Friday, May 13, 2011

Installing a glass tile pool surround

In my last post, I expressed some concern that I may need to get a real job, as commissions have completely dropped off since last Fall.  Lo and behold, my tile setter friend, Frank Lynam, needed an extra hand in order to complete a large project by June.  So, I am working days as an assistant tiler, learning all about this particular large-scale installation.
We spent the first five days putting up the membrane, which is the orange part of the wall that wraps around.  This is a lap pool in the basement of a home that is built into a hillside.  The exterior wall is concrete.  The other walls are plaster.  The membrane will make the substrate impervious to dampness.  Also, since we are laying the tile in a brick pattern, there is no place to add an expansion joint, and the membrane will allow some give and take behind the tile.  Additionally, we will use a urethane grout made with ground glass instead of sand, which is more flexible.

That's Frank, one of the best tilers in our area.  He is extremely fastidious in his work, specializing in creative and challenging tile installations.  I am learning how to work without getting thinset all over my clothes and surroundings, and making sure everything is done to absolute perfection.  It's good for me.

This may look pretty straightforward, but check out how clean the joints are!  Frank is concerned that, since this is glass tile and the color is on the back, any meeting of thinset and grout will be visible with some careful examination.  So, we carefully install the tile with no thinset in the joints.  Also, this thick glass tile is difficult to cut without it shattering, so every cut is done so slowly, I sometimes wonder if I'm still moving the saw table.  The cuts result in a slightly ragged edge on front and back, so we then use 3 grades of metal files to make the back edge look precise through the glass, and make the front edge just as rounded and soft as the rest of the tile.  They end up looking like they were manufactured to that size.  The floor is not flush, so we have to cut every tile on the bottom row to make sure all of the lines are perfect as we continue to set rows up the wall.  It's a lot of measuring, cutting, filing, and fixing occasional mistakes.  Frank tells me he has tried to work with other assistants, but they quickly lose patience with the detail work.  I think my experience with mosaic is an advantage when approaching tile with such meticulous care.

So, although I have almost no time at all for the garden or studio right now, I'm earning money and learning some skills that may come in handy later, if I can ever land myself a big mosaic installation.  I have to admit, if I had my choice, those walls would be covered with undulating blue and green intersecting lines suggesting water, made of stained glass or tile.  Mmmm.

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