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Laying Slate Floor Tiles

Laying slate floor tiles is a great option for hard surface flooring for a number of reasons. Slate is very durable and stain resistant and has a less slippery surface than standard ceramic tile, which become slippery when they get wet. Apart from its durability, slate floor tiles have a unique look that sets them apart from standard ceramic floor tiles and other man-made products. What’s more they are very affordable when compared to porcelain or other types of stone tiles. The face of slate floor tiles carries the natural texture that was formed when the slate broke away from the face of the rock. You should also think about sealing slate as this can enhance even further the beautiful colours of slate.

So let’s get down to how to install slate floor tiles. When choosing your slate floor tiles, you will need to determine what colour you want, what size tiles you want, and whether or not you want a repeating pattern, or simple squares. There is also equipment that you will need as well as some materials as follows:

  • A Diamond-bladed wet saw or a masonry fibre disc or diamond edged blade in an angle grinder: A wet saw uses a diamond-charged blade that is kept wet and cool – don’t worry, it’s easy to use.
  • Possibly floor underlay: If you are installing your slate floor tiles over concrete that is level and has no cracks, drop offs or damage, then you don’t need to bother with any sort of underlay. If you are installing over a wooden floor, then you will need to lay cement sheet before you can lay the tiles. This will provide the proper surface for your slate floor tiles to adhere to.
  • Tile adhesive: Your supplier of your slate floor tiles can advise you the best one to use for your particular tiles and underlay.
  • Tape measure: Keep it on your belt, as you are going to need it constantly
  • Trowel: This trowel will be used to spread the adhesive. The application typically requires a trowel with about 12mm notches but double check the adhesive instructions to make sure.
  • Chalk line: You will need a chalk line to mark your centre points and guidelines on the floor.
  • Sponge and bucket: You will need a sponge and a plastic bucket for wiping up excess adhesive and grout from the face of the tiles.
  • A utility knife: This may be needed for trimming underlay.
  • Sanded grout: Grout is This is available in many different colours, so take your time and choose the one that will best complement your slate floor tiles and your room
  • Spacers: Spacers are used to make sure each tile is an equal distance apart as you are installing them. The spacers should be 10 to 15 mm.
  • Grout float: A grout float is used to work the grout into the gaps between tiles.
  • Sealer: In order to increase the life and stain resistance of slate, it should be sealed occasionally.
  • Paint Roller/Paint Pad: This will be used to apply the stone sealer.

Prepare the floor surface.

You should make sure the floor area you are going to lay your slate floor tiles is clean and free of any obstructions.

When the floor clean and free of obstructions, you can begin putting down the underlay if this is needed. This is a crucial step, so don’t cut short the quality of the work that you do here. The cement sheet underlay creates a base for your slate floor tiles to sit on. You need to make sure that it does not flex. Any flex or rocking motion in the floor will cause the slate tiles to come loose and the grout to crack. The best way to ensure that the base is solid is to follow the manufacturer’s exact instructions for installing the underlay as most brands are made to be screwed down in a specific way.

Plan your slate tile Layout.

Once the underlay is set, secure and ready to go or you are laying on a cement base, the next thing you need to do is establish the centre point of your room and lay out some guidelines. Use your tape measure to find the centre of each wall and mark it on the floor. Use the chalk line to snap a line between those points. The place where the two lines intersect is the centre of the room.

Applying the adhesive on your slate tiles.

Start applying the adhesive working along the gridlines that you snapped with the chalk line earlier. Use the trowel to spread the adhesive in small sections (not more than one square metre) and set the tile fairly quickly. Take care not to get any of the adhesive on the face of the tile, as it can be difficult to clean off. Work slowly with your grid lines, making sure that your spacers are straight and that each pattern repeats fit uniformly with the others. The key to making sure that the patterns fit together properly is spacing. The spacing between each tile must be identical or the repeats won’t mesh together.

Cutting Slate Tiles.

When you get to the edge of the room, you will need to begin cutting the slate floor tiles to fit next to the wall. This is the job for the diamond bladed wet saw or angle grinder. A diamond bladed wet saw may seem like a large expense in order to just cut a few tiles around the edge of the room, but if you’ve ever tried to cut slate by hand, then you know that it is well worth it. You should check to see how much it costs to hire one.

Measure each cut carefully, making sure you take into account the spacing necessary to make the appearance of the slate floor tiles consistent. Mark each tile on the back with a pencil, and then cut it on the wet saw.

Be aware of safety if using a wet saw or an angle grinder. First, always wear safely glasses. These tools can throw out a lot of residue and you don’t want powdered slate in your eyes. Be very careful of the edges of the cut tiles. The diamond blade leaves a very sharp edge when it cuts the slate. The tile will be wet right after you cut it and so will your hands. Don’t let the wet tile slide through your fingers or you may end up with a nasty cut. As the wet saw uses copious amounts of water you will find a lot of this ends up on the floor. Make sure the plug is safely out of the way of the water spray and that you aren’t standing in any puddles while working.

Grouting and cleaning up your slate tiles.

Once the last pieces of tile are set, you can begin cleaning up the slate portion of your installation. Here are a few key tips about clean up.

1. Clean the wet saw very well. Most rental companies will charge you an cleaning fee if you bring the saw back covered with dirt and dust.
2. Dispose of your cut pieces carefully. We have already discussed that they can be dangerously sharp.
3. If you have leftover tile, keep them in a safe place. This is just in case you should ever drop anything on your floor and have to replace a few tiles.
4. If you did get any adhesive on the face of the slate, clean it up immediately.

Grouting and Sealing your slate tiles.

Now that your slate floor tiles have been installed and the adhesive has dried and hardened. (You should follow the manufacturer’s instruction on the drying time), it is time to grout and seal the floor. The grout selected should be a sand type, as you will need the additional strength that is provided by the sand in the grout. This is because of the fairly wide gaps in between your slate floor tiles.

Mix the grout as specified by the manufacturer on the package and begin spreading it over the slate floor tiles using the grout float. Make sure there are no low spots between the tiles. Then using a damp rag wipe any excess grout from the face of the tile.

You will find there is one major difference between installing slate floor tiles and installing traditional ceramic floor tiles. With ceramic floor tiles, it is generally acceptable to allow a hazy film of to dry on the face of the tile between applications. Since the ceramic usually has a slick surface, this haze can be buffed right off with a damp rag. This is not the case with slate floor tiles as the surface is porous.
You need to make sure that the excess grout is cleaned up as soon as the grout is applied. Don’t let it set thinking that you can come back later and buff it off. Use your sponge to wipe up as much of the wet grout as you possibly can. Once you are sure you’ve gotten it all, let the grout dry.

As the grout dries, you will begin to see a slight haze develop over the slate floor tiles. Don’t worry, as long as you got all of the grout paste up off of the tile, you should be able to wipe off any of this residual haze as it dries. Make sure you use a dry towel to wipe off this residual film, as a wet rag or sponge will just smear it around more.

After your first coat of grout has dried, you may see some low spots. Give a second application. This will ensure a uniform appearance once the floor has been sealed.

With most ceramic floor tiles, it is sufficient to seal just the grout. With slate floor tiles, you are going to want to seal the entire floor. Check with the supplier of your slate floor tiles which stone sealers are recommended for your type of slate. This sealer can usually be applied with a paint roller or a hand-held paint pad.

Keep in mind that to  keep the beauty of slate tiles the floor will require a bit of maintenance after a few years, as it will need to be re-coated with stone sealer every so often.

Wow! Laying your own slate floor tiles is a big project. However, it is one that pays you huge benefits if you go ahead and do it yourself. Labor costs for tile professionals are not exactly cheap and by putting in the muscle and time, you can save the money that would have been spent on a contractor and put it towards your next project.

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