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Tiling: rewarding when mastered

TILING the floor is not an easy project, requiring patience, precision and perseverance.

The first thing you need to do is remove the existing tile with a hammer, a chisel and a lot of elbow grease.  

Once the original tiles are gone, the surface area will be a mess. But don't worry because it will be covered with a fresh coat of cement.

Take time to shop around when buying tiles and materials. There are a number of retailers around the city, but the bigger suppliers along Mao Tse-Toung Boulevard have the best selection and most knowledgeable staff. Tuol Sleng Tiles Handicraft is the only place in the country that still produces cement tiles, the likes of which are found in most colonial-style buildings. Be sure to take measurements with you and remember there is no substitute for quality when it comes to tiles.

Once you have your tiles selected you will need to purchase Portland (pure) cement and grout. You should be able to buy these at the tile store, and they should know how much of each you will need.

You will also need some string, a long and a short level, a flat trowel and a notched trowel, a rubber mallet, a number of large sponges, at least two 20-litre buckets and an angle grinder with a cut-off blade.

Most hardware stores will have everything but the angle grinder, which can be bought in the northwest corner of Russian market. Be sure your angle grinder has all of its pieces, and have the salesperson show you how to use it.

Once you have all of the necessary tools and materials assembled, mix a small batch of cement in one of the buckets and skim coat the surface you will be tiling. The consistency of the cement should be similar to a thick but spreadable mud.

Use the flat trowel and evenly spread the wet cement over the uneven area. If the cement begins to cure, throw it away and mix a new batch.

It is vital that this first coat of cement is even and level. Allow at least 24 hours for curing. If there is any sign of moisture or if the surface feels cool, allow more time before continuing the project.

Next, get ready to tile. Laying out and measuring the tiles is an art lost on many newer contractors but it is crucial, especially if your tiles have patterns or designs on them, and absolutely necessary when creating tile mosaics. You will need two helpers at this stage.

Keeping in mind the spaces between the tiles you will grout later on, draw a grid using string and tape measures. Have one person on each side hold the string and mark where the tiles will lay all the way across the space. If you are creating a pattern, mark which tile will go where in your design. When you reach the edges of the space use the angle grinder to cut the tiles and label each one.

Tiles are often put in place using a number of different adherents, but in Cambodia pure cement is used. After the grid has been laid out, mix a small batch of cement and cover a small area using the flat trowel. Once the area is covered, go back over it with the notched trowel using long straight strokes. Make sure the cement is mixed smoothly with no lumps.

At this point lay the tiles firmly over the cement. Use the rubber mallet to gently secure the tiles in place without pounding. Use your grid to make sure the tiles are spaced correctly and the levels to keep the tiles even. Relax once all the tiles are laid and allow another 24 to 48 hours for curing.

The last step is grouting. Remove any cement clumps between the tiles with a putty knife and a vacuum cleaner, and  then mix the grout to the consistency of toothpaste. Use a putty knife or trowel to push the grout between the tiles.

Work one area at a time and use a sponge to wipe the grout diagonally in every direction. With a clean sponge and a bucket of water, immediately wipe off any excess grout on the tiles. Once grout sets it is impossible to remove and leaves the tile looking discoloured and uneven. Many a fine tile job has been ruined because of this.

Tiling is not for everyone. It is time consuming and, until mastered, not always terribly rewarding. However, even if you don't do it yourself, knowing the steps in the process is important if you are planning to have tile-work done in Cambodia.



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