At this point, we have not attempted to grout, and I can see what is coming. A well-worn grout float, a five-gallon pail of water, and some little sponges. How to improve that situation? Well, we have several ways. I remember when we bought our first grout bucket, those funny looking square ones. It languished in the tool room probably a year. We got a job doing a new car showroom, about 5,000 feet of unpolished porcelain. The dealer would not let us cover the windows. As you might expect, the grout dried quickly on the face of the tile but the grout joint was still to wet to clean without making it very low, not an option on this job. After half a day of fighting with the grout, I went back to the shop and got the funny looking little grout bucket and the big flat sponge with the handle. I placed it by the rest of the material in the grout area and went on to do a few estimates at another site. A few hours later, my phone rings; "Hey Dave, can you pickup some more of those $100 grout buckets?" The next morning, we owned 4; a few weeks later, 6. Nobody ever used a 5-gallon bucket and sponge again. If you have a really good size job, yes, those power sponge machines you have laughed at for years really do work. If you ever use one on a big job, you will never get on your knees again. There are countless ways to save time and money to day using cutting edge materials and equipment. New products are constantly being developed to deal with today's trends in construction. Our working environment is ever changing, our customers more demanding, and good labor supplies dwindling. You really owe it to yourself to think beyond just what works and try some of these new and innovative pieces of equipment. Manufacturers have made similar strides in new installation products and proprietary methods that make complicated tasks like showers simple. Why not take a chance on making life a little easier and more profitable? Roll the dice and see if you get lucky; I am sure you will.
Does It Really Work?
December 23, 2004
Truth be known, I was actually supposed to write about another subject this month but when I found out this month's theme, I begged the editor to let me change the topic. Some may call me a tool freak; I prefer to think of myself as an efficiency analyst. Few tools have I tried and products purchased without the thought of benefit to the job, labor savings, my body or even better, the bottom line and if you're lucky, all of them! We had a relatively small shop in my contracting days but we did the same volume as firms nearly twice our size. The secret? Good tools, good setting materials, the right people and equipment make it all come together. The nice thing about tools and equipment is that they show up everyday, never get sick, never complain, and there is no workman's compensation, insurance, vacation or holidays. You don't even have to tell them how wonderful they are to motivate them. It can be very challenging to teach an old dog new tricks, some young dogs too for that matter. If you have been using the same tools, materials, and techniques for 20 years, you're in the Stone Age. Of course, this does not apply to everything but it certainly holds true for the larger part of our work today. Mud work is still simple and uncomplicated just like a good old 41/4-inch wall tile and glazed 8-by-8 over concrete if you're lucky enough to get that kind of work. Unfortunately, for us, most of our work now is 12-by-12- or 18-by-18-inch porcelain tile over engineered wood panels and floor joists. That is a whole different set of both equipment and setting materials.
A recent project brought this all back to me only too well. We are doing some remodeling in our facility and due to constraints of time decided to get a local contractor to help out. A manufacturer graciously donated 1500 square feet of 18-by-18-inch tile. The contractor arrived on time to begin the installation. We did the layout, went through the typical getting started items and he proceeded to start setting the tile using a 3/8-inch notch trowel spreading the thinset in a circular motion. I suggested that he may want to check coverage on the back of the tile, which he did, and not to my surprise, all we saw were some ridges of thinset on the tile. Amazingly, he was perfectly happy with it. Well, this is a tile school, and we really can't have problems, so I suggested he use a larger trowel or one of the newer notch configurations we have to get better coverage. He assured me he had done this for 15 years and never had a problem. So we nicely asked if he would use a bigger trowel and more thinset to bed the tile; the answer was no, never had a problem and not about to change now. So much for contractor A; he packed his tools and left. Enter contractor B; to make a long story short, the same process occurred all over again except this time the contractor had 30 years experience and never had a problem. But, this contractor was receptive to back buttering the tile if we really wanted the coverage, but not using a bigger trowel. Oh well, we did get the coverage we wanted but the job took 3 days longer than it should have or would have if he would have just changed the trowel. And yes, he did ask for an extra to do the job right. In this instance, the installer could have completed the job literally in half the time if he would have only changed his trowel notch configuration. Similar time improvements could have been made by using one of the specialty mortars available today that are chemically enhanced to increase the distribution of thinset under the tile. Estimated income enhancement using a different trowel configuration and spreading method: 75-100 percent.
As you might expect, our veteran tile installer was using a wet saw for all his straight cuts. Well, CTEF has a dozen score and snap cutters capable of cutting 18-inch tile. They range in price from $100 to $350. This is an area where you get what you pay for; those in the $200-350 range all do straight cuts on large porcelain tile. The $350 one can cut as little as a 1/2-inch off a textured porcelain tile in a straight line. So, out came the cutters for our veteran tile installer and his helper to try. Well, I am not quite sure why, but after a flawless demonstration of fine cutting tools on 18-inch porcelain tile I returned a short time later to find the helper on the saw again. If I were to speculate I would say it was because it provided an opportunity to smoke a steady stream of cigarettes outside while telling the installer the cutter didn't work. I observed the time required for using the wet saw; it worked out to roughly 5 minutes per cut going from the work area to the saw and back. There were 280 linear feet of cuts; the time spent on the saw was about 17 hours; 280 liner feet on a score and snap cutter, about 3 hours. How many jobs would it take to pay for that $350 cutter? Estimated income enhancement using a quality score and snap cutter as a part of this project: about 10-15 percent.