Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back Butter

Working on this old house has been great exercise for our brains as well as our muscles.  Each time we tackle a new job, we learn a new set of skills.  Well, to be fair, we learn about a set of skills without always mastering the skill itself, but still, we have expanded our tool collection, our experiences, and even our vocabulary.  For instance, we read that to lay tile on an uneven surface, like our cracked bathroom floor shown above, we needed a technique called "back buttering".  Mmmm... back butter.  Sounds yummy, huh?  

This photo shows the bathroom floor tile job when it's nearly complete.  Even with our amateur back butter skills, I'm impressed with our accomplishment.  Especially in photos, since you can't really see that slight slope as the tiles go over the hump in the middle of the room.  Ah well, it's much better than before!

Before we even got to try our hands at back buttering, we first had to mix the tile mortar.  The man on the interweb said to mix it to a consistency of mayonnaise, but the helpful fellow at Lowe's said to mix it to a peanut butter consistency.  Mayonnaise, peanut better, and back butter - who knew laying tile would be so tasty?  

Brandon put a giant blender attachment on his drill so he could mix the mortar in a bucket.  I was amazed that he had a blender attachment, and felt a little like he's been holding out on me.  If I had known this thing was available, I might have been mixing cookies by the bucketful, just because I could! 

Back buttering just means that extra mortar is used on the floor, and on the back of the tile, to build up the low places and get the edges of the tile to match up.  The mortar is spread on the floor with a trowel, then the back side of the trowel is used to scratch groves in the layer of mortar before the tile is laid down.  Little spacers are put between the tile to keep them evenly spaced.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Wrong!

Laying tile might be easy for people who weigh little, and have lots of practice kneeling.  We are neither light nor good kneelers, so even with knee pads it didn't take long for our knees to feel bruised and our backs to feel tired.  The worst was when one of us would stick a tile down in our carefully applied mortar only to realize that the floor was not level and the tile had to be pried back up so more mortar could be applied to level it out.  "Oh no! I need back butter!" was our desperate cry.  We took turns laying rows, but even still, near the end when we could see the light at the end of the tiled tunnel, we started to resent the extra moments on our knees required by that darned back butter.  At one point when I was agonizing over a tile that just wouldn't line up, Brandon reminded me that the tile was never perfect in any of the cathedrals or ancient ruins we visited in Rome, and we didn't hear any complaints.  Good point!  

Brandon bought the tile at a discount building supply store, without getting to ask my opinion, since he didn't want to take a chance on losing them if someone else bought them before I could see them.  He called to tell me that he found a deal he just couldn't pass up, and that he was pretty confident I would like the tile, but I could tell he was a little nervous.  I understand his nervousness.  No one wants to be the one who bought the non refundable ugly tile and have that hang over them for the rest of their bathroom's life.   Thankfully, we both like the tile just fine, and since we needed one hundred of them, it was great to get them at a discounted price.   

In the photo above, Brandon is using a tile saw.  It's a really cool tool, and has blade made with diamonds on the edge, and has a tray of water that the blade runs through to help it zip through the tile.  We were able to cut the tile on the edges of the room and against the shower.  

Now that we are done with the tile and the back butter, I get to learn about grouting.  Oh, my poor knees! 


Leigh Weber said...

I like the tile! And I love the picture of Puck laying down and supervising!

rain said...

Thanks, Leigh! Puck is the best supervisor - he's pretty laid back about letting us take lots of breaks. I think he was particularly interested in this job because he loves to lay on cold tile when it's hot outside. I have a feeling that he will spend a lot of time in this room.

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