously wet the back of the tile(s) with a sponge, then the substrate. Allow the moisture to soak-in before attempting to spead any thinset. Then spread a small area of the substrate with thinset then spread thinset on the tile. Plant the tile with a slight shimmy backward and forward until it is firmly nested into the thinset. Any purging of thinset must be cleaned off the tiles right then and there. You said you had already sealed the tile faces. Truthfully I would also seal the edges to prevent any grout color from wicking into the clay but this process would have been done after the tile was installed.

Most tiles won't allow the grout to stick to the edges anyway. This is arguable of course but this has been my finding over the years. Grouts may stick to the tile edges at first but will later develop a small hairline separation between it and the tile, this goes unnoticed so I wouldn't sweat it. Raw terra cotta may be the exception.

Once all the tile is set, I would give it several days to dry out before applying yet another application of sealer. Once that has had sufficient time to dry you're ready for grout.

The problem with sealing the tile before it is installed is that sealers are intended to keep things out of the tile. That's good! But, the sealer will also try to (now) keep the moisture from the thinset in the tile and will slow the evaporation process and may even turn the sealer white.

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Old 06-04-2010, 02:31 AM   #3
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Terra Cotta tile questions...


Thanks Bud...now that is what I call an EXCELLENT reply!!

Many years ago a friend of mine had a sign up in his fish and chip shop up in the Yukon. It said I'm not a fast cook...I'm not a slow cook...I'm a half fast cook. Maybe your wife knows this guy from somewhere!

I think this tile is probably not done in sun baked molds, but most likely in a kiln of some kind. It wasn't that expensive if I recall rightly.

A local tile setter apparently bought several thousand square feet for a big job. What we bought from him is what he had left over - about 750 sq. ft.

We paid him $2.50 a sq. ft. about 13 or 14 years ago...so we have had it kicking around for awhile. I didn't open any of the boxes until recently, when I started to do the sealing.

I've just got back from an all day trip to Vancouver, so I will check for singing tile in the morning. But you are right about the slight distortion in the tiles. No two seem to be quite the same.

OK, now let me make sure I'm going to get this right.

I understand now how to stick the tiles down. Any thinset that squeezes out the sides of the tile I should clean off right away...is that right?

Then let it dry - I can leave it for weeks if necessary - then seal the edges.

When I put the two seal coats on the surface of the tiles, it disappeared into the tile within seconds. I thought that the second coat - which I waited a day more to apply - might show up. But no, it too disappeared. So this stuff eats sealer for lunch.

I think what I might try is to lay just three or four tiles carefully following your advice and see what happens. Maybe I can do that tomorrow.

I will take pics as I am going, and then you can let me know how to do it properly after you correct all my mistakes!

Many, many thanks for this terrific advice.

I'm almost looking forward to doing this...almost
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Old 06-04-2010, 10:00 AM   #4
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OK, just gave the tile the "singing" test.

Even as I took it out of the box and it scraped the next tile, I could hear the "sing". Amazing!

I tapped it lightly - and you're absolutely right - it really does sing. I'm thinking wind chimes maybe????
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Old 06-04-2010, 03:34 PM   #5
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Quote:
I'm thinking wind chimes maybe????
I don't know if your joking but the truth is...that is also do-able.

Cut some tile into strips about one inch wide and in varying lengths. Drill a tiny hole in the end of each strip at exactly the same location from the end of each strip. Then devise a wood or terra cotta disc that will allow the strips to touch one another when hung from the disc with fishing line in the wind.

Probably not as impressive as some wind chimes but hey...unique and in-keeping with the terra cotta floor scheme..
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Old 06-04-2010, 04:08 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bud Cline View Post
I don't know if your joking but the truth is...that is also do-able.

Cut some tile into strips about one inch wide and in varying lengths. Drill a tiny hole in the end of each strip at exactly the same location from the end of each strip. Then devise a wood or terra cotta disc that will allow the strips to touch one another when hung from the disc with fishing line in the wind.

Probably not as impressive as some wind chimes but hey...unique and in-keeping with the terra cotta floor scheme..
Bud: You had the joking part right! Actually I thought that they would probably break if they started tapping into each other often enough.

We have several different wind chimes here...so one more wouldn't hurt at all.
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Old 06-04-2010, 06:47 PM   #7
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Actually I thought that they would probably break if they started tapping into each other often enough.
I suppose that's possible but hey...nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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Old 06-04-2010, 06:48 PM   #8
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...see what I can do about posting a pic when I'm done...

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