Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Installing Kitchen Appliances DIY - It's a Gas, Gas, Gas...

There are times that DIY is not my first choice, but gets foisted upon me by a fate or an unscrupulous company.  A bait and switch "quote" for installing my mom's natural gas kitchen appliances left me up a creek without a paddle so I used my own two hands along with a few tools and the proper materials!  This was one of those instances where the fear factor is always high for me, but the skill level required is not nearly as precipitous.  Just like working with electricity, knowledge, basic skills and a healthy measure of caution can get one through successfully.
Installing Gas Kitchen Appliances DIY
Both the range and the wall oven required the addition of shut off valves (mom's place is 45 years old, but why they hadn't been added already was beyond me).  In addition, the appliances that I removed had their supply lines in vastly different locations than the new ones. You can find this out by reading the installation instructions online before the appliances arrive. The wall oven simply required a new cutout in the "floor" of the opening, and  the range needed a foreshortened supply pipe.  Both machines had been connected with hard pipe but these new connections would terminate using flex hose (CSST or corrugated stainless steel tubing), approved for carrying natural gas. Rules one, two and three are that ALL materials must be approved for use with LP (propane) or Natural Gas. Check your local codes as well.  Some may require only galvanized hard pipe, for example.  Shut valves should have yellow handles or specifically say they meet the code requirements for carrying gas, not water.
Gas Meter in OFF Position
In speaking with my brother, owner of four gas supplied rental houses, he hadn't a clue of how to shut off the supply of gas to a house in case of emergency, i.e., a leak that can't be traced to a specific appliance that could be shut off singly.  It's a straightforward operation that be performed with an adjustable wrench or channel locks.  When the valve "ear" is parallel to the pipe coming up from from the ground, it's in the "open" position, shown above, running perpendicular to the direction of the pipe flow, is the closed position.  It's a simple  45° turn.   Turning the gas off was the first step in installing shutoff valves for the new range and wall oven.  It also meant that later, I would have to relight the pilot on the water heater (simple instructions on the outside of the appliance - turn knob, press button, turn knob back).  The furnace took care of itself - no pilot, pure piezo (an electrically charged crystal) start.  The "bait and switch" company put on the 12 " nipple as well as  the shut off valve  (first photo, upper left) that I supplied and were dispatched after delivering a price three times what was quoted.
Wall Oven Gas Line Access Hole
I miss my workshop.  Yet, there is always more than one way to skin a cat! Instructions are very specific about where access holes can be located so I measured and marked a rectangle sized area according to their guidelines.  The four corner holes I drilled were large enough to allow the blade of the keyhole saw to get a good start to saw out the area and I opted for a slightly smaller opening than specified, knowing my gas line would not be subjected to any sharp bends by doing so.  I went ahead and covered  a piece of aluminum pie plate with 3M spray adhesive (love this stuff) to cover the old hole and reduce heat leakage to the storage below.
Natural Gas Fittings
The Teflon or PFTE tape used specifically for gas fittings is yellow and check pipe dope for gas use compatibility as well.  Gas fittings must have zero leaks and I use both yellow tape and pipe dope.  Opinions abound, this one is mine.  I make certain that the last two threads are bare, especially of tape, so no material will get down the pipe and clog a tiny gas orifice.  I take extra care, more so than when using white tape with water pipe, when cutting my teflon tape for this reason.   Some will say that flare fittings, those tapered ones like above top right and again lower left, should have dope only or nothing at all.  The tapered part should definitely be clean, but sometimes soft brass fittings, like the one in the shutoff valve, can have a nick in the thread.  I go twice around with tape, then a thin, but even coating of pipe dope for flare fittings.  For regular threads, four wraps of tape and a bit more dope. By using the two, the fittings slide together easily and seal up well.  Using two wrenches, one to hold the existing fitting stationary and the other to tighten the new one, helps to ensure that everything remains tight.  A little planning is necessary to be certain that nothing that is already "inline" gets loosened in the installation process!  The nipples and adapters will be fitted on the stationary supply pipe first and the flex hose last as it's couplings swivel on the hose.  If you were to  put your adapters into your flex hose ends and then tried to attach it to your stationary supply pipe, you's have nothing to turn on your last connection.
Wall oven Install
I made the mistake of thinking that as Home Depot said they haul away one's old appliance, that they would remove it from the wall as well,  Wrong!  Be forewarned, they will not remove or install a wall oven, but it's easy enough, with two bodies.  Removal involved six screws and a tiny bit of muscle, installing the new one only four screws, in the side trim. It slides out, slides in.  The fitting on the appliance's built-in regulator required an adaptor,  shown above in last two pix. It is accessed through the broiler compartment by simply lifting out the bottom plate. This adaptor came with several others in the CSST flex hose appliance connector  kit - regular male on one end, flare on the other. Tape and dope.  These kits contain several fittings and 3 or 4 feet of hose.  1/2 ID" is fine for the BTU's a range requires.  Most gas pipe is 1/2" ID (interior diameter, nominal, not exact - kinda like lumber!) but supply lines can be 3/4" and eyes open for 5/8" fittings, too.   FIT = female threaded end, MIT is male threaded end.  Same-same FPT, MPT.  Oh, lets confuse the layman!
Wall Oven Connector
Using a big-girl flashlight and double wrenches, I tightened in the adaptor to the oven's regularor (the mas of fittings on the broiler floor, above left), then, the final connection, the flex hose to the adaptor. Each got the appropriate amount of yellow teflon tape and pipe dope for the type of fitting - less for flare fittings, more for straight male ends.  My kit came with a packet of leak test solution, so I spread it on each and every connection, then went back to my yellow valve handle and turned it parallel to the gas pipe - the on position.  I set the oven to the "broil" function.  Got an error code indicating that my Maytag is a lemon - came with a bad oven temperature sensor.  And it's taken three weeks (due to postponements) to get it replaced.  Home Depot for appliance purchases?  Never again.  Maytag?  Their service department said 10 days to even come look at it....  No more Maytags for me!
Range Anti-Tip Bracket
Better luck with the GE range!  First up, it's anti-tip bracket.  Never used one before, but installation was straightforward.  I angled my drill bit for the pilot holes so that they would hit the wall's bottom plate - a solid 2x4 to anchor the screws.  This bracket secures a rear leg so that if one were to lean on the oven's open door, the appliance won't fall over, causing injury and possible ripping out the gas line (admittedly, a long shot).
Range Supply Pipes 
The range supply line involved going from  the old upper right to the new lower left AND reducing 3/4" black iron  supply pipe to 1/2" pipe, which is easier to fit to the couplings and hoses that are standard for kitchen appliances of average size.  Photo above, lower right shows a cutoff valve that is accessible from above and below (crawl space) - riding the line, admittedly, but I wanted to be able to turn the gas off without pulling the range out from the wall!  AN ample wadge of fiberglass insulation keeps drafts out.
Pipe Reducer and Nipples
A nipple is a section of pipe that is threaded on both ends, with a thin center strip to grip with a wrench.  A reducer, shown above  lower left, effectively changes the size of pipe in use.  I needed two nipples - one to attach the reducer to the existing 3/4" threaded "elbow" in the crawl space and the smaller one to join it to my cutoff valve.  Again, I used 4 wraps of yellow  teflon tape, two threads back from the end, and a thin coating of pipe dope then tightened fully until I had a leak-free bond.
Gas Cutoff Valve with FPT Fittings
The cutoff valve for this setup was different than the Female fitting/ Male flare type fitting that was used for the wall oven.  Above shows a Female-Female valve that will accept the final  10" piece of black iron pipe that protrudes from the crawl space a full four inches above the finished floor in the kitchen.  (That's a LOT of F's!)
CSST Flex Hose Connection
The flex hose, as before, requires those tapered flare fittings so both the pipe extension and the stove itself required adaptors supplied with the kit.  The Universal adaptor, for the pipe, actually has internal threads (female), as well as external(male) on the same end, for just such a fitting.  Tape and dope per fitting style, two wrenches to keep things stationary.  A pair of vice grips came in handy for clamping down into the pipe extension when tightening up it's adaptor (above, top left).  Once again, I slathered each and every fitting with leak detector, turned on the main gas valve at the meter, then my yellow valve for the appliance.  No bubbles - no leaks.  Dish soap mixed with a bit of water, frothed up a bit, can also be used as long as the detergent is bleach free - just check the label.  Now we're cooking with gas!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

DIY Oil Change - Bucking the Trend

I hesitated to write this entry until I just heard that Michelin surveys show 58% of teens don't know how to add oil to their cars, much less change it!  But why bother in this day and age of the $35 oil change?  Indeed, why?  Why learn about the machine that ferries you and your loved ones around town on a regular basis?  Yes, it's specialization that has enabled us to carry around little mini computers in our pockets, replete with with aps for every imaginable need or desire of modern life.  Yet getting a look under your car and then giving it's life's blood, it's lubricant, an optic, are simple things that can help keep you in tune with your car's condition as well as bolster your confidence in general in your ability to tackle other issues that crop up in your vehicle.  I recently saved myself hundreds because I managed to fix an overheating problem that turned out to simply be a clogged heater core hose.  Just having the confidence to jump in and get greasy is half the battle.
Oil Change Kit
I grew up hearing that one should change the oil every 3 months or 3000 miles.  It's a hotly debated point and I recommend checking your auto's owner manual and sticking  with the manufacturer's recommendation to preserve your warranty.  If you are out of warranty, how you drive and the age of your car can influence some people's opinion on those figures.  I'd love to say that I am an oil change stickler, but I try to be a little more honest than that.  Yet I regularly enough buy a gallon and a quart of oil per vehicle (again, reference your manual for exact capacity amounts), a new filter (check the manual or eyeball your current filter), then grab my special filter wrench, oil pan,funnel, plastic sheeting and a wrench to fit my oil pan's drain plug nut.  Rags are a good idea.  Latex gloves are smart too.  What viscosity of oil to use?  Again, check your owner's manual and pay attention to the season and the appropriate temperature range.  Because I live where it's warm all year long, I  always choose an oil with higher viscosity - SAE 15-40 or SAE 20-50.  Warm oil will empty out of the engine more completely, so drive around the block a couple of times to heat up that black gold.   Not too much because you will be wrangling around the engine to get the filter off.
Removing the Oil Pan drain Plug
I am in the habit of spreading a piece of throw-away plastic under the car -  old shower curtain, plastic painting drop cloth, slit garbage bag - dealer's choice.  There WILL be mess.  Raise the hood and remove the oil fill cap in the engine compartment.  This allows for more complete drainage.  Next is matching a wrench to the plug in the oil pan opening from which the oil will drain.  I'm now on my back, under the car just behind  the front axle.  Cardboard or a yoga mat can offer a little relief if you like but this operation doesn't take too long.  Yet, it can turn you into a chocolate, greasy mess so wearing one's Sunday Best ain't the best idear here,  The oil pan is obviously container-like with a bolt head in the bottom or the end (my pix show two different cars I worked on).  Another one of my yard sale finds is an collection pan than also stores used oil to be recycled around the workshop for various other tasks or the occasional beach bonfire.  Truth is that any old tub that offers a lip so that you can later decant your oil into containers with lids (like milk or water jugs) will work fine.  An old standby is engine coolant gallon jugs with the side cut out then used horizontally as such. Use, decant,  then toss.  Once the plug is removed from the oil pan, let it drain completely before removing the oil filter.
Changing Filters
One of my favorite all-around tools is the lowly strap wrench.  It can be used in lieu of a dedicated oil filter wrench, and both are shown above left.   Filters can be in perplexing locations and check out the photo below for a tough fit!  That's when  a strap wrench can be a better choice.
Oil Filter Wrenching
I make sure that I move my used oil drip pan under the filter before I remove it so that it can catch any overspill upon loosening.  At this point, the engine will be done drip, drip, dripping so the all-important replacement of  the oil pan drain plug rises to the top of the list. Don't over tighten! After removal, my specialized pan has a shelf to hold the filter as it finishes draining, but I have also put it back it it's box, then into plastic bags for proper disposal later.  Then, a drop of oil from the bottle on a fingertip,  spread around the gasket of the new filter will create a tight seal against the engine block. Snugged up with the strap or filter wrench, it will be ready to clean a fresh batch of "earl" for miles to come,  This is also a great time to scan about for any obvious problems that might present themselves to even rookie auto DIYers.
Volvo Exhaust Gas Canister
My linings and rubber boots looked good, I noticed no other cracks or breaks but I noticed  that an exhaust canister had come adrift and needed to be zip-tied back into position before it went bouncing down the road.
Fresh Oil!
With the drain plug back in and a new filter on, it's time to add some virgin oil to the motor.  Four to five quarts depending on the number of cylinders and overall size of the engine determine the ultimate capacity.  After a gallon went in this four cylinder, I started the engine and let it run for a few minutes to let the filter soak up it fill. I checked the dipstick,  little more oil went in then...
Filled with Amber Goodness
New oil is amber, like maple syrup.  It may go dark after a while, especially if your motor runs hot.  If it turns creamy, foamy golden yellow, uh-oh.  That may mean water in the oil caused by a cracked block.  It definitely bears investigating!

Here in the Bahamas, an oil change costs over $100 so I was pleased with my efforts and happy to spend time taking care of my vehicles.  I topped off the other fluids and checked the tires - simple things.   Along the lines of "a stitch in time saves nine", the simple acts of regular car checks give me the opportunity to sometimes catch a small problem before it becomes a big one and be just a hair more self -sufficient.

As a note, most service stations will take used oil for repurposing if you have no desire to keep it!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How to Use a Tile Wet Saw - Tips for Those Wet Behind The Ears

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 Bostik 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 Bostik 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!