Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How to Use a Tile Saw - Tips for Beginners

A tile saw is actually more of a grinder than a saw.  The diamond encrusted continuous edge blade slowly removes material from a tile and therefore takes a wee bit of practice to use effectively and minimize wasting expensive stock.  Furthermore, ceramic and porcelain tile shards are very efficient flesh rippers so proper focus and a good understanding of how this machine works is only prudent.  I had fully expected my 18" QEP 60010 to behave like the many saws I own and am intimately familiar with - it didn't. So I regrouped and went back to the drawing board.
Sharpening Tile Saw Blade
Job prep is always the key to success and using sharp blades is at the top of my list.  I had a badly chipped grinding stone that I used to expose a layer of fresh diamonds on the tile saw blade by making several cuts through the stone. I understand that a cinder block or brick  will work also.
Truing a Tile Saw - Motor Nuts and Rail Nuts
A test cut  on a chipped tile showed that the cut was not a perfect right angle and some adjustment would need to be made to true the saw.   First, I adjusted the table by loosening the sliding rail nuts one at a time, checking for a 90° angle with a long carpenters square (not the little one shown) then retightening.  Quite simple.  Once the table is square, make certain that the motor/blade is also true and adjust using the two motor nut mounts. This is also where one can micro adjust the inch scale on the saw table's measurement rail.  As this is the time to adjust all things tile saw, the blade depth should extend 1/4" deeper than the tile. My saw has a black knurled knob on the left side which makes this adjustment tool free, but beware - as soon as it's loose, the whole heavy beast FALLS!
Tile Saw Table Extension
I needed a few more inches on my saw bed to deal with floppy mosaic tiles.  As the table had threaded holes to accept bolts, it was easy enough to add a piece of pine with two holes drilled all the way through for the 1/4' diameter cap headed lag bolts. I had marked the hole position with lipstick and pressed the pine against the table. Holes courtesy of the drill press.  It then needed a groove in the center where the saw blade travels through, accomplish with ease on the band saw.
Tile Saw Remote Water Pump
Now this water pump has a valve which controls water volume.  Anyone who is familiar with valves knows that when the "handle" is perpendicular to the hose or pipe that the valve controls, it's OFF.  Not so with this unit.  Counterintuitive.   When the valve handle is parallel to the water tube, normally the ON position, you will get exactly, not a drop of water.  As for placement?  The pump plugs into the tile saw motor and is designed to sit in the plastic water catchment tray to just keep recycling the same supply of water over and over.  This has it's benefits as you don't need to dump dirty ceramic dust-filled water regularly, but I immediately saw it shortening the pump life.  Having loads if fine material build up inside the pump would then be inevitable, yes?  I grabbed three buckets.  The water supply bucket needs to bet set on top of one bucket for height, due to the length of the power cord and the supply tube.  Bucket two holds the pump and always fresh clean water, while the third bucket sits anxiously under the tray's drain plug waiting for the moment when you must drain the yucky, filthy water that would otherwise be going through your pump!  More work? Yes.  Longer pump life?  Yes.
Safety Gear & Pump in Original Position
Above shows the pump as the manufacturer would have it sit in the tray.  You can see the tray plug in the murky water, just behind the black pump body.  My yard sale buy didn't have one so that's a Home Depot buy.  I would not skip the safety gear whilst using this rig. It's not so much the blade that damages but these slivers and shards which are like glass and getting slung willy nilly BY the blade.  That doesn't mean you can ignore the blade.  I generally am wary of using gloves near spinning things, lest they snag, a real concern, so FOCUS here is a good idea.  Reread that last sentence.  The gloves I chose were snug and thick enough to protect me from "broken glass" while ALSO being waterproof! OY!
Tile Saw Blade Change
After cutting a floor's worth of THICK porcelain mosaic tile (not this blade's first rodeo, either), I decided to try out a brand new Dewalt Extender blade I had for the wall and listello tiles.  I'm like Horshack on "Welcome Back Kotter", "ooh, ooh, ooh!  A new tile saw blade! ooh!".  The multi wrench supplied with the saw, shown above, is good for flinging at feral cats and that's about it.  I used a decent socket wrench and pressed the blade lock button on the opposite side after lifting back the blade guard.  Many saw blade arbor nuts are reverse threaded - not "lefty loosey" but "left tighty".  This is so the counter-clockwise movement of the spinning blade doesn't loosen the nut and well, lets not think about that!  SO, discovering WHICH WAY a saw blade's nut loosen's take's a gentle touch and sometimes a drop of Liquid Wrench or PB Blaster.  This one was threaded normally. Not the safest configuration so I made certain to tighten it securely - lock button pressed, wrench torqued HARD!  If you look at the photo above, you may notice that I wrote the size of the arbor nut wrench and "normal thread" on the blade guard with a Sharpie in order to save myself a few minutes during the next blade change.  DO take a sec to double check that the rotation direction for this blade is aligned correctly.  With no teeth to guide you, the arrow printed on the blade itself is the only indication.  Again, new saw, new rules!
Tile Saw Straight Cuts
Photos on the left, above, show the fence used to align the sheet or single tile. It can also be set to make 45° cuts.  On this saw, the water pump/saw blade combo toggle is on the front of of the blade motor.  On occasion, I had to pinch the water pump tubing if the water didn't start to flow against the blade immediately.  The valve previously mentioned also controls flow rate as "full bore" is not a requirement and I dialed down my water pump a bit. Although I had plastic on the floor, the mess wasn't outrageous.  Water on the tile does mean that cut marks need to be made with something that wont wash off - grease pencil worked best though pencil wasn't too bad in a pinch when my grease pencil was in hiding....
In a word - push  the tile through slowly. The reality, like so much of working with tools, is that one develops a "feel" for what the motor is comfortable handling.  When I pushed a tile through too quickly, the 2 HP motor bogged down!  As long as I let it grind away slowly, all was well.  I used five different types of tile for this job and each had a different feed rate through the saw.  Patience is not my strong suit - it lives deep within my closet and I had to button it on tightly to use this saw.
The Kindest Cuts
A sturdy pair of vice grips provided a measure of safety when making cuts on small mosaic pieces (upper right) and also when rounding a corner using the flat diamond edge on the side.  A piece of tire inner tube (upper right) can be a good scratch protector if one's vice grips are inclined to mar a tile's finish.  Check out lower left for a simple shop-built miter sled, when held firmly going through the blade. Above lower right is an examples of one way to smooth a rough edge or take off a hair extra material, using the side of the blade.
Diagonal Cuts

The cut above right was made freehand, although the 45° on the left used the fence..  The sheets of mosaic tiles were by far the most challenging, but I have to say that after a bit of practice I experienced little spoilage, especially once I started cutting wall tiles.  To read about my experience tiling with the latest in stain and mildew resistant grouts, keep reading!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Using Urethane Grout in Tiled Showers - It's Not just for Beowulf Anymore!

Urethane grout promises to solve many problems that can plague tile installations, especially in showers.  It is mold and mildew resistant, less prone to staining and  slightly flexible so also less susceptible to cracking.  As it comes premixed, the color is consistent and not affected by the users' variations in the addition of water and admixes. An added benefit is that the installer can pop the lid back on the container for awhile, mid installation, and NOT lose mixed product, as one would with cementitious or epoxy grouts.  When I read about all these plusses, especially those that made it so suitable to the tropics, I decided that the extra $$ it costs made it worth trying.   Some online research led me to believe that the learning curve to install it was not daunting so I would like to share my experience.  I won't masquerade as someone who has deep tile background, either.  I've fixed some bad tile jobs so, like many things in my house, I knew what I wanted to avoid! A crappy grout job was high on my list.
     Oh, but I have start by, er, tiling the Shluter Kerdi fabric that has created my water proof shower in the first place.  Let me begin with the mosaic tile floor.

Bostick Urethane Grout for Mosaic Floor Tile
Sheets of porcelain 2" mosaic tile, spaced 1/16" apart, seemed the perfect choice for the floor of the shower.  Smaller tiles are the standard for floors because of the required slope toward the drain. A large tile would create voids underneath which would eventually crack under the weight of any human traffic. Mosaic-type tiles readily conform to the pre-slope that one creates when packing a shower pan.
Story Pole Tile Mark Up
I used the story pole method for my tile layout. Working with a small area like this makes this technique feasible and very effective. Cutting scraps of ~1x1 trim  to the length of each wall that were to be tiled, I marked the dead center and labeled them. These were also used later when tiling the walls.  When I placed full sheets of the mosaic tiles down on the floor to plan my layout, I simply slid the poles back and forth until I had the optimum cut, with as close to a complete tile as possible at each end of the row.  An almost complete tile is more pleasing to the eye than a sliver and sometimes requires "throwing out" a whole tile to achieve this at both ends.  I found my cuts, (above center is a corner sheet) marked them with a grease pencil and took the sheet to the tile saw.
Mosaic Tile on the Tile Saw
A piece of plywood made it easier to transport the mesh-backed tiles from my marking area to the workshop, which housed the slightly messy "wet" tile saw.  Although I was able to add a few inches to the front of the saw's table to support the flimsy sheets, the best I could do for the floppy sides was use a piece of vinyl flashing to prop it up somewhat.  Cutting the sheets of mosaic tile required no more than a little extra time and patience.  Oh, and more towels to quickly dry the moisture off the back before the glue dissolved due to the saw's stream of water. They went right into the sun to finish drying as well.  Where I  DID end up with a loose tile, a hot glue gun averted disaster.  The subtleties of finessing the table saw will be another post.
Mosaic Tile Shower Floor
Shluter Kerdi fabric shower installations require the use of unmodified thinset to adhere tile to this substrate.  This is a topic of some debate for porcelain installations, but that is what the manufacturer states and that is what I used with my porcelain tile.  I dry fit the entire floor and numbered each sheet "just in case".  I gathered buckets,water, sponges, rags, gloves, 1/4" x 1/4" square notch trowel, hard rubber float for tamping, margin trowels, knee pads, mixer and drop cloths.  I mixed my thinset and let it slake to 10 minutes, praying to the tile gods to help me not botch this.....(as is my custom). I lifted the first row (farthest from the curb) back to expose the kerdi floor. Trowel the thinset on, comb it out, lay the tile and tamp on it with the float (skip the bad joke).  Pull one back to check for 100%  thinset coverage.  CHECK!  Sigh of relief.  The sponge and margin trowel took care of the tiny bit of thinset squeeze out.  I kept the sponge dry so as not to add any moisture to the thinset and weaken it.
Row Two and Kerdi Grate
Row Two was perpendicular as I was working my way out of the shower, capice?  And row three took me into the Kerdi grate, which shot my blood pressure skyward again (unnecessarily). Getting the outer rows in first also helped me maintain proper slope inward toward the drain, using a level.  I might admit to putting a dash more thinset under the corner of the corner tiles too, to be certain that they they stood nice and proud and no water would pool there.  As for the Kerdi grate, it gets back-buttered like a tile and the floor divot receives a healthy layer of combed thinset before receiving the adjustment collar ring.  After the surrounding tile is set, it's a simple operation to push it down flush with it's surrounding ceramics.  A scant few tiles needed to be set one at a time, below center.
Tile Touch Ups
The only difficulty I had throughout the setting portion was dealing with thinset squeeze-out in the tiny 1/8" gaps.  I resorted to using the 2" wide metal scraper/spatula, which cleared  the muck out well in conjunction with clean, well wrung sponges.  What I missed needed to be scraped then vacuumed 24 hours later.  The grout "saw" was the most efficient of the tools I had on hand for dried thinset.
Bostik TruColor Neverseal Urethane Grout Prep
Did someone mention urethane grout?   Ok, what I bought in the Bahamas was called BostikTruColor.  I believe in the States it's called Neverseal.  Hard to be certain as Bostik bought out StarQuartz (yes, its made with quartz in the matrix) and has been trying to settle on a name!  Now, to summarize the downside - it sets up quickly, it can leave a residue, it takes longer to install (because of the residue) and its expensive.  And for the shower?  Seven days before it can get wet!! Would I use it again?  Maybe.  I think it has its place - showers and kitchen counters - problem prone areas.  I don't think I'd do a large floor with it.  Yet, my job went well.  A MUST is a hard rubber epoxy float (I have one margin trowel size, which was a godsend) and microfiber clothes.  The usual suspects include a standard  margin trowel to keep stirring the milky liquid back into the grout, buckets, sponges and clean water and knee pads!
Applying Urethane Grout
Step one involves slightly pre-wetting the tiles.  This reduces adhesion to the tile faces and gives 'em one last clean up.  After mixing the liquid back into the grout, I scooped out maybe two trowels full of  grout - enough for a 3'x3' area for my tiny grout joints.  Tipping my big hard rubber float or my tiny margin trowel sized version to the requisite 45 degress, I had to work hard to pack my thin crevices with grout. It's nice and creamy and I sure did NOT miss mixing up dusty old cement stuff. Now as soon as the lines were packed, the tile was scraped clean and the remaining grout was placed back in the cpved Trucolor bucket.  As long as the lid id on, the grout will not cure.  But the stuff between the tiles?  It's hardening fast!  I went right back will a VERY well wrung out sponge for my first wipe down.  Easy does it.   I followed up immediately with a oh so slightly moist microfiber cloth that showed me the sponge did NOT get it all.  Rinse, wring, repeat.
NeverSeal Grout in Action
 It is nice to work with and I did like the fact that it didn't stain my fingers.  Drips go back in the bucket.
Grouting  Split Face Tile

Phase two of my  project found me scratching my chin over how to grout the lovely rough hewn split face listello that my generous neighbor at Harbor Breeze Villas gave me as the leftovers from his build. I read, I jumped on forums, I asked Elves.  I went my own way.  I put (wait for the gasps)  Thompsons Water Seal on the listellos (thats all I thought I had for sealer) then used the urethane grout to turn each segment into a stiff tile instead of a floppy sheet. (photo lower left).  It worked like a charm! Very little grout stuck in the crannies, the listello was easy to install and grout together the few remaining joints.  My anxiety, as usual, was for naught.
TruColor Grout Residue
Where I ran into difficulties was with two of the four different types of tiles I used.  These were prone to have the TruColor leave a residue that came off with some vinegar and elbow grease, but I found myself doing very small sections indeed to try to minimize this disturbing issue.  Using the microfiber towel and also a white scrubbie helped, but it seemed different tiles reacted in different ways or perhaps it just didn't show as much on some tile finishes.  This dilemma slowed me down, to be sure.  I'm still excited about the properties of the grout, but for me, I wonder about the time investment required to  eliminate the haze issue.  The website mentions a product called Blaze, which I can't get here, but I DID get it all cleaned up and I DO love the look of my finished shower!
Stain and Mildew  Resistant Grout For ME!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Polished Concrete with Recycled Glass - Breaking The Mold

I needed three slabs to complete my shower. Normally, these would be cut from granite or marble or perhaps pieced together with tile. The window sill, the curb top and the knee wall cap were yet to be done.  I had purchased a wet polisher on eBay and thought this would be a good opportunity to attempt some test pieces made out of polished concrete. Slabs fabricated with recycled glass as the aggregate, instead of stone, had caught my eye on the web and I wanted to try my hand. New tools to play with!!! YAY! Too chicken to start with anything larger, I started collecting bottles and  set up a solar powered glass tumbler to make the glass workable.  Life is never boring with a decent workshop!

Polished Concrete with Glass Aggregate
The (roughly) three steps involved in this project were making the molds, mixing concrete and filling them, then polishing and finishing the slabs. I want to babble a bit about concrete to start.  Folks get serious about their mixes and you can even buy premixed "concrete countertop" bagged mixes (though NOT here in the Bahamas, hahahahahaha).  Um, overkill, I think, and also folks trying to sell their wares, but to each.....  I have watched plenty plenty concrete and mortar being mixed and the problem arises from the fact that its an art, not a science, and the inherent moisture present in ALL the ingredients (and the AIR that day) can make exact measurement impossible!  I did my best and tried not to stress about it.  There are SO many opinions out there about WHAT is THE perfect formula, THE perfect types of materials to use, in a way I felt fortunate that on my island, my choices were limited and I just made due with what I had available!  In the end, my mix was

2 parts sand
1 part smoothed glass (various sizes)
1 part portland cement type 2
water to create proper slump for THAT day's humidity (just like baking bread)
   (the water included 4 oz. powdered dye to vary the color of the finished product)
1 oz Lanco latex admix

Still, one can buy Sakrete's mix at big boxes or Buddy Rhodes', Cheng has workshops at Big Orange so there are options galore for stateside types.  What these give you is a mix with the highest compressive strength (for those huge slabs), around 5000 psi, and often they include glass fibers for reinforcement.  Every little bit helps, I suppose, but do you really need it all?  A nifty resource for all things concrete is The Concrete Network but there is no shortage of info on the web about making slabs using this method and many variations.
Template Making
I have an excess of roofing felt which is perfect for making templates.  Cardboard or 3x5 index cards work also but the roll of 2" tar paper was stiff yet still workable.  One of the advantages of crafting concrete slabs is being able to create very custom shapes, such as the curb shown above left.  My window sill also had "horns" on the ends that covered grout lines for a more finished look.  Only the knee wall cap was a a perfect rectangle.  Taping together strips of the felt with packing tape gave me perfect replicas of the size of the slab that I wanted to create.  I marked each with a crayon so that I could keep track of the TOP as the concrete molds are made upside down.
Mold Making
I traced the template on some scrap 5/8" plywood then cut the mold bottoms on the table saw and band saw.  I ripped several lengths of  plywood to a width of 2 1/8" for the sides of the mold.  This gives me finished slabs that are 1 1/2" thick, compensating for the 5/8" base of the mold.  The heights should be exact as you will screed along the sides, leveling off the concrete.  I took these long lengths and set about cutting the sides to whatever lengths I needed for each mold.  They didn't need to be flush at the outside edges, shown above lower right, as this is a mold that just uses the interior angles.  I had a few mitre cuts to make for my curb piece and had to think about where I was going to screw the pieces together before I cut everything up.
Tape and Caulk
Now most folks use melamine coated MDF instead of plywood for their molds because the coating  provides a smooth surface.  I didn't have any nor did I have a supplier, nor did I feel inclined to spend the $$$.  Especially as I was going to use a wet grinder to expose the aggregate anyway, which would smooth any lines.  So, I used some vinyl flashing stuck on with spray adhesive for two of my bases and then packing tape for the sides (and the third base).  The primary purpose of this smoother surface will be to help release the concrete from the mold after it has reached its initial 3 day cure.  I have seen concrete guys use old motor oil on their wooden concrete forms, but, um, EW! No!   So I taped, then I clamped and screwed, drilling pilot holes first.  All inside edges were sealed with caulk.  I didn't have pure silicone, as recommended, so I used the white siliconized latex I had and it worked fine.  I just didn't feel like spending the $$ on black silicone.  BTW, I like rubbing alcohol on my fingers for smoothing caulk.  Cheaper than denatured and I had some here.  I hate rushing out to buy stuff when I have "close enuff" items on hand.  Everything I had read said count your screws and write the number on the mold, then fill the phillips heads with caulk so they don't get concrete in them.  I did.  Waste of time, but maybe for larger projects, it's prudent.
Recycled Glass Aggregate Topping
I coated what would be the top of the slabs or what was the bottom of my molds, with spray adhesive and sprinkled in a layer of tumbled glass so that I would have the most stunning visual effect imaginable!!  This was in addition to the glass I mixed into my concrete.  The truth is that I ground alot of it away because my mix was too stiff.  Beginners blunder.  One of the worst mistakes you can make with concrete is adding too much water, so I am overly cautious there and I paid for it.  Not dearly, but this glass was not thoroughly surrounded and well embedded enough by the overly dry mix. Oh poo!
I digress.  I had also sprinkled on a little extra pigment which I hoped would look like veining.  Didn't like it.  Most of that got ground out anyway.
Lathe Reinforcement
Metal lath, hardware cloth or chicken wire all would have been suitable but lath got the nod.  I used my templates to mark my pattern and cut a healthy half inch inside that mark, but still could have gone smaller.  I was careful when I filled the mold halfway, pressed the lath in placed and then gently placed the remainder of the concrete in the mold. Yet, I saw a piece of it when I was grinding.
Mixing Prep
It's never a bad idea to run your portland cement through a easy to make sieve to remove any lumps, as shown upper left.  I have a second, made with metal lath, that I used for grading the glass aggregate.  The rules for concrete are that the aggregate should be able to pass through the metal reinforcement you choose AND also be no more than 1/3 the thickness of your slab.  In this case, a 1 1/2" slab, so all pieces should be 1/2" or smaller and slip through my lath sieve. No concrete police showed up (they never do in the Bahamas - I LOVE it here!).   I mixed in some gold toned powdered dye to the water.  It made the grey portland look GREEN at first, but a nice sand color in the end.  I can definitely see springing for white portland if tinted concrete is the goal.  The grey just wanted to stay grey.  This mix took a ton of water and, as I mentioned, was still too dry.  An ounce of latex admixture, mixed into the water as well,   helps everything stick together and (gulp) not crack, as concrete is wont to do.

Packed Forms
I mixed all of my dry ingredients together thoroughly before I added in the liquids.  This batch was too small for the electric mixer, even a hoe.  A 5 gallon bucket and a trowel got me there and I packed my forms gently but firmly with gloved hands.  Concrete, lath, concrete.   Next I found a scrap board to screed the tops.  Its a simple sawing motion used to level off the form.  Some peeps like to use their palm sanders to vibrate the air bubbles out of the concrete, but I chose the more aggressive sawzall because I am impatient.  Honestly, there were a few bubbles, not a ton.  I filled a spray bottle with water, spritzed the tops of the filled forms then covered them all with plastic.  This is critical.  For the next three days, keeping the concrete moist by spritzing and covering will greatly impact the success in preventing cracks by slowing the cure rate in this important phase.  Wet burlap has been a traditional covering, but spritzing and keeping it all covered will accomplish the same thing with a bit more effort.  My burlap stash is a bit thin these days.
Modern Terrazo
Unmolding the slabs went off flawlessly.  My anxiety over the small protruding horns on the window sill piece was unfounded - they didn't break. I stapled some waterproof wrap around my Secco wet polisher to keep any stray water or slurry out of the motor.  Yes, the machine comes with a GFCI built in and I plugged it into an additional GFCI outlet for double protection.  Those circuits protect ME, not the machine that I paid good $$ for on eBay.  And there was water everywhere! This is an outdoor job, done with plastic to catch any erant bits of glass, smooth though it may be.  During our drought summer, I kinda stressed over the amount of water I was using and vowed I'd come up with a  water-recirculating rig when I do this next.
Secco Grinder
The diamond cup is used first, but it ripped some of the glass out so I went easy with it - light touch, arcing back and forth.  My dry concrete mix contributed to this issue, I'm certain.  The Secco is a variable speed polisher and I started off with low RPMs.   The diamond cup did a stellar job of "bullnosing", or rounding over the edges.  After the cup, I swapped out to the velcro pad holder using the supplied wrenches and moved through six of the seven pads that came with my set. 50 through 1500 was sufficient so I didn't bother with the 3000 grit. As the grit increases. the rpm speed does as well.   I was very happy with the sheen that resulted, the slick look of the glass and the sand after it had a thorough polishing.  The machine held up well and was ever so easy to use for a first-timer.  I never thought it was getting too hot, which surprised me, as one spends some time at this endeavor!   Any disappointments were due to my flubs caused by the concrete mismix.
Grout Slurry
My last gaff  on this go-round involved using some unsanded grout as the basis for the slurry to fill my pinholes and gaps.  I used my latex admix stirred into the water to help it stick.  I can't be certain, but the hunter green grout turned blue!  I applied the thin, runny mix with a flexible plastic scraper and forced it into every nook and cranny with a rubber squeegee.  After an overnight dry, it was back to the polisher for the last three grits to bring it back to the high sheen it had previously sported.  One last remaining divot was filled with some two part epoxy mixed with a touch of tint.  Good plan, wrong shade of tint.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Fate smiled on me in the form of some penetrating lithium based sealer that I had ordered from Direct Colors with stuff for another project .  Despite the last photo above, it dried to a lovely satin finish and water beads up on it nicely.  I believe it's just the thing for a shower.  I applied it from an old spray bottle, several thin layers until it was coated evenly.  Although my overall end results were less than perfect, I learned a lot and look forward to my next effort.
Window Sill with tiny "Horns"
As a footnote, installing these was as easy as any piece of tile.
Photo Bombed Again

Apply thinset, backbutter the slab, submit to your furry supervisor for inspection and nestle into position. Make certain that it is NOT level and is angled towards the shower's center.  There, Bob's your Uncle!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

DIY Faux Venetian Wall Finish - Getting Plastered

"You can't always get what you want....." but sometimes fate intervenes. you have to get creative and yes, you get just what you need.

Joint Compound Faux Venetian Plaster
I wanted cypress planked walls. V grooved and pickled.  Classic and practical in the tropics as cypress naturally will stand up to our high humidity and our bloody termites.
From Sheathing to Plaster
Instead I got a typical island story.  Big Orange sent me too much sheathing and realized it was financially impractical to ship it back from the Bahamas.  I became the recipient of a FREE wall covering that would increase the shear strength of my house, here in the hurricane belt!!  But.....not so pretty! This plywood's surface, as it was rated for exterior sheathing, was anything but smooth and cosmetically pleasing.  Oh, the sanding!  I used Mirka's Abranet  sanding product because of it's longer life  (and lower dust generating properties when used with a dust bag) and settled in on my deck, to sand away (and work on my tan!) before I primed .  With almost 1600 sq. ft to sand, first 80 grit, then 120, I was glad to be using the "longer life, less dust" product.  Yes, I was going to add a textured surface, but my thought was by sanding that I'd reduce the amount of primer I would apply as sanding reduces the surface area.  That's my rationale and I'm stickin' to it!  Paint costs are exorbitant here in the Bahamas.  I run on mangoes and oatmeal.
Prep Arsenal
After woman-handling the sanded 4'x8' sheets of plywood into place and screwing  'em into the studs, leaving gaps for expansion, I grabbed roller and brush.  Two very important coats of water based primer for starters.  (I had a time gap before I got around to my next step, as I trimmed my openings) FibaTape®  self-adhesive joint tape not only bridged my 10 penny nail sized gaps between the boards, but also on any knot-hole indentations that required filling.  Smearing gaps with joint compound works most efficiently, for me, when I add a bit of Zinsser primer and "whip" the stuff together with a paint beater chucked into a heavy duty drill.  Thusly, all gaps and knots were filled and allowed to dry thoroughly before being reprimed with Zinsser 123.
Trim Protection
As I nailed the trim around the windows and doors, I had covered the wall-ward edges in "saran wrap"-like plastic to protect it from any stray plaster.  Electrical switch and receptacle plates required removal then wrapping as well. This is a messy operation.  A piece or two of trim that I forgot, I covered with blue painter's tape.  The floors needed ample protection as did my hands.  The joint compound tends to dry out skin so I recommend gloves.  And the reality is that joint compound is a mix containing gypsum , a form of lime, nothing that you want to be in contact with for extended periods.  One of the major differences between this technique is that true Venetian plaster, also lime-based, contains marble dust.  Yet, its the layering and the use of the steel trowel that "burnishes" the finish that also creates this distinctive "old world" look.
Faux Plaster Base Coat
To make the base coat, I  used a one gallon bucket for mixing and working from, rather than the 5 gallon behemoths I purchased. A wide, flat ice cream scoop simplified moving the joint compound sludge from the five gallon bucket to fill my small container - about 2/3rds full.  A scant splash of bleach went into both buckets to keep the product mold free here in the tropics.  For my purposes, an old bleach container cut in two created a paint scoop out of the upper portion that I used throughout this endeavor.  It held about a cup of the Behr paint that colored and thinned the mud.  One heavy cup  or so for that 2/3rds full 1 gallon container gave me a workable consistency - not too thick, not too runny.  It wasn't a hard and fast formula and I didn't worry about perfect consistency too much as a bit of color variation just adds character to the finished product.  Also, I just so happened to be happy with the shade that this proportion gave me for a base.  Although the "cheap paint" that I used to thin and color the three different plasters came very close to being just the shades I wanted, I did add some of my universal paint tints to one of the layers to get exactly the tone that I was looking for.  The joint compound lightens the color of the paint used by several shades - as if going down a couple of bars on the scale of a paint chip array.  Universal paint tints can be purchased online or at paint stores, individually or as sets.  I use mine regularly for all sorts of projects.
Base Coat Tools
I quickly nailed together a "guard", shown above, to keep the plaster off of where I will later nail the baseboard trim after I tile the floor.  Affixing an actual piece of the wood trim I'll later use on top of a 1" scrap board that's close to the thickness of the tile job I'll install down the road.  A few screws driven up through the bottom, boom, done.  A steel, straight edged float functioned as a hawk at the beginning. With it turned upside down, it was easier to use a plastic scraper to transfer the mud from the bucket and distribute around the float.   Then I held it sideways and with the lower edge angled against the wall (like a hinge), I pressed inward and  then swung it in an arc to smear the "plaster" against the wall. No stress, just do it. I kept the base coat thin and didn't waste too much plaster creating texture with this layer as there were three more to come, although this was the only "full"  100% coverage layer, as will become clear.
Second Layer
The rose highlights came from some horrid lipstick red paint mixed into the joint compound and smeared on the wall with a flexible plastic scraper.  It was kinda scary looking, middle picture above, but after the next two layers, just a hint shows through - perfect!  The application was very random and the texture added was not significant - subtle at best.  I gave the base coat a solid two days of drying time before adding this highlight.  It was oh-so-muggy summertime here, which surely didnt help, but this stuff doesn't dry quickly and the downside of this project is the amount of time that the room was a shambles......
Gold Layer Three
Layer three was a gold tone that covered significantly more wall space than the previous pink. It also covered a good portion of the pink.  The top photo above shows that I probably created almost 80% coverage with this layer, again using a flexible plastic spreader. More drying time, tic-toc, tic-toc.
Final Layer
For the fourth and final layer, I went back to the first color of plaster that I used for my base coat.  Instead of the flexible plastic spatula, I reverted to the steel trowel, but coated it sparingly with the plaster mix before applying another 80% coverage coating.  This is easy.  There is enough texture on the wall that 80% gets covered and 20% shows through.  You get to see your rose and gold highlights and that texturing that seems like your walls have been there since Pompeii's last stand (like Pompeii was ever in the Bahamas, eh?).  I did go back with my flexible plastic scraper an do a little touch up in spots where I felt I saw too much rose or gold.  When I finally stripped off the plastic covering  the door and window trim (get ready for a serious mess), I couldn't have been happier!

This plaster can also be coated with wax or laquer  but I've opted to skip that.  I can see that there is zero washability on this wall, but the mottled finish should allow many stains to blend in.  To coat 600 sq ft I used almost two 5 gallon pails of joint compound,  and almost two gallons of base coat  paint, a quart of the gold and a not even a pint of the red.

For my living room walls I have started doing just a two tone treatment with a light base coat and darker gold highlights burnished in with the steel trowel. NNNNice!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Woodcraft Craft - Router Class Review

Back in the bosom of civilisation, I took advantage of the availability of woodshop classes for the masses.  A nearby Woodcraft Store offered a daylong course in router technique and I quickly signed up.  Although I have run a few board feet through my shop-built router table, I wanted to become more comfortable using a router freehand.  When I built my hallway shelving unit, I cut dados on my table saw when they would have been created easier with a jig and a router run across my longer shelving boards.  So the day I dumped pocketsfull of money at Woodcraft on bits, tools and hardware, I  left whistling with smug excitement  in anticipation of furthering my skills in the woodworking craft.

Woodcraft Router Class Review
This Fall Sunday, the six of us, the class size limit, gathered at 10 am at the store, ready to hang together until 5 pm.  Our instructor was Michael Harris, furniture maker and restoration specialist for the many period pieces so prevalent in our historic surroundings here in the Greater Nation's Capitol area.  I was the only dudette, welcomed warmly by all and felt comfortable throughout the day in the class.  I  recommend that women do not hesitate to jump right in and enjoy themselves and hope that they will find the same supportive atmosphere as I experienced.
Hands-On Router Play
Four brought their own routers, two of us used the Porter Cable models that "teach" brought.  Seeing a variety of tools and hearing their features explained and evaluated was worthwhile especially in the case of the "plunge" feature, which has intrigued me.  The opportunity to ask a veteran, as opposed to merely reading an article about routers, was enlightening, especially when half a dozen models were available to fondle, thanks to the largesse of my fellow students, a congenial bunch, to be sure!
Cutting Boards  and Jig
It was the "hands on" that we all were chomping at the "bit" to dive into, and our project for the day was a cutting board made from closed cell, hard sugar maple.   We started with a discussion of properties of wood, lumber costs and availability.  The jig above right enabled us to cut the " juice groove" using a router freehand with a carbide edged core box bit.  A healthy discussion about bit types and their uses ensued.   And unlike staring at a wall of bits in a store, we got to play with a cornucopia of cutters and and ask questions, even really dumb ones, about shaft sizes (yes, size DOES matter!!).  This constant Q&A, built upon one another's input as well, was invigorating and enlightening.  My classmates, like myself, had a smattering of experience but were anxious to get better.  We were all eager and supportive and I have to say that the camaraderie of the class was one of the high points of my experience.  The group was diverse in age, skill level, ethnic background, economic status, gender - about as well rounded as it gets!  That's the broad appeal of working with wood (and power tools....).
Fun with Power Tools
A few of us pulled out phones and iPads to pass around "baby pictures" of items we'd crafted in our home workshops.   To our delight, our instructor critiqued our endeavors and gave us some tips to improve upon our future projects.  I'd recommend to anyone taking a class to bring photos as well.
Top Notch Router Round Table 
We used a hand full of different bits to finish our edges.  Thumbnail roundover, chamfer, and ogee bits.  Again, there is an enlightening difference between looking at a bit or a picture of one, and seeing what it does to wood first hand!  The low point of the class was using this incredible router  that one can raise and lower from above, with just a few turns of a crank.  No sitting in a pile of sawdust on the floor every time you need to adjust or change a bit!  It was $oooooo $weeeet!  Mr. Harris gave us some time tested tips for getting better results without tearout or chatter that can often plague router table operations.  Although there is no substitute for practice and experience, watching a master do it the right way can save, oh, how many board feet?  Many, many woodworkers profess to be contentedly self taught, but I had several eureka moments as our guide shared his decades of knowledge with us hungry rookies.
Mineral Oil and Wax, Post Sanding
As this is my review of the course, my only complaint is that I didn't get to spend more time practicing a wider variety of techniques.  A router is a powerful tool capable of many tasks.  Our instructor spent an adequate amount of time discussing the importance of maintaining a 10 digit finger count and was safety conscious throughout the course.   I believe that was the Achilles heel of the class.  He was forced to keep a keen eye on whoever was operating any machinery, which took all of his attention, but slowed the class.  If I could be so bold as to  make a recommendation, it would be to furnish the instructors with "safety aids" who could eyeball students while they worked, as the teacher aided others setting up their tools.  Perhaps we'd all have gotten some more hands-on time if that were case.

In conclusion, although I can never really get enough time with my hands wrapped around tools, I learned a fair bit and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Yes, most of all, I had a fun day!  If I lived back in the States, I would most definitely join a woodworking club as the companionship of fellow woodworkers was a beneficial exchange of information in a pleasant atmosphere that I could see enjoying on a regular basis.  So, learning new things in a friendly environment?  Two thumbs up!