At long last, after delay after delay, today I actually got started on making good the floor in front of my ‘new’ patio door – ‘new’ because it was installed last autumn and the floor has been left unfinished ever since. I couldn’t get hold of any ‘plain’ floor tiles to match the existing ones as they are so old and I decided instead to use the same special smaller hand-made tiles that I had obtained to create the pattern that I made on my fireplace.
This was before I knew that I was going to sell my house and if I had done I might have persisted in my efforts to find some 30 cm square plain ones as not only is the cost difference quite high, the time and effort to make the pattern are also considerably greater. This is due to the need to accurately cut down every one of the new smaller tiles from 16 cm square to fit in with the existing 30 cm square ones, including joints.
Anyway, it’s too late to think about that now so I just had to press on. I’d already got the new tiles cut down and ready to lay some time ago so today was all about just laying them. Or so I thought. Before getting onto that though, here’s a shot taken today of my fireplace for reference.
As it was nearly 9 years ago that I built my fireplace, to be honest I can’t remember much about how I did it. In particular, I can’t remember much about the special mortar (mortier de colle) that I used to fix the tiles, both horizontally and also on the vertical face of the fireplace. You never get the same brand of any material like cement or mortar at Brico Depot, probably because they just buy from wherever is cheapest at the time, so I just bought a bag of what was available and thought nothing more of it.
As it happens, I still have the remains of the original bag after all this time, although what’s left inside is solid of course, but the product descriptions are the same. So I just went ahead and mixed up half a bucketful to what I thought would be about the right consistency, bearing in mind we had warm sunshine today and after my recent experience with the plaster, I thought that there might be a chance of the mortar going off before I could use it.
But did it heck! Quite the opposite actually. I laid a bed of it down ready to take the tiles and waited a bit before placing them on top. Not only did they sqeeze the mortar out and sink below the level that I wanted but they and the mortar bed slowly began to slump forwards towards the window. The reason was that the sub-bed that I laid many weeks ago wasn’t quite level, which I knew, although it shouldn’t have mattered at all.
The amazing thing was that the mortar on which I’d laid the tiles didn’t start curing at all, even after I’d eventually picked it up again and returned it to the bucket. I tried adding a bit more dry powder to it in the hope that it might encourage the mix to go off, but it still didn’t. It stayed just as sloppy as when I’d started and repeated the same process, being unable to support the weight of a tile.
I repeated this about four times until, in desperation, thinking that I might be on the receiving end of the ‘old plaster’ problem again but in reverse (old plaster goes off very quickly, old cement does the opposite and may never go off), I decided to take drastic action, add some fresh cement and some more mortar powder to the mixture and make it as stiff as I could but still workable. And know what? It seemed to do the trick.
I made the mixture with the consistency of thick toffee – so thick that I could only get it off the trowel by using another one. But I didn’t care because it worked perfectly, or so it seemed. The mixture stood up without slumping and could take the weight of the tiles, and here are some shots of how I finally managed to leave the job at the end of the day.
And maybe that’s how you have to use this stuff, because when I eventually came to clean my bucket and tools at the end of the day, the small amount of material that remained was still workable even after an hour or more. Perhaps that’s what they intend and they add retardent to make it stay ‘wet’ even when it doesn’t contain much water but is just workable. But the proof of the pudding will be tomorrow morning. When I checked the newly-laid tiles a short while ago, the mortar that had oozed out from under them was still soft. If it stays the same tomorrow and doesn’t cure I’ll be in real trouble and all of my work today will be for nothing 😕